Land Matters Podcast: A Booming Bay Area City Confronts an Affordability Crisis
Berkeley, California, might be described as a victim of its own success—a roaring innovation economy, a college town, and a hugely popular place to live, minutes from Oakland and San Francisco, but plagued by a staggering lack of affordability, rampant real estate speculation, and homelessness.
When it comes to new housing development, much of the narrative in recent years has been framed in terms of two camps: those who oppose neighborhood infill development, labeled as proclaiming “not in my backyard,” and advocates of dramatically increased supply of different kinds of housing, under the banner of YIMBY—“yes in my backyard.”
In an interview for the Land Matters podcast, Mayor Jesse Arreguín makes it clear he believes the more housing, the better.
“We need to build new housing,” he said, in a recent interview at Berkeley City Hall. “What we have is a crisis that is decades in the making through deliberate actions on the part of government, through racial segregation or redlining, through fierce resistance to building housing, and through policies that have constrained the production of housing, and now we're in a crisis. I think a crisis and emergency requires that we take emergency action. That's why we are embracing building more housing—and we will continue to build lots more housing, because we think that is the solution to addressing our housing crisis.”
Arreguín was elected mayor in 2016, becoming the first Latino to hold the office and, at 32, the youngest mayor in a century. He was reelected with over 65 percent of the vote in 2020. The son and grandson of farmworkers, Arreguín grew up in San Francisco. At nine, he helped lead efforts to name a city street after activist Cesar Chavez, beginning a lifelong commitment to social justice.
After he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, he stayed in the city, serving on numerous boards overseeing planning and zoning, and ultimately the city council. He is also now president of the Association of Bay Area Governments, which is the Bay Area’s Council of Governments and regional planning agency.
Arreguín came into office mindful of the concerns of established residents who expressed skepticism about allowing additional height and density, but says the situation is so dire, creative solutions are in order—in keeping with the area’s reputation for innovation in the private sector.
“We are looking at innovation, not just in terms of scientific research, but from a government perspective, innovation in creating public policy,” he said. “I see Berkeley as an innovation lab, a test lab for new approaches to public policy, which is why we’re really thinking intentionally about how we can create solutions to housing and homelessness, and a lot of the other challenges facing cities in 2022.”
An edited version of the interview is available online at Land Lines magazine, as the latest installment of the Mayor’s Desk feature.
From Downtown to Single-Family Blocks, Berkeley Eyes Big Zoning Changes (Berkeleyside)
Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.