Your Revolution's Over

Tattoo it to your forehead at [email protected].

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Forget what you've heard. Berkeley politics is not about Afghanistan.

It's not about tree hugging, grass smoking or car hating. Well, it's a little bit about car hating. OK, a lot.

But even this city's rampant automobile hatred stems from another force.


The Bay Area is growing.

The non-partisan group Bay Area Alliance of Sustainable Development projects the Bay Area's population to grow 21 percent between 2000 and 2020.

That's 1.4 million people or just slightly less than two new San Franciscos.

Although the private market, if given free rein, would build new housing for new residents, it won't happen fast enough. That's why the area's home prices, already some of the nation's highest, keep rising.

Like its metropolitan neighbors, Berkeley is feeling the pressure. And that growth pressure drives just about every political issue in the city.

Not that Berkeley itself has grown. In fact, its population has held pretty steady over the past two decades. The 2000 census even showed a slight decline since 1990.

But the population has churned. More demand and same supply equals higher housing and apartment costs. The rich move in and the poor move out. Gentrification.

And herein lies the rub. A more conservative city, faced with a similar situation, might publicly look the other way while privately whispering approval.

And to some extent I think this is happening in Berkeley.

Tired of crime and "inner-city" schools, many residents are waving a tearless goodbye to their less fortunate neighbors.

But at least ostensibly, Berkeley's political leadership is united against this trend.

Berkeley's politicians, liberal to leftist, all call for more "affordable housing."

"Affordable housing" is housing for people who can't afford housing. It's apartment units rented at below market levels.

Here's how it works. Every new building constructed in Berkeley must make 20 percent of its units "affordable."

Because of the aforementioned sky-high rents, profits can still be made-so developers do their work. Which makes for some pretty strange bedfellows, you'd think.

The progressives, champions of the city's economically forgotten, should favor for-profit development, if acting practically.

But no one ever accused the progressives of acting practical.

Progressive leader Kriss Worthington makes little secret of his dislike of Berkeley's biggest developer Patrick Kennedy.

And, as someone who's watched developmental politics closely in the past year, I can tell you the city's progressive faction has held up development across the city.

There'd be more housing for those who can't afford this city if the progressives cooperated with property developers.

Not to let them off the hook, the moderates' answer to growth is problematic as well.

Basically, they wish to let the free market operate as it may, which is the right thing to do, when the free market wants to build apartment buildings. But it's the wrong thing to do when it wants to build office buildings.

Office buildings draw commuters, and commuters cause traffic-Berkeley's "other" problem.

This is why so many Berkeley citizens associate more growth with more traffic.

In the case of apartments, they're incorrect. More apartments in the city would let people live closer to their jobs and shorten their commutes.

But in the case of office buildings, they are correct. The progressives deserve commendation for recognizing this.

In the spring, the City Council voted along strict party lines to impose a moratorium on office construction in West Berkeley.

This moratorium should be continued and extended throughout the city.

The city needs houses and not offices.


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