Berkeley's Just the Best, Isn't It?

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 18, 2019 - 05:09:00 PM

“Berkeley is a city in California with a population of 120,179. Berkeley is in Alameda County and is one of the best places to live in California. Living in Berkeley offers residents an urban suburban mix feel and most residents rent their homes. In Berkeley there are a lot of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. Many young professionals live in Berkeley and residents tend to be liberal. The public schools in Berkeley are highly rated.”

It's #1 in Best Suburbs to Live in California

And not only that, it’s #3 among the Best Cities to Live In in America.

All this is from a web site I’ve never noticed before, niche.com, brought to my attention by an admiring story in the East Bay [formerly Contra Costa] Times.

Just think, I’ve lived in this paradise for about 49 years of my life altogether.

Not only that, twelve of my other years were spent in #2, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I’d argue that Berkeley is actually ahead of Ann Arbor, where at least three months of every year are cold and gray (though climate change may be fixing that). But on the other hand, no earthquakes, no wildfires. 

October in Berkeley is remarkably lovely, weather-wise. However. I was enjoying the sunshine on my little porch yesterday when a whole bunch of sirens roared past on Ashby, and I remembered when I’d seen the same thing in 1991, the beginning of the Oakland Hills firestorm.  

Yesterday it was a big fire in an oil storage facility up towards Crockett. Thank goodness it didn’t spread this time. 

October also brings memories of the 1989 earthquake. 

My parents were living in Scots Valley at the time, close to the Loma Prieta fault. 

My daughter happened to be on the phone with her grandmother just as things started to shake down there, so we had a few seconds warning. Our office was in an old un-reinforced brick building on Telegraph, and boy, did it rattle.  

Granny’s birthday was October 19, so when we drove down to check on the grandparents (with the Bay Bridge and Highway 17 both closed) we brought a cake and candles. It was an interesting experience which I’d rather not repeat, but I always think of it in lovely October. 

In the same Niche.com list, Best City #1 is Arlington, Virgina, chock-a-block with Washington D.C. Really? This week? I’d estimate that a strong majority of the people who live there work in the federal government or for the legions of supplicants (lobbyists, lawyers, consultants, pollsters…) it attracts. 

As Rachel Maddow said yesterday, it seems that the wheels are coming off the bus. For many of the above-mentioned inhabitants of Arlington, it can’t be much fun right now. 

My general target use for this space is to comment on specifically Berkeley situations and events, but frankly it’s a little hard to worry about Beautiful Berkeley when Washington is unraveling before our very (online) eyes.  

In case you’re better than I am at ignoring the news, Ashley Parker in the Washington Post has a good summary of the major plot lines

But there are many more commentators at least as well informed as I am who have plenty to say about the end of civilization as we’ve known it, several of them on this very site. So I will make a modest effort to stay on target and talk to you about Berkeley. 

First, as Niche.com has noticed, things are really swell here, by and large. That is, of course, unless you’re one of the unlucky people who don’t have a home to live in, even if you’re working, if your job doesn’t pay enough to cover rent. Or, to put it another way, Berkeley’s a great place to have a home if you do have a home. 

It’s also a better City to Live In if you’re not likely to be Driving While Black or Delivering Mail While Black or Eating Pizza While Black or even Sending Your Kids to Berkeley Schools While Black if you’re unhoused here. 

For some of us, for example the neighbors of the Honda expansion site on South Shattuck, it is getting to be a Worse City to Live In, as the City Council’s largesse to developers continues. It seems to have been decided that it’s the civic duty of South and West Berkeley to accommodate speculators who build ugly faux-luxury bedrooms for well-paid San Francisco commuters who want to move here, possibly because Berkeley is the #1 Best Suburb. 

The next election is a bit more than a year away now, and the current mayor has announced that he’s going for another round. He’s released this list of Very Important People who apparently like what he’s done so far: 

  • Governor Gavin Newsom,
  • State Assemblymember Buffy Wicks,
  • Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson,
  • State Board of Equalization Chair Malia Cohen,
  • Vice Mayor Susan Wengraf,
  • Former Vice Mayor Linda Maio,
  • Councilmembers Ben Bartlett, Kate Harrison, Sophie Hahn, and Rigel Robinson,
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf,
  • Richmond Mayor Tom Butt,
  • and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo
I have a lot of respect for some of the people on this list. Others, not so much. They know who they are. 

For today, let’s just say that Gavin Newsom is a cheerleader for the developer-backed drive to strip local jurisdictions of their power to plan for land use. Part and parcel of this building industry power grab is his recent veto of the bill giving local non-charter cities the right to choose ranked choice voting, which passed both legislative houses with big majorities. Ranked choice has served Berkeley well—Arreguin and his somewhat progressive allies on the city council might not have been elected without it, not that claiming a progressive label means much these days. 

Which brings us to the beautiful Buffy Wicks. So far she’s distinguished herself in Sacramento as the main ally of Senator Scott Weiner, the gentrification genie. Explaining what he’s up to requires more words than I have space for here, not to mention taking a look at the rest of the endorsers on this list. 

Oh, and also, I think the radio news is coming on soon, isn’t it? Berkeley can wait. After all, it’s almost the Best City in America already.