Garret Christensen’s op-ed in your June 13 edition was nothing but developer propaganda. Neither side has this right: there is no housing crisis per se. There is an overpopulation crisis and there is an affordable housing crisis.
Denying the ecological and biological facts of human overpopulation is at least as stupid and ignorant as denying human-caused climate change/global warming. There are so many people on our overcrowded planet that the plants and animals are being squeezed out. Locally, we are starting to feel like sardines in a can; BART and highways, are grossly overcrowded, and there are hordes of people everywhere, even in our parks and beaches. But people like Mr. Christensen would cram even more people into Berkeley and destroy views and our sky in order to make a lot of money for developers on the pretext of solving a problem that cannot be solved by doing this. Like everywhere else, Berkeley has finite space that cannot accommodate infinite growth. There are far more than enough people here, and we should not build housing to accommodate even more. We face major water shortages every time there is a drought and global warming/climate change will cause our droughts to become more frequent and more severe, yet people like Mr. Christensen advocate that we build housing for even more people. This point of view is so ignorant that it boggles the mind. Either that, or Mr. Christensen is only interested in profits for developers at the cost of the environment and quality of life in our city.
Mr. Christensen wants to deform (he calls it “reform”) CEQA by making it easier for developers to build without any, or at least adequate, environmental review. As an ardent environmentalist, I strongly oppose any such change to CEQA. Allowing any development without adequate environmental review would be disastrous for the environment. The only ones who would benefit from weakening CEQA would be developers. CEQA has been misused by people challenging environmentally friendly projects such as bike lanes — more bikes, which result in fewer cars, is unquestionably environmentally beneficial, and a forced CEQA review of this type of project is clear anti-environmental abuse — and this type of abuse should be legislated out of CEQA. But environmental review of construction of buildings clearly needs full CEQA review in order to prevent substantial environmental harm.
Mr. Christensen’s claims that the hideous monstrosity proposed at 2211 Harold Way is “better for the planet” because, among other things, it is LEED certified. Mr. Christensen clearly has no concept of natural views and thus has no problem destroying our sky. Additionally, his bragging about LEED certification shows a deep misunderstanding of the environmental harms we need to address and the very small differences between a LEED and a non-LEED building relative to those harms. For a building to actually be environmentally friendly, it would need to have NO PARKING and have at least enough solar panels on its roof to generally provide all of the electricity that the building uses, because aside from local harms like blocking the sky and adding more people to an already overcrowded area, the most serious environmental harms that new buildings like Harold Way do is consuming electricity and bringing more drivers to an area. Whether a building is well-insulated and meets other LEED requirements are minor details in comparison. LEED is basically developer greenwashing, not solving and substantial environmental problems.
Mr. Christensen also claims that projects like Harold Way are better for the planet because they are very near BART and other public transit. The problem with this sophistic argument is that if a building has parking spaces, people will drive, regardless of their proximity to public transit. Harold Way and other such projects provide parking for residents, so building those projects will just add more drivers to Berkeley. And Mr. Christensen’s claim that building projects in cities like Berkeley will prevent suburban and exurban sprawl is a developer lie. There is absolutely no evidence that infill prevents sprawl. People who want to live in cities, and especially people who want to live downtown, are totally different people than those who want a suburban lifestyle.
Regarding his advocacy for market-rate housing, Mr. Christensen admits that building affordable housing “has over double the impact of market-rate” housing, yet he still advocates for market-rate housing. If Mr. Christensen is so concerned with affordability, why doesn’t he just advocate for affordable housing?
The affordability problem is a deep-seated societal problem that cannot be solved by a city or probably even a state. For starters, the entire concept of landlords, a needless holdover from feudalism, needs to be revisited. If people only had to pay property tax, homeowners insurance and maintenance and repair to live in their homes, there would be no affordability problem. And developers like Mr. Christensen’s friends at SFBARF (Bay Area Renters Federation) are a big part of the problem too, knocking down affordable housing to build places for the rich and making a hefty profit in doing so.
Finally, in addition to the environmental and other problems caused by building even more housing units, it is a fact that we cannot possibly build ourselves out of an affordability shortage. There is no way to build enough housing fast enough to accommodate everyone who wants to move here and thereby lower demand enough to bring housing prices down in any reasonable amount of time. By the time that the housing that Mr. Christensen wants actually got built, lower-income and many middle-class people will have long been displaced.
We live in a densely populated urban area. Contrary to developer propaganda, we should not be building any more housing here. (If anything, we should be depopulating California and the west in general because of the shortage of water alone, but that’s another issue.) If people like Mr. Christensen wish to live in an extremely densely populated area, they are free to move to San Francisco, New York City or other such places. Those of us who live in Berkeley don’t want it to become even more densely populated or to be littered with tall buildings, don’t want our sky ruined by taller buildings and would like some open spaces for plants, animals and our own sanity. Mr. Christensen’s column was nothing but developer propaganda meant to appeal to our progressive ideals and desire to not lose the character of our city due to it being overrun by rich people. While we share those concerns, the problem with Mr. Christensen’s solution is that it would just cause more and bigger problems.
Jeff Hoffman is a member of the greater Bay Area community.