May 16, 1993

City of Berkeley Planning Department

2180 Milvia Street

Berkeley, California 94704

Re: The Quality of Life in Berkeley -- the General Plan


It's hard to write a whole letter about improving the quality of life in Berkeley, because the problem and the solution are so simple. I am tempted to just write "eliminate the automobile" and mail it in.

But it's true: eliminate the automobile and the other abuses of the internal combustion engine, and we very nearly clean the air and water, halt global warming and ozone depletion, rid the air of annoying, stress-generating noise, halt urban sprawl, give plants and animals and other wildlife a chance to recover, bring back farming, put the poor and others dependent on public transit on more of an equal footing with the rest of the community, and improve the economy by allowing it to focus on products that are truly useful (just as the military sector is now relearning how to do something productive, instead of their arcane, environmentally ignorant arts).

My needs are simple. I would like to be able to go out of my house and not smell car, truck, and bus exhaust. I would like to be able to hike in the hills above Berkeley and not be followed by the continual drone of freeway traffic and airplanes. I would like to see wildlife and native people return to Berkeley -- get back at least a portion of the land that we stole from them (for example, in Australia, aborigines help manage the national parks). (Don't panic, Republicans, none of this precludes the benefits of a reasonable amount of technology, and certainly not the "Good Life").

Richard Register, in his book Ecocity Berkeley, described such a vision. But we need to fill in some of the details, particularly, how we can get there. First, we need to get a source of funds. The best source is an environmental tax, preferably one that puts the lion's share of the burden on the wealthy. Since they own and use cars much more that the poor, taxes on auto ownership and use would be ideal. (Taxing ownership, in addition to use, is important because the greatest incentive for auto use is having one sitting in your driveway!) We need to eliminate the subsidy to the automobile, and subsidize instead things that are good for the community (libraries, parks, etc.). For example, road maintenance should be paid for by those who cause the damage -- car, truck, and bus users. There should be no free (i.e., publicly subsidized) parking, including in front of people's homes.

Cars cannot be used without some place to drive and park them. We should immediately stop building new roads and parking, and either maintain or rip out what we have. It makes no sense to keep trying to guarantee free and ample parking and congestionless roads for everyone who wants them. Not only is it physically impossible, but we are destroying our most valuable resources in the process (to say nothing of our quality of life)! The energy resources of the Earth are finite. Let's save them for something more valuable than "asphalt sailing".

It isn't necessary to worry, at this point, about what will replace cars. Once we make it appropriately difficult and expensive to drive, ex-auto addicts will beg for the necessary transit, bike paths, etc., instead of fighting them as they do now. Instead of having to fight over where to put bicycle routes and pay consultants to mediate, every street will be a bicycle path!

You know what needs to be done. All you need is the courage to say it.


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.