Urban planning

Berkeleyans add to West Berkeley debate in novel forum

West Berkeley. Photo: John C. Osborn.

Tonight will see part two of public hearings on proposals which could see West Berkeley transformed, and many residents are making their views known on “open town hall” site Peak Democracy.

More than 200 people have so far left comments on a forum set up by councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak, which leads with the question: “Should the City Council amend West Berkeley zoning to allow conversion of warehouse and/or wholesale spaces to other uses including research and development (R&D)?”

The proposed changes would relax protections that have been in place for years over what types of business the city allows within the West Berkeley industrial area, which has tended to focus on fast-disappearing manufacturing spaces. In particular, they would open up the area to research and development outfits. Some people who oppose the changes are concerned that an expansion of residential development could dramatically increase property values to the point of pushing out small businesses.

Opinions on Peak Democracy are overwhelmingly in favor of the proposals with a majority voting yes and a smattering of “maybes”, although there are also concerns about the potential consequences of the plans.

Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine and the Chairman of 3D Robotics, a Berkeley-founded aerial robotics company, as well as a Berkeley resident, is in favor. He writes: “This is a historic moment. Berkeley has an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the computer and biotech eras, where the ideas, people and energy of a world-class university did not translate into a nearby high-tech industry, as they did in Silicon Valley.”

Berkeley resident Donald Morgan also says yes, writing: “The current zoning plan has been unsuccessful (to put it mildly) in preserving industrial uses in West Berkeley. It makes no sense to protect vacant, deteriorating industrial buildings from being put to productive uses. The proposed amendments appear to be well thought out and incremental.”

But Sharon Siskin, who lives in West Berkeley, says we do not need changes to the current zoning in West Berkeley. She writes: “We need the current zoning strengthened and enforced. Residents and people who work in West Berkeley have been attending endless meetings about how others want to change our neighborhood and voicing our concerns about these issues for more than 20 years. When are our representatives in the city going to listen to the people who actually are living and trying to work here, instead of ramming what the outside developers (and others interested in big profits) want down our throats?”

The first public hearing was held on January 25 and was well-attended, with residents and business owners on both sides of the issue expressing their opinions

If you want to join the conversation, you have until 4pm today to contribute your views on Peak Democracy (using your name or anonymously and requiring a simple online registration).

The discussion continues at tonight’s City Council meeting, where the item is number 13 on the agenda. The meeting begins at 7pm at City Hall.

Update, 17.10: The Peak Democracy forum on West Berkeley closed at 4pm. The final number of votes was 237 and the vast majority voted in favor of the new plans. This was the breakdown of responses: Yes: 182; No: 25; Neutral: 2; Maybe: 28.

Update, 02.10.11: On Tuesday night, the City Council opted to continue the hearings on West Berkeley until the next council meeting on February 22. Peak Democracy has re-opened the Open Town Hall on this issue. You may post your statement there anytime before noon on February 22.

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  • Name Withheld

    Glad to see that the majority seem to be supporting these changes.
    Unfortunately the do-nothing NIMBYs will probably come out in sufficient force to stall any change indefinitely.

  • Bruce Love

    Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine and the Chairman of 3D Robotics, a Berkeley-founded aerial robotics company, as well as a Berkeley resident, is in favor. He writes: “This is a historic moment. Berkeley has an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the computer and biotech eras, where the ideas, people and energy of a world-class university did not translate into a nearby high-tech industry, as they did in Silicon Valley.”

    Can Berkeleyside please ask Chris Anderson to explain how it is that light manufacturing is incompatible with synergy with Cal? It seems to me that in response to energy, environmental, and economic issues a lot of emerging top-shelf engineering research at the universities is aiming at revolutionizing the capabilities of light manufacturing. Why, please ask Chris, shouldn’t we conceive of West Berkeley with existing zoning and planning as a test tube / incubator for the highest caliber of research in coming years? What research is he betting on that West Berkeley is supposed to be better for? Has anyone shown him, say, Fremont?
    Also please ask Chris what he thinks of the non-R&D parts of the plan (like allowing ridiculously tall buildings, mixed use residential development that has worked so fabulously elsewhere in town, etc.)? Are those a small price to pay? Going to pay off? Just a side-line to R&D or the hidden purpose of the changes?

