We should be encouraging real-estate developers to build new apartments and condominiums in Berkeley within walking distance of BART stations and the UC Berkeley campus, not next to freeway entrances — but Measure R will do just the opposite. Only one freeway, Highway 580, goes through Berkeley, and it is clogged with traffic every day and not just on weekdays or during rush hour. The traffic on the freeway gets worse every year. Berkeley has three BART stations, and it has never allowed big residential buildings to be built near two of those three stations: Ashby and North Berkeley. A lot of new apartments have been built over the past decade near the Downtown Berkeley BART station, but if Measure R passes, new apartment construction in Downtown Berkeley will be severely reduced, possibly down to zero, while unlimited construction of new apartments near the freeway entrances will be allowed. This is terrible environmental policy!
Real-estate developers already know it is much easier and cheaper to build housing near the freeway rather than in Downtown Berkeley. Land in West Berkeley is much cheaper than in Downtown. It is also much easier to get a permit to demolish an old warehouse near the freeway than near an old building Downtown. Plus, when a real-estate developer goes to Berkeley City Council to ask for a permit to build apartments near the freeway, very few people show up at the meetings. When someone wants to build a big apartment building Downtown, many people show up at the City Council meetings demanding changes in the plans — and invariably getting these changes.
In addition, apartments and condominiums built near the freeway won’t be subject to the expensive new burdens, such as free public bathrooms and free parking for electric cars near the Downtown BART station, that Measure R would place on real-estate developers.
Although apartments are cheaper to build near the freeway, rents are just as high as they are Downtown. That explains why hundreds of new apartments are under construction or have recently come on the market near Berkeley’s freeway entrances. Berkeley’s newest apartment complex is Avalon Apartments, which just opened in September. It is located at the foot of Addison Street, two blocks from the University Avenue freeway entrance. This is not a great location, unless you like living next to industrial buildings and railroad tracks and enjoy the sound of train horns in your bedroom. One-bedroom apartments at Avalon start at $2,760 a month, and two-bedrooms start at $3,255. That’s as expensive as any apartment in Downtown Berkeley.
Although the word “green” is in the name of this ballot measure, Measure R is opposed by most environmental organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters, the Greenbelt Alliance and Livable Berkeley. Ballot initiatives and laws often have misleading names. Anyone can call anything a “green” initiative. The people who wrote Measure R may sincerely believe this initiative will make Berkeley more livable and environmentally friendly, but they are wrong.
If we build housing that is walking distance to BART stations, then people will take BART to get to work. If we build housing that is walking distance to campus, then students will walk to class. If we build new housing near freeway entrances and far away from BART stations and the campus, however, then people will get or drive cars to get where they have to go. It is really is as simple as that. This isn’t rocket science.
Mark Tarses is a landlord in Berkeley who rents houses to students.