Anti-Blight Ordinance: Leave well enough alone
L A Wood, Berkeley Voice, December 3, 1992
The Voice received a copy of the following letter to Berkeley Mayor Lonnie Hancock and Berkeley City Council members.
I addressed the council with concerns over the proposed anti-blight ordinance. As a follow-up to my public comment, I am writing this letter to encourage you to vote NO on the adoption of the proposed anti-blight ordinance. Of course, I am not pro-blight, but I do recognize many of the difficulties and abuses surrounding this anti-blight program. Historically, Berkeley has avoided blight legislation. Over the last 20 years, the entire city has prospered without a working anti-blight ordinance. Our state and local building codes along with health and safety standards functioned to control blight. Why do we need more?
It was suggested to the council that if you were to answer the question, "What is blight?" you would most likely provide nine different answers. If there was one common response, it would be that of vacant buildings. The planning commission in the development of Phase 1 made first priority of these particular properties. Vacant residential properties are easily identified and hurt our neighborhoods. If indeed Berkeley, needs a blight ordinance, then focus this ordinance on the real problem: vacant properties. Limit this ordinance to Phase 1 only. Why do we need more?
The proposed anti-blight ordinance is directed at West and South Berkeley. Phases 2 and 3 of the ordinance amount to little more than a punitive city dress code. The subjective language and the board criteria will promote problems in both administrative abuse and public understanding. As a public, we have a right to fair and well defined laws that set our expectation of government. A just and open administrative process is less likely to arise from an ordinance so under defined and poorly structure. Over the years, this dress code will remove many of the traditional elements of our neighborhoods.
First the free boxes will be removed and then the community bulletin boards. Much of our city's front yard art will be abated along with individual expression. Berkeley doesn't need this predatory ordinance to control blight. In District 2 we have the highest number of Section 8 housing. This means that these properties undergo critical inspection before being certified, as do other Section 8s in the city. Rent control also contributes to the process of property management and review. Our city even has program assistance (soft approach) in blight prevention, "Christmas in April." It is all our existing programs that contribute to a relatively blight-free Berkeley in 1992. Why do we need more?
At a time when most city departments face personnel and budget reductions, the size of the Codes and Inspections department is due to increase. The anti-blight ordinance provides for funding and increased staff to fully implement the ordinance. This most recent attempt to create alternative funding to the general fund has an unfortunate consequence. It creates a conflict of interest where the Codes and Inspection department would be directly funded by those whom they victimize. A predictably larger department of Codes and Inspection will be armed with broader discretion and self serving motives (enforcing phase 2 and 3) as they feed on Berkeley property owners and perpetuate their own fiscal existence. Why do we need more?
The stated purpose of this ordinance is in part "to promise the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens..." The impact of anti-blight legislation on 'Berkeley's citizens will prove to fall short of this goal. The general welfare of many citizens will be put in jeopardy, especially those of us residing in South and West Berkeley. The council will set in motion a bureaucratic program that will harass and create economic hardship for many of its longtime citizens. Why do we need more?
The council could not find a worse possible time for the passage of such important legislation. The Planning Commission is somewhat in disarray as it winds up the last months of its term. Though the commission gave its initial support to the council, several commissioners expressed discontent over changes made later by the council to the final draft. The commission is not in any state to give further criticism. They did not even have a quorum to open their October meeting. Council is not in much better shape. With its term ending in November, a number of council members will not be around to see the implementation and impact of this ordinance. This anti-blight ordinance has a long-range design and should be entered into slowly.
The council has self-imposed a delay in the second reading of this anti-blight ordinance. I hope you will take the time to review these very important issues. At a time of acknowledged economic downturn, our city should be careful not to impose additional burdens on its citizens. Berkeley's community should be afforded some public input via a public hearing. As a devoted citizen to Berkeley, I urge that you vote No on this anti blight ordinance and yes to Berkeley.