Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Hell NO!" says Berkeley Community against Urbanization.

Berkeley, birth place of the modern Free Speech Movement is rebelling against Plan Bay Area.

Community Rights Bulletin

¬A bulletin about the Community Rights Ordinance

One of the primary purposes of the Community Rights Ordinance (CRO) is to allow neighborhoods to defend themselves against the incursions and impunity of development corporations, and city agencies (such as Zoning or Planning). Indeed, it is the pressing need for such self-defense at the community and neighborhood level that is the prime impetus for proposing the CRO. There are other issues with respect to which it would provide some power, such as utility rates. But the transformation of our city through imposed development is a primary one.

In past bulletins, I have spoken about the rights of neighborhoods, and the power that people can generate democratically with each other. In this bulletin, I would like to expand on why neighborhood defense has become urgent.

This will involve speaking about the different levels at which "development" operates, which together threaten the character of our neighborhoods. We need to outline the political plans, the various actual designs, the different ordinances and city actions that facilitate these designs, and the dehumanizing effect that these designs will have on us socially and culturally, in order to fully grasp what we face.

I apologize for the length. This problem exists at many levels, which all interrelate. Each element takes on new meanings when seen in the context of all the others.

The big picture

There are four levels of planning:
1- ABAG and its requirement for urban densification;
2- Plan Bay Area, which has tragetted the East Bay for massive hi-rise developments (condos);
3- The berkeley demolition plan that will make it easier to tear down houses for the purposes of replacement;
4- The privatization of the Berkeley Housing Authority.

The master plan for all this comes from ABAG (Assoc. of Bay Area Governments). What it projects is a massive population shift from the suburbs to the cities, for which densely packed high-rise apartments and condo buildings will be necessary. Thus, it is also a population concentration project. The other three plans mentioned here are to facilitate that population shift and its concentration.

The Plan Bay Area is a mapping of proposed development areas for the whole region, created by a conjunction of ABAG and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). As a plan, it defines Primary Development Areas (PDAs) for each city, and requires each city to promote development in those areas in accord with ABAG projections. These PDAs are along the BART lines, and I-80, and along major avenues in the bay area cities.

Neither of these bodies (ABAG and MTC) are representative of the people. They are bodies that have power over the people and over city governments. They are essentially forms of political structure imposed on us by state and corporate interests.

Types of construction for Berkeley

There are four types of construction planned:
1- High-rise condos along major transit corridors, such as I-80, and the BART lines.
2- Large apartment buildings along major avenues, like Shattuck Ave, University Ave., San Pablo Ave., and Gilman St. Many buildings have been built over the last five years, and are still not fully occupied.
3- Stacks of micro-apartment – literally tiny prefabricated studios piled on one another by crane, each less than 300 sq. ft., yet projected to house two people.
4- Mini-dorms in the areas around the University, in which existing housing is revised to contain more bedrooms than originally intended by the building’s design.

Why is this happening?

The reason ABAG is promoting these developments is dual. As the Bay Area transformed itself from an industrial port to a communications and financial center for the Pacific Rim economy, corporate operations need their technicians and executives in closer proximity. And this implies a need to reverse the massive population shift that occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, when city dwellers fled to the suburbs (often called “white flight”). The suburbs provided easy property ownership for those with the better jobs. And the new expressways originally made the "commute" fairly easy. Now, those who commute can spend up to three hours a day on the highways.

So business wants to bring them back. And we who live in the cities will bear the brunt of this, watching densification decay our small friendly commercial areas, and lose our neighborhood sociality to constant traffic jams and chain stores. ABAG projects building millions of new housing units in the Bay Area, and it has defined allottments of this total to each county and each city. Alameda county’s allotment is to be 23% of the total, somewhere around 800,000 new units.

What is ABAG? It is a governmental structure imposed between the cities and counties on the one hand, and the state on the other. It claims to "represent" the cities, but its personel are not elected to it by the people. Instead, it represents the state. And it can impose its plans on the cities because it can cut off state funds to city services for those cities that do not comply with its "allotments."

The City of Berkeley’s involvement

The City of Berkeley has begun rezoning areas in West Berkeley, against the popular sentiment clearly expressed in rejection of Measure T in the last election. That rejection said, loud and clear, “no rezoning of West Berkeley.” But the Archstone building, which was proposed 4 years ago (at a 50 foot height), has been permitted against the Measure T defeat (and now has a height of 82 feet), and is nearing completion.

