Our Backyard: Opposite Directions

Oakland is now the Easy Bay’s undisputed leader in new housing development, while Berkeley is going backward.


Oakland recently approved a 24-story housing tower for MacArthur BART.

Courtesy of Boston Properties

During the past decade, the city of Berkeley led the East Bay’s effort to deal with the region’s extreme housing shortage. During the tenure of ex-Mayor Tom Bates, Berkeley built more than 5,000 units of housing. By contrast, Oakland trailed badly behind its neighbor during the past half-decade, adding a negligible number of new units.

What a difference a few months can make. Oakland is now in the middle of a housing boom, with thousands of units approved or under construction. The San Francisco Business Times reported late last year that Oakland had a whopping 18,000 units of housing in the residential development pipeline.

But Berkeley is in the midst of a historic retrenchment. In November, NIMBYs (not in my backyard) celebrated the victory of Mayor Jesse Arreguin and a new council majority that seems to find fault with every new housing proposal—no matter how small.

In February, Arreguin and the council rejected a modest plan to build three new units of housing in South Berkeley on Haskell Street. And then on March 7, Arreguin and the council decided to table a plan to construct 50 units of transit-oriented housing next to Ashby BART because of a bitter dispute over two of the units. Arreguin and the council majority decided that they wanted the project to include 10 affordable units after the developer had already agreed to build eight.

On the same night that Berkeley was squabbling over the Ashby BART project, the Oakland City Council was unanimously approving a massive housing development for McArthur BART—just one train stop away. With little fanfare and no disagreements, the council OK’d the Temescal district’s first housing tower, a 24-story, high-rise project with 402 units, of which 45 will be affordable.

Oakland, in other words, is now the new housing leader in the East Bay. And that’s good news for people who desperately need homes or are in danger of being forced out of the region because of high prices.

Berkeley, unfortunately, has taken a big step backward. And that’s too bad, because without new housing to help relieve demand, Berkeley will continue to get more expensive and soon may become an enclave only for the rich.


Our Backyard is an occasional column by senior editor Robert Gammon.


Published online on March 24, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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