The future of Downtown Berkeley is an issue important to everyone in our community, especially students. Many of you either live Downtown or visit it frequently to patronize its great restaurants and enjoy its entertainment and nightlife. Next Tuesday, you will be voting on a measure very important to the future of Downtown and our city: Measure R.
All of us want a Downtown that is safe, welcoming and vibrant. For the past six years, as the Downtown-area representative on Berkeley City Council, I have worked hard to realize that vision by streamlining the permit process — making it easier for new businesses to open up shop — supporting great community events such as Sunday Streets and Center Street movie nights and writing our award-winning Downtown Area Plan.
We are seeing a positive transformation Downtown, with new restaurants, businesses and housing projects. Measure R does not harm this progress but in reality enhances it by making sure Downtown is a model of sustainability and social equity and by providing funding for new public spaces, transportation programs and loans to small businesses.
Measure R builds on eight years of community process by providing the legal language to realize the vision of our Downtown Area Plan and close loopholes that have allowed corporate developers to get out of promised community and environmental benefits, including increased affordable housing, fair wages for workers and higher green-building requirements.
Measure R’s opponents have used scare tactics and misinformation to oppose the measure. They have made a number of outlandish statements, claiming the measure will drive up rents, kill Downtown’s progress and melt the polar ice caps. Don’t believe these claims.
Here is why Measure R is good for students.
Berkeley and the entire Bay Area is facing an affordable-housing crisis. Rents are skyrocketing, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to live. This directly impacts students who are already burdened with high student fees. With market rents in new buildings averaging from $2,000 to $3,500 a unit, many students are forced to double or triple up in order to afford housing, or they are forced to live outside Berkeley, commuting long distances in order to attend UC Berkeley.
Measure R’s opponents have wrongly claimed it will drive up rents citywide. This is based on the idea that if you build an infinite number of housing buildings, it will magically drive rents down. Trickle-down economics have failed to reduce rents in Berkeley’s hot real-estate market. In reality, rents are much higher than what most students and residents can afford.
Measure R, on the other hand, delivers affordable housing by making sure new projects build affordable units. Don’t believe opponents when they claim Measure R would rob the city of funds for affordable housing. Under Measure R, the affordable housing gets built! Measure R will make it easier for students to afford to live in Berkeley.
Measure R also won’t bring prohibition back to Berkeley and shut down all bars at midnight. Existing bars and nightclubs are not affected, and all the measure requires is that when new bars want to open up, they provide notice to neighbors and apply for an easy-to-obtain permit.
Measure R will not end Downtown development. The city’s own study clearly states that development will continue under the measure.
Measure R does not increase greenhouse gases but makes sure we get truly green development by requiring increased bicycle parking, car share, electric-vehicle charging, funding for public transit and insurance that the tallest buildings are asked to meet higher green-building standards.
Measure R was put on the ballot by almost 4,000 residents who want a greener, more vibrant Downtown. It is supported by a broad grassroots coalition including SEIU Local 1021 (one of the largest unions in Northern California), the Green Party, John George Democratic Club, Berkeley Citizens Action, Save the Berkeley Post Office and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, among many others.
Measure R’s opponents, on the other hand, are largely funded by developers and real-estate interests trying to protect their profits. These out-of-town corporate interests have put in more than $200,000 in funding to defeat the measure. This amounts to the second-largest amount of funding ever spent in a Berkeley election, second to Big Soda’s funding against Measure D, the “soda tax.” Big Money has come to Berkeley.
Don’t let big-corporation dollars buy this election. Don’t believe the scare tactics being put forward by Measure R’s opponents. I urge you to vote yes on Measure R to help make Downtown green, equitable and vibrant and to create needed affordable housing in our city. Visit www.berkeleydowntown.com for more information about Measure R.
Jesse Arreguin represents the Downtown area on Berkeley’s City Council and served on the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.