The newly elected Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín arrived about 10 minutes late to the monthly meeting of the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council at which he was the honored guest. He strode in holding a few sheets of paper, with a clean and tidy style ready for the half hour or so of questions.
Arreguín opened the floor with a pleasant reaction to the death of the senior living project at Holy Hill. In fact, he had spoken with the president of the Pacific School of Religion, a partner in the project, about a month before to lay out his concerns. It seemed a fitting conclusion, in his eyes.
The mostly boomer and octogenarian crowd nodded in agreement. Hands were placed over hearts while sighs of relief escaped weathered lips. The first irony of the meeting reared its ugly head when I scanned the room and saw the many landowners who might have benefited from selling their median priced million dollar Berkeley homes to live in a senior center still located within their beloved city.
Arreguín continued throughout the question and answer period to cite the type of development he and many others in the room wanted: smart and equitable. They want responsible development, allowing for preservation of neighborhood character, and neighbors’ discretion to evaluate projects.
The density of smart and equitable development was also brought up. It would fit within the current buildings of neighborhoods; developments would have to be “proper” for the homes already there. The neighbors and Arreguín continued on about the problem of homelessness, of below code homes, too many university students to house, and even the problem of affordable housing (there isn’t any). While they waxed on poetically about the romantic notions, their own notions, of a perfect Berkeley, they never shared a true vision of what that Berkeley would look like.
It hit me, right then: the second irony of the meeting. I heard this irony before. I heard political rhetoric that cursed and bullied what was already happening, already helping people, but offered no solution to what they saw as a problem. That political rhetoric has come from Republicans for the last eight years and the “problem” they saw but offered no concrete solution for is the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Yes, I realized I was sitting among so many who, just like Republican lawmakers, sat on their high horses bemoaning the detriments developers brought upon the residents of Berkeley while offering nothing of themselves. They may have wept and gnashed their teeth, but the value of every development in Berkeley, including the development of the million dollar homes some of these neighbors lived in, was ignored. Pushed aside. Marked as irrelevant.
It was as though Ted Cruz himself stood up and bemoaned the ACA while ignoring the cancer patient who found life again or the transgender individual thriving on the treatment facilitated by the very system Cruz threatens to dismantle.
For these neighbors, there is no value in housing new residents, in taking the wealthy out of the competition pool for older housing stock, for housing seniors, or students, or anyone who dare envision themselves living in Berkeley without deep pockets. The only value in housing for them is not building any. And here was a third irony. The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council wasn’t welcoming any new neighbors.