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January 25, 2004

Life in Berkeley

I think I've figured out why I get angry whenever I visit Berkeley anymore: I can't afford to live there.

I spent twenty years working in Berkeley and partaking of the city's fine selection of rental housing. It was home. Still, when Becky and I were becoming first-time homeowners with a maximum budget of 300,000 bucks, we looked at maybe 50 houses between Pinole and Hayward. Only one of them was in Berkeley, in probably the worst neighborhood in the city, with tenants who were obviously intent on Being Difficult — the open house featured their dirty underwear displayed on the back of the sofa. They'd pretty much trashed the place. Buying would have meant 1) being evil homebuyers who evict helpless tenants and 2) taking a year to do so due to byzantine rent control laws, while we needed a place to live next month.

The next-most-"affordable" tier of housing was about a hundred grand further up the unattainability scale.

And so I visit Berkeley pre-primed to rage against the Infiniti drivers, the Pottery Barn habitues, the attorneys and tech CFOs. It's not just that they're idling in the middle of a congested two-way street, talking on their cellphones and blocking traffic while they wait for the Lexus to pull out of the parking spot in front of the homeopathic pharmacy because walking two blocks would just be way too hard — it's because, through their willingness to fork over eight times what a two-bedroom bungalow on a busy street is actually worth, they've displaced me from my home of two decades.

Not that there weren't already reasons to leave. I'm about as left as one can get, but the self-righteous style politics of some of my cohort was rather repellent. I suppose it's not uncommon to emphasize form over substance, parroting the line of the moment and ignoring the logical ramifications of your advocacy when it comes to actual people. Or even worse, paying too much attention to political purity, ignoring the messy edges that come of life in the real world. I worked with Berkeley environmental activists for more than a decade, and I swear only a minority of them could identify a tree if it had apples hanging on it. Meanwhile, half of my neighbors in Pinole can tell you in casual conversation what kind of bedrock our hill is made of.

But with all Berkeley's annoyances, there were moments of charm to be had. My pal Jym describes one in his new blog, which inexplicably seems to date back to the late 1980s.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 25, 2004 08:25 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

I hear you -- both about the expense and the annoyance of political self-righteousness. Of course, down here I have the former with a right-center version of the latter, so it could be worse. ;)

Posted by: Rana at January 28, 2004 10:45 AM
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