Public Comment

An Open Letter to the Berkeley City Council about West Berkeley

By Jesse Townley
Wednesday February 09, 2011 - 03:09:00 PM

I lived for 10 years at 6th and Gilman, and have spent 21 years volunteering at 924 Gilman Street, the all ages volunteer run art space/music venue at 8th and Gilman.

My wife has worked at Berkeley East Bay Humane Society for years, and I have recorded at many West Berkeley recording studios, including Fantasy Studios. I was an enthusiastic patron of the original Berkeley home of The Crucible art & educational space, as well as many other current & former art spaces, screen-printing shops, and artisan workshops across West Berkeley. Uniquely Berkeley landmarks like Urban Ore, the skate park, Ashby Lumber, and the Sculpture Garden have added to the neighborhood's singular mix of industry, creativity and green businesses.

Two words- economic diversity- have been key to West Berkeley's successes. Unlike the rest of Berkeley, there is more than just residential and retail zoning available. 

Allowing residential housing to be dropped in the middle of any part of this pretty well balanced neighborhood is a one-way ticket to economic homogeneity. The manufacturing, light manufacturing, and related areas are just 4% of the city. Berkeley's rental housing market is nowhere near capacity, nor is there a lack of housing for sale elsewhere in our city. 

Businesses & artisans in our Manufacturing or Mixed Use/Light Industrial zone can make a lot of noise, operate all night, use large trucks, smell odd, have a non-traditional appearance/practices, and take up parking at odd hours, among many other things. 

Whether it's across the street from 924 Gilman or next to the often-bad-smelling breweries of Trumer Pils & Pyramid, this seems to be an idea that invites outraged new residents to protest & eventually close long-existing, successful businesses & non-profits. 

Common sense and any decent economist will tell you that removing existing economic diversity is a really bad idea. 

Please remove the "housing anywhere" portion of the proposed revisions to the West Berkeley Plan. 

Jesse Townley is a Commissioner on the Rent Stabilization Board and on the Disaster & Fire Safety Commission.