Letters for November 25 

Readers sound off on West Berkeley development, North Korea, and Dan Das Mann.

Page 2 of 3

Scott McNeil, Oakland

"Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley," Eco Watch, 11/11

We Need Balance

Robert Gammon's ageism ("old hippies" stuck in a "time warp") and easily flung accusations of "NIMBY" in his opinion piece, "Activists Try to Block Green Tech in Berkeley," reflect his ignorance, prejudice, and laziness. The issues in West Berkeley facing decision makers are complicated and deserve a better journalistic platform — certainly more than the stereotyping and name-calling by Mr. Gammon.There was applause for speakers voicing concerns with the city's proposed changes to the West Berkeley Plan at the November 4 Planning Commission workshop, but I heard no "ridiculing and heckling of anyone who disagreed with them," from the audience. (Though I did smile to myself once when I heard the phrase, "Developers' fair share.")It would be nice to see an intelligent, thoughtful, and balanced article in the Express about West Berkeley. Speakers brought valid concerns and research-based information to the commission for consideration. Gammon ignores that "green" businesses providing living-wage jobs (and better) have been around for decades in West Berkeley. The diverse use here is appealing and worth being preserved. No one is fighting to prevent change or progress — we're speaking up for new development along with the preservation and expansion of what is working. I find it negligent that in the middle of this huge economic downturn brought about by unregulated, laissez-faire policies and practices, that anyone would think that opening the doors wide to market forces (green or otherwise) is a good choice. There is a balance to be struck.

Susan Henderson, Berkeley

Data-Free Ranting

I first read Robert Gammon's account of the Berkeley Planning Commission's November 4 workshop on the Express web site; astonishingly, this virtriolic, data-free rant was published under the heading of "News."

As Gammon has it, former hippie environmentalists are fighting Mayor Tom Bates' efforts to turn their West Berkeley neighborhood — "a once-bustling hub of warehouses and industrial manufacturing that has been slowing [sic] decaying for decades" — into "a green-tech corridor" lined with spinoffs from UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Engaging in "me-first economics," these "fifty-and sixty-something" NIMBYs want to limit R & D to six big, vacant industrial sites and otherwise leave the zoning that protects the district's manufacturing, warehousing and artisans. (True.) They're convinced, says Gammon, that "Bates' vision ... will lead to gentrification, overcrowding, and high rents in their neighborhoods." (Also true.)

Gammon concedes that rents will "probably" rise, but that's the price of "ward[ing] off the greatest environmental disaster ever known." If the city keeps the zoning protections for industry and artists, the spinoffs from UCB and the Lab "could end up in the suburbs," increasing sprawl and "making green-tech less green."

If West Berkeley were the blighted wasteland of Gammon's imagination, it might make sense to open it up to the high-end, high-rise R & D development sought by Bates and his big bucks associates, who include, along with the UCB administration and the Lab, San Rafael-based Wareham Property Group.

In fact, according to commercial broker C.B. Richard Ellis, in the third quarter of 2009, the vacancy rate for Berkeley's industrial market was only 3 percent. That figure would be low at any time; in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s, it's striking. A low vacancy rate indicates high demand. So much for Gammon's portrait of decay.

Berkeley already has loads of "green-tech." Go to the west end of Heinz Street and gaze upon Wareham's massive Aquatic Park Center. The city just gave Wareham permission to build a 92,000-square-foot biotech facility at 740 Heinz. A recent study by UC Berkeley graduate students reports that the six big vacant sites contain at least 2 million square feet. Assuming that a sizeable portion of that space goes to labs, and that at the same time the city reaffirms its protection for its industrial and artisanal enterprise and jobs, there's plenty enough room for R & D to expand in West Berkeley.

As for Bates' "green-tech corridor": Gammon is presumably referring to the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership, an official consortium that includes eight cities stretching from Richmond to San Leandro. The notion that all the spinoffs from UC and the Lab have to be in Berkeley flies against the Corridor's declared mission of sharing the wealth of a new green economy across city boundaries.

That mission, by the way, has nothing to do with preventing sprawl. But perhaps Gammon considers Richmond, San Leandro, Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany, and El Cerrito to be suburbs of Berkeley. That's about as plausible as his designation of opponents of the Bates/UC/Lab gentrification scenario as aging NIMBYs (and since when do NIMBYs of any age want to live next to factories?).

Zelda Bronstein, Berkeley

Former Chair, Berkeley Planning Commission

Killing the Goose

I wish to comment on the column by Robert Gammon concerning the situation with West Berkeley development issues. Speaking as a Berkeley resident and a longtime environmentalist myself, I never thought that I would see the day when stopping climate change would be used as a reason to justify the forced displacement of longtime residents and businesses. In particular, the attack on the West Berkeley Alliance of Artisans and Industrial Companies is especially galling. To accuse these local businesses as people living the past flies in the face of reality.  Many of these companies have been "green businesses" long before it became a trendy thing to do. Urban Ore, for example, has been recycling household items and building materials for well over 25 years. This so-called "Green Corridor" that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates so loudly trumpets is merely a smoke screen to mask the intentions of a few well-connected moneyed interests who want to turn West Berkeley into an extension of Emeryville, with ever more expensive condos and office buildings. I even recall that in a past radio interview, Mr. Bates justified these actions as simply being part of the "free market," something that would have made Ronald Reagan beam with pride. It's as if a sort of "Manifest Destiny" is being preached by these so-called "progressive" political forces.While I have nothing against the idea of green industries, I nevertheless believe that the actions of the City of Berkeley to de-industrialize the flatlands are, in my opinion, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The businesses that WEBAIC represents greatly contribute to the economic well-being of Berkeley, and generate much needed revenue that stays in the city. With the East Bay in the middle of a major economic recession, to purposely destroy independent businesses and the artistic community who live in this neighborhood is nothing short of insanity. This pie in the sky called "Green Jobs" is still in the birthing stage, and to risk our regions economic future on a maybe is the same sort of thinking that got us into our current economic disaster. It makes much more sense to keep manufacturing in West Berkeley, which will, in turn, create a fertile environment for independent green-related businesses to start and to flourish. In all, I find Mr. Gammon's recent column to be one of the most disingenuous pieces of journalism that I have ever come across.

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