StevefromBerkeley 
Member since Nov 17, 2008


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Re: “Oakland Landlords Put on Notice

Landlords of rent controlled units do not "subsidize" the unit. They get enough rent to make a fair return and to maintain the building. Rent control prevents them from taking advantage of the rental housing shortage in the central Bay Area just the way the Public Utility Commission regulates PG&Es rates for gas and electricity to prevent excessive profiteering from consumers who can't live without electricity any more than people can live without housing. Landlords in most other cities in the U.S. with better balance between supply and demand make a profit with rents much lower than even the "rent controlled" rents in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. Portland is a very nice city, and rents there are 40% lower than rents in the Bay Area.

1 like, 1 dislike
Posted by StevefromBerkeley on 03/30/2011 at 9:59 PM

Re: “You're Not an Environmentalist If You're Also a NIMBY

What a strange article! It takes on two different but overlapping issues, one a debate over how to do smart growth here in the East Bay, and the other a more traditional debate for and against higher density, and instead of disentangling the issues it attacks one side of the smart growth debate in Berkeley as anti-density NIMBYs while supporting the same side of the debate in Oakland.

Yes, Berkeley has long-standing NIMBY debates, but the different sides on the Downtown Plan are debating something much more interesting. The "Downtown Berkeley Development Feasibility Study" finds that the most economically feasible form of housing development is a five-story wood frame building with housing over commercial use on the ground floor, not so different from the five story apartment building I once lived in on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Columbia University. As Mike Pyatok says about Oakland, build enough of them and you get really high densities. In addition, when you have inclusionary zoning, as Berkeley does, you can get some units that are affordable to the people who work in retail, services or for arts organizations in the downtown or who staff the University of California at Berkeley. That's a very green vision.

On the other side are people who want to bring highrises to Downtown Berkeley even though the economic analysis suggests that the rents and condominium prices will limit their residents to the high end of the market, with the most feasible highrise providing small two-bedroom condominiums selling for anywhere from $525,000 to $1,050,000. In order to make this highrise feasible, the City would have to drastically reduce its inclusionary zoning requirements, in effect giving up affordable housing in order to encourage luxury housing. The argument by Livable Berkeley that backing off on inclusionary requirements "would create an abundance of supply, thus lowering prices" is completely unsubstantiated, especially when the new supply would be the most expensive units on the market. Instead, it will raise land values and make it harder for non-profit housing organizations to find sites. High rents in Berkeley reflect a regional shortage, and a few hundred or even a few thousand more very expensive units in Berkeley won't drive down market rents for the average renter. Meanwhile, despite the claim that inclusionary requirements are a ploy to block new housing construction, several hundred units of new housing is in fact under construction in Berkeley despite the recession.

Providing housing that will be affordable to the many people who work in Berkeley for low or moderate wages is an essential part of a genuinely sustainable and green urban society. The constant tension between environmental protection and social equity, supposedly reconciled under the rubric of "sustainability" is quite visible here, and it deserved a more even-handed exploration in this article.

Posted by Stephen Barton on 07/07/2009 at 11:09 AM

Re: “What's Up with Berkeley?

There are four main reasons Berkeley is in good financial shape, and only one of them is affected by the City Manager. First, the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories pump massive amounts of money into the community and help give it steady property values. Second, the active citizenry of Berkeley, many of them attracted by the University, have created a vibrant, in some places beautiful community, starting with the work of the Hillside Club in the late 19th Century, that also attracts people and sustains property values. Third, those active citizens have supported a diverse and comparatively high tax structure that goes about as far as any local government in California has gone. Between the additional parcel taxes on property and the diversity of types of taxes (utility, business license, real property transfer, property, sales, etc.) Berkeley has a stronger tax base than most other local governments. Finally, Berkeley has maintained a policy of directing one-time funds and part of potentially volatile sources such as real property transfer tax to capital projects that can be scaled back when times get tough. Only the latter can be credited to the City Manager. There are, however, a lot of important management issues in the City that are not so well handled, such as the use of across-the-board cuts without proper examination of the effects on program delivery, and negotiating to union contracts that give salary increases that are above the rate of inflation and are unsustainable in the long term given the City's likely future revenue.

Posted by Stephen Barton on 06/03/2009 at 9:55 PM

Re: “Prop. 8: Stop Ignoring the Numbers

I don't understand why the 538.com analysis is more "simplistic" than yours. If any major group that voted for Prop. 8 had voted more like the groups that did not, or split evenly, then Prop. 8 would not have passed. You make that point for African-Americans and Latinos compared with whites and Asians, 538.com makes that point for previous voters compared with new voters and for older voters compared with younger voters and others have focused on Christians who frequently attend church compared with members of other religions and those who infrequently attend church, and we could also add those with less than a college education compared with those with college degrees. All of these are equally true. Your point about the need for outreach and education about a broader view of civil rights in minority communities is valid, and so is the 538.com point that the majority of younger voters seem to be there already so that if present trends continue equal rights for all will have a majority in another few years.

You also seem to be arguing that the "surge" in votes brought about by enthusiasm for Obama resulted passing Prop. 8, but to make that argument work you need to look at added votes rather than all votes. Since you don't agree with using the 538.com focus on new voters as the measure of the Obama surge, let's use your approach of looking at the distribution of all votes by African-Americans and Latinos. However, we have to take into account that the "surge" is the increase in votes by African-Americans and Latinos over 2004, not the total of all votes they cast in 2008. Even if you assume that the vote by African-Americans and Latinos doubled in 2008, which seems way too high, then you only get to count half of the net vote for Prop. 8 among those groups as being created by the surge. So now we are back to the numbers that Johnsil used by another route -- it's not enough to make the difference. Under these assumptions the Obama surge could have increased the margin by which Prop. 8 passed, rather than reducing it as under the 538.com assumptions, but the increase in minority voters is still not sufficient to be responsible for passing it.

Posted by Stephen Barton on 11/17/2008 at 5:10 PM

Re: “Prop. 8: Stop Ignoring the Numbers

Nate Silver at 538.com (one of America's leading political poll analysts) adds a good deal of complexity to this picture:
"the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters -- the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) -- voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage.... At the end of the day, Prop 8's passage was more a generational matter than a racial one. If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two. It appears that the generational splits may be larger within minority communities than among whites, although the data on this is sketchy."
http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2008/11/prop-8-myths.html

In addition, he says that exit polls have a high margin of error and a bias towards Democratic voters, who are apparently more willing to cooperate with poll takers. To me this suggests that the 10% of the vote cast by African-Americans could well be overstated, since they are far from 10% of the California population.

Posted by Stephen Barton on 11/17/2008 at 2:20 PM

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