The Week



Financing Affordable Housing in California

Bob Silvestri
Sunday February 09, 2020 - 03:17:00 PM

Part I in this series about the failure of Senate Bill 50, laid the groundwork for understanding underlying causes of un-affordable housing. As noted in that article, our “affordability” issues are not unique to housing nor to the State of California, and are, ironically, less acute in our major job centers than in places we generally think of as being more affordable.

In prior articles, I’ve examined why an increasing percentage of our population is having a harder time making ends meet, not just for housing but for food, education, healthcare, and everything else, and how the socioeconomic institutions that are driving these trends are leading to increasingly dire prospects for our financial markets, taxpayers, and our planet.

The data presented leads to an undeniable conclusion. If we really want to address housing affordability, we need to broaden our thinking. To focus on planning and zoning may seem obvious, but it’s precisely the wrong place to look for solutions.

Public policy by catchy soundbites is popular these days, but its “solutions” are dumbed-down to the point of being dangerous.

As H.L. Mencken once said,

“There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.”

Endless bickering

The public discussion about affordable housing has become extremely difficult because it has devolved into nonsensical talking points, racist tropes, and distortion of data by state senators and high-paid housing advocates. All that is being offered to us is what I’ve termed the “madman theory” of growth, planning, and development.

But, contrary to what is politically fashionable to believe, our current “affordability” problems are predominately an income and wealth inequality problem, not a housing problem. They are a result of subsidizing investment returns at the expense of wage earners and prioritizing the interests of corporations over individuals and even local government.

This is principally driven by national and state income and revenue tax policies. The naïve deconstruction of our progressive income tax system, since the 1980s, combined with endless jerry-rigging of official inflation statistics and interest rates, since the 1990s, has contributed to the situation we are witnessing today.[1]

So long as we continue to allow financial and corporate interests to offload the burdens of their growth and their single-minded search for increased profits onto local taxpayers (the costs of schools, infrastructure maintenance, roads, public services, environmental preservation, etc.), our lack of “affordability” will only get worse.

Similarly, the more the state focuses on sucking private capital into its coffers by increasing taxes and fees to fund top-down “solutions” by inefficient, state mega-agencies, the less affordable it will be to live in California.

Today, affordable housing has little to do with planning and zoning and everything to do with addressing how to finance it by creating tools and incentives to tap private capital for public good. -more-



It's Primary Time: Get on Board

Becky O'Malley
Monday February 10, 2020 - 05:36:00 PM

UPDATE on Valentine's Day: The New Hampshire primary didn't change much. The newsies, bless their tiny hearts, are desperate to turn the race into a two-team clash of cultures, but really the modest voting pools in two small White states are being wildly over-interpreted. I still recommend voting for the person best qualified to actually be president, and that's still Warren. -more-

Public Comment

Proposed Southside Zoning Districts: An Open Letter to the Berkeley Planning Commission

Harvey Smith, Co-chair,People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 10:37:00 AM

It has recently come to our attention that discussion is underway regarding newly proposed Southside Zoning Districts for a potential Southside EIR Project Description, prepared by the City of Berkeley Planning and Development Staff. In response, the recently formed People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group urges the Planning Commission to reconsider any ventures that might up-zone the People’s Park block for future housing development. People’s Park is not only a designated City of Berkeley Landmark and Public Open Space, but it is a site distinguished by exceptional surrounds and public view corridors of designated City, State, and National Landmarks. -more-

Open Letter to the Editor, Bay Area Reporter:

Robert Brokl, Alfred Crofts
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:57:00 PM

Dear Editor:

Your Scott Wiener endorsement is not unexpected, but annoying and dispiriting, nonetheless.

Yes, Wiener has done good work on transgender and justice reform issues, and he should be commended for taking a lead on those issues. He is also one of the most high profile gay politicians in California.

But we would argue these popular, progressive positions (at least in most of this state) are fig leaves, and secondary to his relentless flogging of some variation of his more housing (of a certain sort) SB 50 bill every legislative session. But why would he give up, richly rewarded and underwritten by contributions by builders and developers? His ambitions will likely be fueled well beyond the State Senate. Transgender and criminal justice victims don’t pay the bills. -more-

Racializing the homeless

Steve Martinot
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:13:00 PM

The cruelty of law

Torture, as a form of cruelty, is illegal. Yet it is practiced by police and government agencies, all over the country. Some people cannot stop themselves from being cruel to others. There are cops who have subjected persons to repeated shocks from a stungun (aka taser). We know it was done just to see them writhe and scream, because the victim was already in handcuffs. Some people have died from this treatment. Judges have been known to overlook obviously falsified evidence in order to convict a person. The list is long, and populated mostly by those with a graceful brown color to their skin. -more-

Smokefree Dispensaries - A Labor Issue

Carol Denney
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:51:00 PM

I was sixteen when I started playing music. Smoke filled clubs were part of the game. It took me years, and surviving cancer, to begin speaking up for smokefree air. Club by club I cleared the air for me, for the sound guy, for the other musicians and the customers. Profits always went up, not down, after the change. -more-


Jagjit Singh
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:28:00 PM

President Trump’s diatribes targeting his political opponents are another disgusting spectacle of his presidency. He continues his uncouth behavior with abandon. Buoyed by the spineless Senate Republicans who exonerated him in the impeachment trial he dives even deeper into the depths of depravity. -more-

