"It may be difficult to do business... but it can be done"


Those are the words about doing business in Berkeley of Tom Bates, our mayor, former California State Senator, and man so hard left that he used to vacation in East Germany in the "good old days" when communists rans the show there. He was commenting on the long struggle to gain city approval for building a branch of a locally—owned super market renowned for selling organic produce, run by a racial minority family, the Japanese—American Yasudas.

Everyone knows that Berkeley is a city run by leftists, though there are a few extremely hardy conservatives who thrive in the ideologically hostile environment, seduced by the views, architecture, excellent restaurants, and maybe a desire always to be able to find a political argument.

When the anti—development activists alienate the likes of Tom Bates and the San Francisco Chronicle with their ridiculous positions, some sort of tipping point has been reached. I hope so, because Berkeley desperately needs tipping, and because it could happen. If and when Berkeley returns to sanity, it would be a powerful sign of the rout of the left.

There are still people arguing that an eyesore corrugated tin—sheathed industrial building ought to be preserved as "historic"  on the distant chance that industrial jobs will return someday, and (more honestly) on opposition to development that would bring in highly—paid employees in high tech industries. These people fear that too many well—paid workers will lead to competition for the local housing stock, driving up prices even higher than they already are (in part thanks to the artificial scarcity caused by opponents of development). Even worse, they might vote for candidates opposed to the hard left agenda.

Berkeley is ruled by the left because there are so many students happy to vote for them, and then leave before ever paying local taxes. And because leftists flock here and can afford rent—controlled apartments. But Berkeley also features some gorgeous upper income neighborhoods. Class action tort lawyers occupy some of the properties, and other wealthy lefties also live here. But there are plenty of people who operate businesses, and are somewhat attached to the realities of life.

Berkeley has 2 or 3 square miles of prime land occupied by old factories and warehouses, a relic of an earlier era. A few of the sites remain active, or recycled to low—level uses. In fact a company on whose board I serve is considering leasing one of the warehouses right now, at a very reasonable cost.

But land like this cries out for higher uses. Berkeley is at the nexus of interstate highways, is close to San Francisco and Oakland, and is otherwise a highly desireable piece of real estate.

Adjacent to this industrial district lies the small city of Emeryville, which has attracted billions of dollars in development within its couple of square miles, with big names like Genentech and Pixar Studios building architecturally and economically significant campuses, and generating huge tax revenues for the three or four thousand residents to spend. [Incidentally, in every Pixar movie I have seen, including the current one, Cars, there are multiple sly insider—joke references to Emeryville snuck in. You have to pay attention and maybe know the local scene to get them.]

I have little doubt that these and other facilities would have been located in Berkeley, had the local government been less averse to development. That sort of development would not only fund better local services, it might be the catalyst for political reform.

So exactly who are the reactionaries?

Thomas Lifson   6 17 06