Free Market Ideology is not Progressive Thinking

Dave Blake
Monday March 06, 2017 - 08:33:00 PM

David Blake served on the zoning board for 13 years at various times, appointed by Carla Woodworth, Dona Spring (his then Council representative), and Linda Maio, the Arts Commission for 6 years, appointed by Maio and Jesse Arreguin, his Council representative), and also served 9 years on the (architectural) Design Review Commission.

Markos Moulitsas (March 2 Berkeleyside, “Ben Gould for City Council, for a more affordable Berkeley”) boasts in his article of his pride in living here. I’m a 45-year long Berkeley resident, the last 17 as a homeowner; but I haven’t always been proud of my town. For the 14 years of the Bates council, I was frustrated and depressed to see Berkeley become a poster child for how to minimize construction of new affordable housing in a city that loves to think that it, and its council, are all dedicated progressives.

When Bates became mayor, Berkeley required that 20% of its new mixed use residential (residential over first-floor commercial), the overwhelming generator of our affordable housing construction, meet affordability standards. Under Bates, and with the crucial help of then staff attorney, now city attorney Zach Cowan and our then Zoning Officer, now downtown developer frontman Mark Rhoades, state density law was radically interpreted to reduce that number to barely over 10%. Berkeley fell from a state leader in affordable housing policy to deep into the bottom half. Anyone with an interest in our housing production for the last two decades should know that.  


When Moulitsas claims that newly-elected mayor Arreguin, formerly District 4 Councilmember, voted against or abstained on 1500 units of housing, he’s using (apparently, since he offers no citation) opposition research from Arreguin’s November opponent, real estate agent Laurie Capitelli, a staunch Bates ally who supports current District 4 candidate Benjamin Gould. This research is, unsurprisingly, heavily flawed, and in several ways: it’s an 8-year-long statistic (not mentioned by Moulitsas), and it only reflects the handful of cases, all controversial, that are appealed to the council from decisions of the Zoning Board. Most importantly, it mischaracterizes what happens when construction approval comes before the Council. Moulitsas suggests that Arreguin’s votes reflect kowtowing to NIMBY neighbors. The record shows that Arreguin’s arguments against certain large projects (90% of those he opposed) were about their meager contribution to affordable housing, which the council had the power to increase but consistently chose not to. (Also, in a couple of cases, the demolition of rent-controlled units.) Council hearings are never about whether or not to build: This is Berkeley; all empty lots eventually get buildings. The question is about what sort of project gets built. 

Moulitsas apparently wants a council that will approve all housing permits, no matter how appropriate a given project may be. He’s a true believer, and that belief seems be that if you just let developers loose to build whatever they can make the most money on, the housing market will improve for everyone. That is free-market nonsense. 

District 4 (and 7, campus, and 3, south of campus) have always elected Councilmembers who have been in the progressive Council wing since the district system was created. And the powerful downtown property owners always run a just-build-everything candidate in District 4 where I live because it represents the downtown; we’ve always slapped them down, because we know that what happens in downtown has direct effects on our neighborhoods. Gould is the downtown property owners’ candidate this time, as a glance at the city website (ci.berkeley.ca.us/elections, click public access portal, search for Gould) will reveal. His money comes from architects, developers and downtown property owners, his campaign manager is an operative of the developer/planner/architect lobby [Barely] Livable Berkeley; and many if not most of his canvassing crew is supplied by the Yelp-CEO funded [and aptly named] libertarian lobby BARF. 

Despite what the developers constantly tell us, the ultra-dense downtown buildings they’ve ground out are not a response to the need for long-term housing for current and aspiring residents, but fully intented to house UC students, whom the university has effectively abandoned any responsiblity to house. If all that you want is more Gaia buildings with students crammed two-and-three-up into tiny bedrooms, Gould may well be your guy. But if you believe that our city council should be focusing on the long-term needs of its low- and middle-income residents, with a commitment to truly affordable housing as a top priority, then you’ll want to keep this district in progressive hands, and those hands are attached to Kate Harrison. That’s what the Sierra Club says too. 

It’s late to rely on a postmark, so deliver your votes (by Tuesday!) to the box in front of (new) City Hall, 2180 Milvia!