“Peace Deal of the Century”

Tejinder Uberoi
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 12:17:00 PM

It was a sad day for America and the world when two political fraudsters slithered into the White House. Both have much in common. Trump managed to establish a “house of cards” business” with a massive infusion of wealth from his father. Harvard was successfully bribed by a large donation from Kushner’s father allowing this underperforming son to gain admission. Both are presenting themselves as “foreign policy experts” -more-

Fact-checking Donald Trump's 2020 State of the Union address

Gar Smith
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 11:19:00 AM

Who says Donald John Trump hasn't accomplished anything of substance during his stint as Reprimander-in-Chief? According to the Washington Post's fact-checkers, Trump has managed to utter 16,241 false or misleading statements during his first three years in office. -more-

The Time is Now

Romila Khanna
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:25:00 PM

It is our time to get involved in politics and get to know the candidates. We need to vote for those candidates who embrace human qualities and believe in eliminating disparities, suffering and the discrimination which still exists in our society. -more-


ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Presumed a Fool by Fools

Jack Bragen
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:04:00 PM

There are many people who would never admit to being disablist, yet they carry hurtful, inaccurate assumptions about people with mental illness. And there is no getting through to disablist people that, although we've been labeled mentally ill, most of us are competent adults, we can do things that require intelligence, and we can think. Their assumption is that all mentally ill people are managed--or something to that effect, that all mentally ill people are incompetent, and that our levels of functioning and intelligence are always below average. -more-

THE PUBLIC EYE:What I learned at the Dog Park

Bob Burnett
Friday February 07, 2020 - 02:47:00 PM

I didn't attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there's an opening for Bloomberg. -more-

ECLECTIC RANT: Trump: Acquitted but not Exonerated

Ralph E. Stone
Friday February 07, 2020 - 03:06:00 PM

As expected, the Republican Senators acquitted Trump at his impeachment trial. The acquittal will now be the centerpiece of Trump’s reelection campaign. -more-

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 10:41:00 AM

Will the KPFA Building Be Up For Auction?

It is both ironic and tragic that an historic, anti-war media institution like the Pacifica Foundation should find itself repeatedly engaged in a war for survival. And, once again, Berkeley's own KPFA finds itself at ground zero on the media battlescape.

Dedicated KPFA members will soon be asked to respond to a ballot that would fundamentally alter the station's operational bylaws. Members of a listener group called Rescue KPFA are warning that the new bylaw changes will be "anti-democratic and dangerous"—the work of a "rogue KPFA management" seeking to overturn Pacifica founder Lew Hill’s vision of an independent, anti-war, community based operation. According to the RKPFA partisans, the new rules threaten to turn "KPFA into NPR."

Rescue KPFA believes the current face-off involves an "engineered financial meltdown" brought about through "deliberate fiscal mismanagement" to set the stage for "an imminent auction of the Berkeley building."

Adding to the growing concern: a violent seizure of the WBAI studio in New York during a successful fund drive and "repeated failure to submit timely audits, causing a loss of Corporation for Public Broadcasting grants." A statement from Rescue KPFA references "secret KPFA Foundation incorporation papers in 2013" intended to "enable a bankruptcy judge to order the WBAI license and other station assets to be sold for tens of millions of dollars, allowing KPFA to use the proceeds to pay down debts and operate KPFA under new anti-democratic bylaws."

"This is exactly what we successfully defeated in 1999," Rescue KPFA notes. "Are we moving backwards?"


Arts & Events

The Artistry of Susan Graham On Display at Hertz Hall Recital

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean James MacBean
Monday February 10, 2020 - 06:11:00 PM

On Sunday, February 9, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham gave a recital of art songs accompanied by Malcolm Martineau on piano. Drawing mostly on the French and German reportory, Susan Graham demonstrated why Gramophone magazine dubbed her “America’s favorite mezzo.” Graham’s vocal artistry is exceptional. Her voice is warm, and her delivery is expressive, imbuing each song with emotional depth. -more-

The Berkeley Activist's Calendar, Feb. 9-16

Kelly Hammargren, Sustainable Berkeley Coalition
Saturday February 08, 2020 - 11:14:00 AM

Worth Noting:

City Offices are closed Wednesday in observation of President Lincoln’s Birthday. Commissions with regular meetings falling on the 2nd Wednesday have been rescheduled except for Parks Commission, If planning on going to the Parks Commission meeting call Monday or Tuesday 510.981.6704 secretary Roger Miller to check if Commission is still meeting.

February 18 is the last day to Register to Vote for the March 3, CA primary. If you have not received your voting pamphlet check your voting registration (If you can’t find your registration you may need to add your middle name or initial with your first name) Mail-in/absentee ballots are already arriving.

Monday – Council Health, Life Enrichment, Equity & Community Committee 10 am, Agenda and Rules Committee at 2:30 pm proposed agenda for Feb 25 includes 5. contract for Zoning Standards and EIR for Ashby and North Berkeley BART developments,

Tuesday – City Council Regular meeting at 6 pm, 17. Overnight RV Parking, 18. Ballot Initiatives

Thursday – City Council Budget and Finance Committee 10 am, 3. Proposal for Cannabis Tax payments in bitcoin/cryptocurrency

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Event is full with waiting list - 350 Bay Area ½ day training (in Berkeley) on how to impact State of California critical climate legislation,

Monday, February 10, 2020 -more-