If you are a Berkeley taxpayer, have a kid in Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), or are just someone who cares about climate change, you should oppose BUSD’s plans to spend $27.5 million from Measure G to build a parking garage with tennis courts on top, directly across from Berkeley High School (BHS). The measure, passed in 2020, is a $380 million school construction bond.
We support our teachers and the needs of the BHS tennis team, which has been without a home court for 20 years. But, for at least three reasons, it is a serious mistake to proceed with this project.
Firstly, there is already an abundance of empty parking in downtown Berkeley. And most of the spots are city-owned. In 2018, the city built a 720-space garage on Center Street using borrowed money. Ever since it opened (even pre-pandemic), the Center Street garage is 40% empty on weekdays. That’s over 280 free spaces. Two other private garages close to BHS have 610 and 262 spaces, 250 and 80 of which are also vacant. Because Center Street’s revenue is below projections, the city is paying the bondholders from the general fund $3.8 million last year and another $10 million by 2024. In other words, taxpayers have already paid for plenty of parking downtown twice over. We don’t need to pay to build more.
Secondly, we need to stop encouraging driving and pouring money into an unsustainable transportation system. As climate change ravages our planet, we need to take bold action. BUSD already recognizes that “transportation is the number one source of climate emissions in the City of Berkeley” and their sustainability plan aims to cut single-family car trips in half by 2025. BUSD’s large staff must be part of this plan, especially in Berkeley’s most transit-rich, bikeable, walkable neighborhood. Some staff do have to drive, but by providing free parking, we are subsidizing driving and sabotaging our own climate goals. Instead of building parking, BUSD should develop a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, just like other large Berkeley employers. TDMs provide incentives not to drive. For BUSD, that could mean providing a commuter allowance and charging market-rate prices for parking. TDM programs typically reduce demand for parking by about 25%.
Lastly, improving classrooms and helping students thrive should be the focus of Measure G funds. The proposed site sits directly across from BHS and is a unique opportunity to preserve space for our students. We should not waste this precious resource on permanent car storage when we have other current and future needs that would better serve our students. In 50 years, private cars may be a thing of the past. But we’ll still have kids who deserve a world-class education.
Implementing a robust TDM program, paving the lot for tennis, and not building this garage is a $25 million gift to our students that preserves our options in the future (assuming tennis courts would cost ~$2.5 million). BUSD should instead negotiate with the city and private garages to buy or lease the replacement parking from the 610 vacant spots in the vicinity. Importantly, these negotiations should not be conducted by the BUSD Facilities Department. You don’t let the fox guard the henhouse.
If you agree with any or all of these points, please contact the school board and let them know you’re also against building a garage and that you’d rather use Measure G for improving our classrooms and support spaces. Our achievement gap is still yawning. We should spend Measure G on closing it, not on storing cars. We’re smart in Berkeley. We can understand equity, environment, and economics all at the same time.
Liza Lutzker is a BUSD parent, a public health researcher at UC Berkeley, Safe Routes to School parent champion, and a coordinating committee member of Walk Bike Berkley. Ken Berland is a BUSD parent, a software development manager at Amazon Music, and member of the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee for Measure G. Damian Park is a BUSD parent, an economics lecturer at Santa Clara University, and chair of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee for Measure G. Douglas Legg is a BUSD parent and a Deputy City Administrator for the city of San Francisco overseeing capital planning, assets and infrastructure. Cielo Rios is a BUSD parent, Chicana, Equity VP of the Emerson PTA, and an advocate for the children in our community.