The citizens of Berkeley have a critical choice to make concerning our Downtown Area Plan. The direction that the city takes with this plan will determine if we can confront the problems this city faces and maintain our commitment to sustainability and social equity, or if we will continue a slow retreat towards an increasingly insular and homogeneous community. We are at a crossroads.
It is looking more likely that the City Council will weaken the Downtown Area Plan that they passed in July in order to avoid further community controversy – resulting in a plan that’s less likely to revitalize the Downtown than the current 20-year old plan.
The plan the Council passed in July has a great vision for enhancing our Downtown, with substantial streetscape improvements, new public spaces and measures for traffic calming. The street-level experience for pedestrians would be vastly improved. Everyone can support this vision, but how does it become reality? Without encouraging substantial amounts of new investment in the Downtown, this vision will sit on a shelf.
How will this plan be different?
The old plan, written in 1990, did not encourage needed investment in our Downtown. The next plan needs to send a different message: More housing development in the Downtown will bring millions in revenue to pay for the public improvements in the plan and would also serve to achieve our Measure G greenhouse gas reduction goals and our housing goals. This seems like a triple win for the city.
If concerned residents of this city don’t speak up soon, this opportunity for a vibrant, safe and sustainable Downtown will disappear.
Housing opportunities for the next generation of Berkeleyites should be provided in the Downtown where it’s environmentally responsible and affordable – near transit. Restricting housing opportunities in the face of ever-growing demand – as Berkeley has been doing – is not a housing strategy, certainly not if we’re concerned about affordability and inclusivity. We need a plan that will bring us more than the 500 units of housing built in the Downtown over the last 20 years. If our minimum goal is for our children to be able to live here as adults, that doesn’t even cover one year’s graduating class from Berkeley High!
If other views are not heard, our city will continue to be shaped by the voices of a few who want to protect the past rather than plan for the future.
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