Stairway to Heaven:
Pacific School of Religion might partner with Rhoades client for market-rate development on Holy Hill(Reportage? Op-ed?)

Fred Dodsworth (candidate for City Council, District 6)
Thursday August 25, 2016 - 10:20:00 AM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Council candidate Fred Dodsworth, a former Planet reporter, submitted this colorful piece with the above tag. You be the judge, but for a more conventional report from the excellent Tom Lochner in the East Bay Times, see http://www.eastbaytimes.com/breaking-news/ci_30285536/berkeley-developers-outline-proposed-senior-facility-north-uc.

For extensive reproduction of the promoter's renderings which purport to show the proposed development, see berkeleyside.com: http://www.berkeleyside.com/2016/08/24/pacific-school-of-religion-to-build-265-unit-senior-center/

Tuesday night the latest iteration of grotesque and inappropriate over-development visited north Berkeley like the ghost of some nightmarish future. For the very summit of Holy Hill, just one block from CAL-Berkeley, the Pacific School of Religion AND Mather-Lifeways have proposed a “market-rate” (read obscenely expensive) senior living complex which would be best described as an undistinguished, ugly, five-story pile of stucco and concrete, —the sort of monolithic wall of office buildings (not homes) one finds a-plenty of in Sunnyvale or Walnut Creek. If Berkeley’s Bard, the fabulous Malvina Reynolds were alive today I’m sure she would quickly pen a new verse regarding these “little boxes made out of ticky tacky — they all look just the same.” Unfortunately, in the senior housing context such “little boxes” take on a much darker meaning.

Berkeley’s busiest developer mouthpiece, Mark Rhoades played wrangler for PSR/MLW’s proposal. In exchange for not taking the wrecking ball to the historic chapel on campus and the Maybeck designed home further down the hill, Mr Rhoades implied that the neighborhood owed PSR/MLW the right to cover more of the site than the city’s already over-generous zoning allows. Rhoades threatened the attendees with even taller buildings looming over their bucolic residential streets if the neighborhood didn’t quickly fall into line. Rhoades also insisted that no one was allowed to record the presentation (just because), and that they wouldn’t take questions out loud from the audience, a stricture that was roundly ignored by the 50 or 60 unhappy neighbors in attendance. After an hour of astonishingly dull explanations as to why and how this was the most important and best use of these historic structures and endangered open space, the Rhoades show broke up into a half a dozen stations where folks could speak directly to the various so-called experts in color and texture and transportation, which, as might be expected, led to a mass exodus of neighbors, affording the various consultants and PSR/MLW principals the opportunity to continue speak to each other. 

Meanwhile in the animated discussions taking place outside the building immediately afterwards, several parties claimed PSR had already sold the entire property to Mather, conditional on prompt approval of their atrocious scheme; that PSR was already bankrupt. (I mean really, who sends their sons or daughters off to an exciting life in the church these days?) Rumors have it that enrollment at PSR is negligible although PSR’s pleasant President David Vásquez-Levy mumbled something about maybe 250 students if one counted all the folks who weren’t actually enrolled; that both CAL and ASUC were eyeing the site; that many in the community would much prefer PSR privately sell off the various residential properties contiguous to the campus for private ownership; and most humorous to this correspondent, the elderly female CEO of Mather (who lives in a Mather senior complex in Illinois) suggested those neighbors over 60 could sell their very valuable homes and they might still have just enough left over to buy into the PSR/Mather project for the grand privilege of paying an exorbitant monthly fee to live in the same neighborhood in which they currently reside. Sounds just fabulous.