Letters for the week of December 30-January 5 

Readers sound off on the best movies of the year, Oakland's proposed affordable housing fee, and voting in Hayward

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Additionally, any true environmentalist wants to see the sky when he or she looks up, not artificial human constructions like buildings. This is so not just for ourselves, but for the birds, squirrels, trees, and all other life. Opposing destruction of natural views is a true environmental issue, because destroying those views with things like tall buildings also destroys part of the sky.

Despite all this, Mr. Gammon and the Express continue to make totally unsubstantiated claims that ever more smart growth in our urban areas — causing ever more population density and blocking out of the sky — is the solution to sprawl. Quite the contrary. This is nothing but a developer scam. There is absolutely no evidence that infill development stops or even reduces urban sprawl.

I realize that Mr. Gammon wants vibrant urban areas in downtown Oakland and Berkeley, and I fully agree that people should live near where they work in order to walk, bike, and use public transit instead of consuming and burning oil by driving. But creating vibrant urban areas is properly accomplished by creating housing in downtown that is in character of the already existing downtown — not by building hideous monstrosities like the downtown Berkeley development, which will do more to ruin downtown than any good it could possibly do.

As to the specific project in downtown Berkeley that Mr. Gammon touts in this column as being a "win-win" on the false assumption that it provides funds for affordable housing and substantially reduces driving, nothing could be further from the truth. As Mr. Gammon admits, this project 302-unit will have 177 parking spaces. As I have said in my letters repeatedly, a truly environmentally good housing project would have no parking spaces. If you want to get people out of cars and onto public transit, you don't build parking spaces for them, pure and simple. The fact that this project will add 177 cars to downtown Berkeley exposes the lie that so-called "smart" development is good for the environment.

Moreover, this is a market-rate development that will be filled with yuppies and other rich people, some of whom will undoubtedly be working about fifty miles away in Silicon Valley. They will be driving to and from work, or taking the elitist buses provided by Google that, while not consuming and burning as much oil per person as individual cars, still consume and burn oil in the form of diesel fuel, a very dirty oil that pollutes the air with small particulate matter that gets into lungs and otherwise causes substantial medical harms.

Mr. Gammon and the Express also never consider the substantial environmental harms caused by new construction, which supports mining, logging, and the oil industry by consumption of their products, to name just a few major environmental harms off the top of my head. It is much less environmentally harmful to add to existing structures and keep new developments small and in character with the surrounding areas than to build things like the Harold Way monstrosity in Berkeley.

In addition to that, the Berkeley project will be eighteen story tall and hideous, totally out of character with even downtown Berkeley. This is not San Francisco, or even Oakland, and a huge building like this is very destructive to the character of our downtown. I am strongly opposed to this project and to the yuppies who took over our city council once vacancy control was outlawed and Berkeley rents skyrocketed, and who now act as nothing but paid shills for developers.

On top of all this, semi-arid California has a major lack-of-water problem, again due to human overpopulation. While it is true that agribusiness uses at least 80 percent of the water in California, people in the Bay Area get their water mostly from different sources. Bay Area natives did not import water from anywhere or even dig wells, because their population was low enough to allow them to live off surface water. The first white settlers here dug wells for drinking water, but when their population got too large for even that, they had to start damming rivers such as the Mokelumne and Tuolumne rivers and transporting their water from the Sierra Nevada to the Bay Area. Considering this, we should not be building any new housing in California, including in the Bay Area. The dry ecosystems of the western United States cannot naturally support large populations, which is why the West has traditionally been far less densely populated than the wetter areas east of here. The Express has published many columns and articles about our water problems, but has never connected the dots to realize that the root of this problem regarding drinking water is overpopulation. Building more housing anywhere in California just makes our water problems worse by increasing population, and should be strongly opposed by any true environmentalist.

In order to fight sprawl, a true environmentalist would advocate for development prohibitions on all open space and advocate for free and unrestricted birth control and abortion, and for empowering women and getting them college degrees, as these things have been proven to be the best ways to lower birth rates. (Countdown by Alan Weisman is an excellent book on this issue, though I disagree with him that we should be willing to cause some species to become extinct in order to support about 1.5 billion people on Earth with a Western European lifestyle.) These are the only ways to prevent sprawl. What a true environmentalist does not do is advocate for development that does things like provide massive parking and block out large portions of the sky, especially when there's no evidence that those harms will prevent sprawl.



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