  • Name Withheld

    “Can Berkeleyside please ask Chris Anderson to explain how it is that light manufacturing is incompatible with synergy with Cal?” – Bruce Love

    Seeing as how that’s not what Chris Anderson actually said, I don’t really see any need for Berkeleyside to ask him about things he didn’t say.

    You continue to fight against change without having any real argument for why opening up the area to new possibilities is a bad thing. Nobody is talking about banning light manufacturing from West Berkeley, they’re just talking about freeing up the zoning rules so that other types of businesses can move there if they choose to.

  • http://instructables.com lee

    I see so many vacant lots just sitting there. on 4th street where the discovery stores had the HQ, the area next to picante, I could go on. there is room to make west berkeley better with more offices, more people more places to eat, shop. This will also help the artisans bring more customers to their doors. it will also help us grow our tax base to have better schools and parks, maybe we cna even get the willard pool back with more tax growth….

  • Name Withheld

    The final results of the online forum are in, and it’s a clear landslide in favor of the zoning changes.

    Yes: 182
    No: 24
    Neutral: 2
    Maybe: 28

  • Bruce Love

    @Name,

    Your “landslide” represents less than one tenth of one percent of the population of Berkeley and also represents a non-random, non-representative sample that selected in part by solicitation for participation from council members backing the proposed changes.

    You deserve a how to lie with statistics prize.

  • Name Withheld

    Thanks for the personal insults, Bruce. They’re much appreciated.

    I did not state, nor did I imply, that the numbers represented the feelings of all Berkeley residents, or that the numbers represented anything other than the results of an online poll of a few hundred people.

    Please stop trying to put words in the mouths of posters.

  • DC

    Not a statistically significant poll? Sure. Random and unscientific? Sure. Merely a slice of opinion from a few people at a point in time? Sure.

    However, it’s often the case in Berkeley that being loud is mistaken for being a majority. Lots of passion for an issue doesn’t necessarily translate into lots of people in support of an issue. There are probably many “middle-of-the-road” people like myself who see this proposal as having exciting possibilities. I think that may be what was reflected here. Or perhaps not. There’s no way to tell one way or another. But I wouldn’t rule out that many support this, but don’t spend much time arguing about it.

  • bf

    Seriously Bruce. What gives? Try to stay on topic by not responding to unmade statements of those around you. Classic Berkeley “dialogue”.

  • http://www.radiantbrands.com Steven Donaldson

    As both a resident and business owner in West Berkeley, I’ve been at many of the long drawn out meetings over the last 4 years for this zoning change. The plain and simple of it all is that the zoning of the West Berkeley Plan was perhaps relevant in the 1955 smoke stack industrial age but not now. Unfortunately some folks, very vocal folks, don’t see the world has changed (sorry Chris, they don’t read Wired Magazine). This revised zoning, with new definitions will open West Berkeley to cool, innovative, start ups. Berkeley again be a leader in a revolution, the one of green technologies that will be available because of these changes. Berkeley City Council get on with it!

  • Daniel M.

    Any reports from the meeting last night? How did it go?

  • Bruce Love

    The point is that describing the numeric results as “a clear landslide in favor” is statistically false and therefore politically misleading. For all that we know about the selection bias of the sample, the 24 no votes and 28 maybes might represent a stunning set back for plan proponents – a surprising level of rejection and skepticism from that particular audience – a crumbling of support The forum is not in any meaningful way a vote and therefore there can be no “landslide in favor” any more than we could say the result portrays a “crumbling of support”.

    The issue is significant, in my view, because construction of fake displays of “popular support” (on purpose or through self deception) is a timeless tactic of bad politics.

    One could truthfully say that more supporters registered their view on the site than opponents and undecideds. Similarly, one could count the number of times each vowel is used in the comments and report those numbers.

