Why is Berkeley building extravagant parking lots when the city is in a housing crisis?

CITY AFFAIRS: Mayor Jesse Arreguín called the parking lot ‘the greenest parking garage in California.’ This is utterly paradoxical

Emily Bi/Staff

The new Downtown Berkeley parking garage is more than just light displays, an art gallery, a café and a rainwater collection garden — it’s an unmistakable show of gentrification.

Berkeley is undoubtedly a city in need of improved transportation services. But rather than investing in affordable public transportation or more bike lanes, the city constructed a costly parking structure. The daily rate for parking is $25, and the monthly rate is $250 — rates that make this parking garage utterly inaccessible to many of the commuters who will depend on it. Residents earning an hourly minimum wage would have to dedicate 20 percent of their paychecks to paying for the garage’s hourly parking. And the rate is also about 25 percent higher than the hourly rate for parking meters in the surrounding area.

The new parking structure opened Nov. 2 and cost nearly $40 million in bonds to build. According to the city of Berkeley website, the bond will be paid off using revenue from the garage. But bond financing often comes with a significant interest rate, and the benefits of this project simply do not outweigh the high costs.

Considering the long list of pressing issues the city is facing, the city could have prioritized financing more urgent projects. Affordable housing. A new homeless shelter. Really, anything besides a built-in light show.

The opening of the new garage also comes only days after Berkeley residents voted to pass Measure R. The measure directs Mayor Jesse Arreguín to work with citizens and experts in the development of a 30-year plan called “Vision 2050,” which would guide the implementation of climate-smart technology and infrastructure in Berkeley. And admittedly, the new garage does come with sustainability-conscious features, including rooftop solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and bicycle parking.

But the garage also increased the site’s parking capacity by 71 percent, allowing for a higher volume of traffic in the city’s already bustling Downtown area. Berkeley’s voters have asserted that environmental sustainability is a top priority. Investing in parking rather than actively encouraging transportation with lower emission rates seems counterproductive to the city’s purported goals. And the structure’s “bonus” features, such as the lighting of its exterior surface, are wasteful and unnecessarily extravagant.

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko previously told The Daily Californian that the new parking structure creates “ways where other people can move around.” But with its unaffordable rates and unnecessary amenities, the garage merely makes the city more accessible for affluent residents while completely ignoring the needs of Berkeley’s most vulnerable community members.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.