The Berkeley That Was
As a resident of Berkeley, I thank Alexander Nazaryan for his well-written essay (“Fantasyland,” August 13). When I first moved to Berkeley, in 1974, I had nothing negative to say. Berkeley had a serene campus, plentiful trees, and a beautiful park.
A Finnish community had built the Consumers’ Cooperative of Berkeley. The co-op was three grocery stores, a hardware store, a bookstore, and a credit union. I joined. It was well run; at the end of the year, members shared the profits based on patronage. When shopping, one noticed others straightening items on shelves and keeping the store orderly. Members enjoyed and took pride in the co-op. But the co-op is now long gone. Activists took over who were uninterested in caring for what was. First to go were the end-of-the-year patronage payments. The monetary incentive to join was gone. Membership became meaningless. And then the co-op went bankrupt.
Berkeley politicians are never happy with what is. If unemployment goes down, the jobs are low-paying. If the jobs are well-paying, then they are driving up housing prices. The co-op was not perfect, so it had to be driven into the ground to try to make things perfect.
The big issue then was “Manhattanization.” It was a term used in opposition to high-density development. Four days before receiving the issue with Nazaryan’s article, I was at a South Berkeley meeting about building affordable housing on a Bay Area Rapid Transit parking lot. Manhattanization was promoted. The discussion started with a goal to achieve 20 to 50 percent affordable housing, “affordable” being housing that is affordable to those with incomes below the median for the area. As the discussion continued, the 20 percent figure was not mentioned again and the number became 100 percent. Then “affordable” became low- and very-low-income housing. Funding was not mentioned, but high-density Manhattanization was considered a very favorable thing, as it would allow for more housing.
One would need remarkable prescience to see what is in Berkeley’s future. Principles change fast in Berkeley.
When I was a freshman at Stanford University in 1975, Stanford and UC-Berkeley had a lively exchange of people and ideas, from theoretical sciences to social sciences to the humanities. There was intellectual, but friendly, competition between the two schools. There was integrated access to libraries on both campuses, with borrowing privileges between them. Berkeley had greater enrollment, and therefore it was understandable that Stanford would shutter its architecture program in deference to Berkeley’s preeminence in that field, and that Berkeley and not Stanford would have a program in Sanskrit studies, which one of my freshman colleagues left Stanford to pursue. One of the most telling of Berkeley’s many claims to fame was that at the time it had more Nobel Prize winners on its faculty than any other university, anywhere.
Compared with placid Palo Alto, Berkeley was edgy, gritty, vibrant, and exciting. I enjoyed visiting friends there. The decline of Berkeley over several decades has many causes, but it is one of the great tragedies in American higher education.
Robert W. Helm
Correction: “The Border at Work” (Jerry Kammer, August 13) referred to Chuck Hagel as a Republican senator from Iowa. In fact, he represented Nebraska.