With climate change as the foremost threat to the planet, and transportation as the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, we are calling for bold action to dramatically reduce transportation emissions. In Berkeley it is often unsafe and inconvenient to walk, bike or use public transportation—a status quo we have chosen as the sum of our policy decisions. It is time to affirmatively change course and build a better future for all.
Our housing shortage directly contributes to high emissions. While Berkeley’s population is now slightly lower than its peak a half-century ago, the Bay Area as a whole added over 5 million people. Over the last decade, the region added 7 new jobs for every new home built. Berkeley has made incremental progress in slightly reducing our per capita emissions, but this progress has been insufficient: California won’t meet its emission reduction targets unless we drastically reduce car trips; yet Berkeley has priced out its workforce into increasingly long commutes, despite the fact that it is among the most transit-rich cities in the region.
Studies have shown that encouraging dense infill housing and reducing car trips are the most effective policies the City can pursue to that end. Beyond that, we are better connected with each other when we walk and ride together, not in the isolated confines of a private vehicle. We are also more prosperous together—car culture is a pernicious poverty trap, and long commutes keep family in poverty.
Zoning is broken. It makes no sense when a standard residential lot within easy walking distance of downtown can’t be used for anything more than a single-family house. Before World War II, most of Berkeley was zoned for multi-family dwellings, which is why our beloved walkable neighborhoods enjoy a vibrant array of dense, cost-effective housing such as triplexes, walk-up apartments, and subdivided houses. It’s absurd that much of our existing housing would be illegal to build today.
Subsidizing housing costs and stabilizing rents are both part of the solution. We are under no illusions that zoning reform and market mechanisms are even remotely sufficient. Construction costs alone in California mean that new housing is unaffordable to many people. We don’t want Berkeley to only be available for those of us rich enough to afford new market-rate buildings.
We must have below-market, subsidized affordable housing as part of the solution. Inclusionary zoning is one good tool for this, along with non-profit and municipally owned housing. All of this must be handled thoughtfully—for example, the the cost of building new affordable housing must not only fall on new housing, but should be at least partially supported by the city at large; and the costs (such as inclusionary zoning) should not make new housing economically unfeasible. Emergency measures should not exacerbate the root problem of rising costs.
The key to a Berkeley with much lower carbon emissions and housing costs is a comprehensive housing and transit plan that prioritizes pedestrians, bikers, and public transit over cars, apartment buildings over parking lots, and duplexes over single-family homes. The same gentle, walkable density that was once built in Berkeley neighborhoods, which knit together the unique urban fabric we know and love, can still build a future Berkeley where our children can grow up, and our seniors can age in place.
Berkeley is at the heart of a global metropolis with a world-class public university, engaged constituents, and progressive values. Nevertheless, we are failing to address the most important humanitarian issue of this century. The solution is building more housing here, where it is most environmentally responsible, and responds to an urgent need. We are stepping up to the challenge to ensure Berkeley is inclusive and sustainable for generations to come.
Join us and let’s get to work!