The city is gradually dissolving the Berkeley Housing Authority. It is in the process of selling 15 properties it has owned and used for low-income housing to a private business called Related California, an affiliate of Related Companies LP of New York, which is a cartel of real estate companies worth something like $22 billion in development capital. Related will take ownership of these buildings and renovate them (promising that no tenants will lose their residency). This deal will be signed this month (Dec. 2013).

Related’s webpage says “we are specialists in financing using government-sponsered programs.” That means they are private developers living off public funds. At the same time that the BHA is selling properties to Related, it is ending its Housing Assistance Payment program, which has in the past assisted a lot of people with their rents. It will still be the first step for Section 8 housing, but now, Section 8 people will have to go through a dual investigations, first by the BHA, and second by Related. What this amounts to is a process of privatization of what the BHA used to handle as an agency of city government.

Finally, the city is now considering a "demolition" bill, that will put more houses on the chopping block, and make it easier to clear space for new densifying buildings. This is just another way the city government is cooperating with ABAG and PBA.

The punchline

The punchline is the inhumanity of it all:
1- ABAG claims that shifting the suburban population back to the cities will eliminate much pollution by decreasing commuter traffic. But it will only further pollute the cities with the traffic jams created by densification.
2- The Archstone building, built against voter desires, will be right on the railroad line, and thus subject to the train horns at all times of day and night. It will also be subject to the diesel exhaust from the expressway. Leasing rules already require that tenants must keep their windows closed so that the air filtering system in the building can keep the air "fresh." In other words, it is an inhumane resolution to an invented problem. Mass transit would be a better solution, but that would favor us in the cities more than those to be shifted back from the suburbs.
3- The proposal for mini-apartments carries the inhumanity of what is happening to even higher levels. The 2700 block of Shattuck Ave. was the first area targetted (in the East Bay) for a pile of prefabricated "cells" mascarading as a building. For two people to try to live in such a cramped space would probably produce madness (and possibly violence). Fortunately, objections by neighbors and organized opposition by groups such as the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, got the zoning commission to turn it down. But the idea hasn’t gone away.

A dehumanization of society, a densification of living space, and a destruction of neighborhoods is what we face from plans that are not just on the board but have been moved to implementation stage.

As things now stand, there is neither accessibility to these projects by the people who will be affected by them, nor accountability by those promulgating them (ABAG, city gov. and developers), and no transparency with respect to the unfolding of these population shift plans. That is, they are anti-democratic.

If we are to defend ourselves and our neighborhoods against this, we have to not only organize, but have a structure that gives us the right to say what will happen in our neighborhoods (a pro-democracy movement).

This is what the Community Rights Ordinance is for.

It is based on the following principles.

  • 1- Owing to the weakness of representation in councils, that the power to preserve (or change) the character of a neighborhood be given to the residents through direct democracy based on dialogue and mutual respect among the residents, expressed through neighborhood assemblies.
  • 2- The hearings (as a protocol) to which the city limits people’s input on proposals be replaced by these neighborhood assemblies as organizations of direct democracy.
  • 3- Hearings are essentially anti-democratic. A group that wishes to make an argument as a group to its representatives finds itself fragmented by the hearing protocol. It loses coherence insofar as each person has only a minute or two to speak. And it loses cohesion insofar as different points of view all line up in the same line. Essentially, the hearing paradigm is based on “You get to run your mouth, and we get to run the show.”
  • 4- Finally, direct democracy is based on the principle that those who will be affected by a policy should be involved in defining and articulating the policy, and not just in voting on what others define and articulate. That means that neighborhood assemblies must have the power to modify development proposals, or even veto them if no compromise can be reached with the developer.

In short

The Community Rights Ordinance will establish the need for any corporate development, whether from outside the city or at the hands of the city itself, to go through a process of discussion in the neighborhoods that will be affected by the development (whether constructive or destructive), and give those neighborhoods that will be affected the power to either modify the planned developments to fit in with their social sense of the neighborhood, or refuse it.

Community Rights Ordinance on line
https://docs.google.com/file/ d/0ByHLbQK- ad1hTWJBcVRqRVNIZ0k/edit?usp= sharing
http://home.comcast.net/~ loccna/dev/ communityrightsordinance.html

The Community Rights Committee
PO Box 11842
Berkeley, CA 94712

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