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Editorials • October 15, 2007



Editor: Albert Sukoff

Because I am so inclined, I was perusing the census data for Berkeley on a website posted by the MTC-ABAG library. (That's the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Are Governments.)  Therein presented was data showed comparisons between the 2000 census and 2005 estimates attributed to the American Community Survey (ACS), an effort of the Census Bureau using sampling rather than the 100% survey constitutionally mandated for the decennial census. 

The population of Berkeley found by the 2000 census was 102,743.  The ACS estimate for 2005 was 90,432.  It is hard to believe but this data set shows an astounding loss of 12% of the population over a five year period.  My first reaction was this is impossible.  Looking at it more carefully, I am not quite so sure. 

The same surveys (i.e. the 2000 census and the 2005 ACS) show a population increase for the State of California of 4%.  The Bay Area as a whole shows a loss of less than 1%.  Oakland shows a loss of about 5%.  The Area's other big cities, San Jose and San Francisco , show very modest losses, as do the other largish communities in Alameda County ( San Leandro , Hayward and Fremont ).  This all makes some sense.  Modest growth for the State and modest losses in the Bay Area could well be attributable to the impact of the so-called dot-com bubble. The burst would have had an effect by 2000 but the full impact would be manifest by 2005.  That this economic downturn would account for modest population losses in the tech-oriented Bay Area is not unreasonable.  Kids from Cleveland lost their $100,000 jobs, couldn't find another one and went back to Cleveland .  More an urban than a suburban phenomenon. 

But a 12% loss in Berkeley !  A loss of over 12,000 people is more than half the entire loss experienced in all of Alameda County (which dropped about 22,000 out of almost 1.45 million).  Something else must be going on.  First, the loss shown for the half-decade following the 2000 census is really just a continuation of a long standing trend.  The 1970 population for Berkeley was 116,716; by 1980, it had dropped to 103,328 and by 1990, to 102,774. 

Could Berkeley have lost over 22% of it population over the 35 year period from 1970 to 2005?  Could rent control have anything to do with this phenomenon?  The persons per household reported by the 1970 census was 2.32; by the 2005 ACS, 2.04.  But this is for all households.  If you assume a constant 3 persons/household for all single family homes, I estimate that the persons/household for apartments, overwhelmingly rentals, dropped from about 1.9 to about 1.2.  Could this be attributable to under-market rents?  Do you think there might be an occasional apartment in town that once had two occupants and then had one?  Ya think? 

Rent control supposedly promotes diversity and helps the poor.  In fact, the argument has been made and supported by census data that it does not such thing.  What appears undeniable, however, is that the main impact attributable to rent control is that fewer people get housed.  Berkeley can certainly house 117,000 — it actually has.  The 1955 Master Plan for Berkeley projected a population of over 200,000 by now (and didn't think it was such a bad thing).  The City could hold that too. 

The true uber-left in Berkeley supports rent control for philosophical reasons.  There is another chuck of our neighbors who add their support to controls because it keeps the town less crowded.  I have an acquaintance who once told me he voted for rent control because it kept the density of his [north of campus] neighborhood down.  I told him we might achieve the same end by shooting every other person in the neighborhood.  I left him mulling it over


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