Berkeley is located on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay in northern Alameda County, California. The current population is estimated to be 117,385. Berkeley was recently named one of the most livable cities in America based on AARP’s Livability Index. Health, Transportation/ Walkability, and access to activities, work and play are among the assets identified in Berkeley. Cost of living and cost of housing present some of the greatest barriers to livability. Median home sale prices remain dramatically higher than the rest of the nation, now at $1,200,000, fueled by spillover from the San Francisco housing shortage, a local tech boom, and population growth. Local parcel taxes, approved by voters to support important local programs like the public schools, are generous but add to pressures on low and moderate income homeowners and renters. The high cost of living in the Bay Area was raised as a major challenge by older adults in all surveys and focus groups.
Historically, Berkeley has been a city of unexpected diversity and activity in social policy, such as fair housing legislation, voluntary school desegregation, and the independent living movement. However, current challenges threaten the economic and cultural diversity that make Berkeley a vibrant city. Recent gentrification has contributed to a 37% decline in the African American population,5 especially in some historically African American neighborhoods in South and West Berkeley. The mortality rate for African Americans remains twice as high as the mortality rate of Whites. Berkeley has the highest per capita rate of homelessness in Alameda County. Low and moderate income individuals are finding it difficult to afford to live and work here and there is an increasing divide between income levels. Estimates in 2014 indicated that 23% of those 60+ in Berkeley were living under 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Significant policy changes are needed locally and regionally as Berkeley continues to tackle these challenges.
Berkeley has a number of assets to support an active, healthy and engaged community. Berkeley is one of three cities in the state of California with its own Public Health Jurisdiction. This distinction enables public health services and initiatives to be focused on and dedicated to a discrete population. Berkeley is also home to a number of educational institutions, including the University of California, Berkeley campus, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley City College, and the Graduate Theological Union. These institutions enhance Berkeley’s reputation as an intellectual mecca and are also an economic engine for the City. Thirty percent of local jobs are in education.8 Berkeley’s international reputation plus its active arts and culture scene and a dynamic social center contribute to making it a magnet for inventive people, an incubator for business start-ups, and a science and technology hub.