September, 2010


The University of California at Berkeley has once again won the dubious honor of having the most expensive dorms of any public university in the United States. Room and board at U.C. Berkeley averages $14,400 a year with 2 students in a room. $14,400 divided by 9 months, the term of a dorm lease, comes to $1,600 a month. That means that the university is getting $3,200 a month for a dorm room with 2 students in it. Sometimes when I mention that figure to my tenants, they say: "Yes, but that includes food and utilities." I tell them: "Yes, that's true, but if you are willing to pay me $3,200 a month per bedroom, then I will happily pay your utility bills and supply you with steak and lobster every night." No one has ever taken me up on that offer. The only other public universities on the list of the 20 most expensive college dorms in the United States are U.C. Santa Cruz and UCLA , both of which are only slightly cheaper than Berkeley. To see the complete list, go to: Expensive College Dorms.

WHY ARE BERKELEY DORMS SO EXPENSIVE? There are many reasons. Here are some of the biggies.

  • High construction costs. It is very expensive to build dorms or anything else at U.C. Berkeley. While the city council does not have veto power over construction on state land, Berkeley politicians and citizens are well honed in the art of fighting the university whenever they try to build anything - and dragging out the process as long as possible. The cost to the university of fighting lawsuits, protesters, squatters, the city council, neighborhood associations, claims that there may be Indian artifacts on the site, and challenges to environmental impact reports adds millions of dollars to construction costs. These costs are ultimately passed along to students. In 2009, a yearlong protest by tree sitters outside Memorial Stadium added $10 million to the cost of building a new athletic center there. In the end, the tree sitters were evicted, and they accomplished nothing. Sadly, few Berkeley students see the connection between this kind of costly obstructionism and the high cost of rent in the dorms.

  • Rent control. Thousands of apartments in Berkeley that used to be occupied by students are now occupied by permanent residents who never move because their rent is kept far below market by rent control. Still more apartments have simply vanished. Just on the block I live on, I know of 8 apartments that have disappeared since the passage of rent control. The university bases dorm rents on market rates, just like landlords in the private sector, and the market rate for rent, even in Berkeley, is subject to the laws of supply and demand, just like everything else in our society. Sadly, few Berkeley students see the connection between rent control and the high cost of rent in the dorms.

  • State budget cuts. The amount of money that the University of California gets from the state on a per student basis has dropped dramatically over the past decade. As the university gets less money from the state, they have to get more money from students. The state of California is projecting a huge budget deficit for the coming year, so more cuts seem likely. California is not alone in this. Most states are projecting budget deficits for the coming year, and state universities all over the country are feeling the axe.


    If you are looking for a cheaper college education than U.C. Berkeley, you could consider Beck University. Yes, Glenn Beck now runs his own "university", although the school is on-line and not accredited. For only $80 a year, you can get a "university education" taking courses "personally designed by Glenn Beck himself." Initially, Beck University is offering courses in religion, American history, and economics. Glenn Beck's own academic credentials are a little thin. Beck attended Yale University, although he famously dropped out after taking only one course. Frankly, I don't think that a degree from Beck University will carry quite as much cachet in the job market as a degree from U.C. Berkeley. Anyway, that's my opinion.


    Last month, Disney raised the price of adult admission to Disney World and the other Disney theme parks in Orlando, Florida to $82 a day. Disney's definition of an adult is anyone age 10 or older. Kids under the age of 10 pay $74 a day. In addition, Disney is raising the price of it's Park Hopper to $54 a day. Park Hopper is the transportation system that takes guests between Disney World hotels and theme parks. This means that it now costs a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 children) $544 a day just to enter Disney World and to use the Park Hopper. With hotel, meals, and other expenses; a family can easily spend $1,200 to $1,500 a day at Disney World without being extravagant. And that does not include the cost of air fare to Orlando.

    And then there's the climate. Even if the cost of a trip to Disney World isn't a problem, the climate is a problem. In July and August, the average daily temperature in Orlando is 92 degrees and it rains 17 days a month. An outdoor theme park isn't much fun when its 92 degrees and raining. Plus summer is the peak of the hurricane and tornado season in Florida. On the other hand, Disneyland in Anaheim, California is much more pleasant. It never rains in Anaheim in the summer, and we never have hurricanes or tornadoes in California. I have lived in California for 40 years, so maybe I'm prejudiced about this, but it seems to me that a Florida vacation just cannot compete with California. It isn't even close.


    Did you know that there is a bear hiding in the Toblerlone logo? It's hiding in plain sight too. If you look closely at the image of the Matterhorn in the Toblerone logo below, you can see the silhouette of a standing bear in the mountain. Do you see it? The Tobler Chocolate Co. is based in Bern, Switzerland; and Bern has been known as the "City of Bears" since the 16th century. Bears have been kept on public display in Bern since 1513. In 2009, a spacious new Bear Park opened up in Bern, one that allows the bears to fish in the Aare River that goes through the city.


    The California Highway Department is building a fourth bore to the Caldecott Tunnel. The prep work began last year, but the actual construction had to wait for the arrival of a tunnel boring machine from Germany. Tunnel boring machines are among the largest machines ever built and are awesome to watch in action. The machine that just arrived in Berkeley is 50 feet long. It weighs 130 tons and cost $5 million. It can drill a hole through the Berkeley hills wide enough for 2 cars to drive through side-by-side, and at a rate of 10 feet a day. Despite their high cost, tunnel boring machines have largely replaced the use of explosives in building highway tunnels. Explosives create a lot of problems for people and buildings near the construction site, and explosives fracture the rock around the tunnel.


    Have you tried my Black Onyx extra bittersweet chocolate bars? Extra bittersweet chocolate can be hard to find in stores. Extra bittersweet has a very intense chocolate flavor because it has very little sugar in it, the least amount of sugar of any kind of eating chocolate. Chocolate with any less sugar is considered baking chocolate, too bitter to eat by itself. My Black Onyx chocolate bars are 85% cacao, and they are always in stock at my free chocolate store.


    Does your apartment have a carbon monoxide detector? I put carbon monoxide detectors in all my rental units, but sometimes, people remove them or lose them. If you don't have a carbon monoxide detector, you can get one for free from me. If you do have a carbon monoxide detector, you should test it at least once every 6 months and change the 9 volt backup battery inside at least once a year. Your carbon monoxide detector should be plugged into an outlet someplace where there is air circulation in front of it. If your carbon monoxide detector is behind a sofa or a bookcase, it isn't going to work because it can't sniff the air back there. Remember, carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, tasteless.....and toxic.

    Mark Tarses

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