29 December 2006

Gale Garcia: Save historic buildings

Photo: Daniella Thompson, 2006

The following is a letter to the editor published today in the Berkeley Voice:

For several years, Mayor Bates and other pro-development forces have been trying to weaken our 32-year-old Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, which is all we have to protect the historic character of our town.

Measure J was a grassroots citizens’ initiative to retain our existing ordinance, in response to the mayor’s plan to adopt a new, demolition-friendly ordinance. Tens of thousands of dollars from developers and the chamber of commerce were spent to defeat Measure J, through a mean-spirited campaign of ridicule and lies.

On Dec. 12, the City Council approved the mayor’s new “Landmark Preservation Ordinance,” which is more like a demolition ordinance. When the public was allowed to comment, no one spoke in favor of this ordinance; many spoke in opposition, receiving vigorous applause.

Last-minute changes were hastily made so that no one had the chance to read the final version before the council adopted it, not even the council members!

The mayor’s ordinance enables demolition of historic buildings when there are no current plans to replace the buildings. This could lead to tax losses for the city, as some property taxes are based on square footage of structures.

With the market changing, several developers have already dropped their plans to build, in some cases after demolishing the existing buildings, leaving blighted vacant lots in their stead.

If you care about Berkeley’s unique neighborhoods and commercial areas, and if you care about honest public process, please sign the referendum to place this matter on the ballot. This will ensure that the mayor’s ordinance can be read, considered and understood before it becomes law—and before it’s too late.

Gale Garcia


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