  • Name Withheld

    “The point is that describing the numeric results as “a clear landslide in favor” is statistically false and therefore politically misleading.” – Bruce Love

    No, it isn’t.
    Of those that participated in this online forum, an enormous majority are in favor of the proposed changes to the West Berkeley zoning. Tallied votes are more than seven-to-one in favor. When you include those who replied with a “maybe” it’s almost nine-to-one in favor.

    Nobody is saying this represents the opinion of all Berkeley residents, and we are all quite aware that this represents only those who took the time to register for this site and vote.

    Please try discussing the issue without resorting to attacking straw man positions that nobody has actually stated.

    ____________________
    “The issue is significant, in my view, because construction of fake displays of ‘popular support’ (on purpose or through self deception) is a timeless tactic of bad politics.” – Bruce Love

    I notice that people often refer to things like this as “fake displays” when the results don’t agree with then, but a “grassroots movement” when they do. I’m not saying you’d do that, but it’s a trend I’ve noticed.

  • Deb

    I read the online poll. Chose not to participate as they ask for too much personal information without a secure page. (no https)
    I’m definitely against this plan. 5 story buildings around Aquatic Park?
    Research and Development (R&D) are VERY dangerous. We already have Bayer here, with their weekly siren test, and the indecipherable words on a PA system after. In the event of a problem, what are we supposed to do? Are they working with bacteria, virus, poisons that become gaseous from which we can’t escape?
    Is Monsanto the next great company Berkeley will embrace?
    The majority of plan proponents are NOT from West Berkeley, which is clear on the poll–200 something positive responses with maybe 20 (tops) from West Berkeley residents.
    All you wonderful residents of other areas of Berkeley might respond quite differently if it were your neighborhood that would have 5 story buildings going up and neighbors who experiment with bacteria,viruses and toxic chemicals.
    I’d like to know more about what Bayer is doing that is so dangerous as to require the siren and unknown plans in case of disaster.

  • laura menard

    http://www.webaic.org/

    WEBAIC supporters including several R&D startups operating in west Berkeley for decades did an EXCELLENT job during the public hearing. City council put off any discussion or action to a later date.

    you can view the public hearing on the city council website, it will serve you well, especially those commenting here with an ideological point of view.

  • Name Withheld

    Such a shame that vocal minorities are able to forestall development & change.

    Using unfounded nightmare scenarios to try to scare people into line is the worst kind of politics, and unfortunately all too common from the stodgy anti-change minority that has the time to spend their nights whining at the Berkeley City Council meetings.

  • Bruce Love

    @Laura, you aren’t kidding. They had a unified message, well delivered. Academic support. Loads of facts on their side. And were standing up for an estimated 7,000 jobs as one of the most significant regions of employment in the East Bay. It was refreshing!

    I’m extreme enough about the issues that I don’t think their compromise plan is needed but maybe it won’t matter if (a) no or rather little new fancy development can be funded there anyway, (b) light industrial comes back hard.

    Funny (well, sorta) story in today’s news via the Guardian via Wikileaks that helps to explain why it is rather premature to assume that good old fashioned manufacturing and warehouses and such are a thing of the past:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/feb/08/saudi-oil-reserves-overstated-wikileaks

    The lede: “The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.” (Oil prices are playing around the $100/bl mark.)

    Globalization supposedly forces us to rethink the U.S. as a non-manufacturing think tank and service based economy with places like Berkeley at the center, exporting thoughts and discoveries to manufacturers elsewhere. That form of globalization depends on three factors: globally mobile $USD-centric capital, a global supply of cheap energy for transport and shipping, and a permanent underclass “somewhere else”. Two out of three of those factors have dubious medium and long term prospects.

  • Daniel M.

    Is there any way that job density could be increased in West Berkeley without altering the zoning? 7,000 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, but it seems rather low considering how large the West Berkeley area is. Especially when compared to job density in San Francisco just a few miles away. We should be just as concerned with employment density as we are with residential density.

  • Anon

    I’d like to say a couple of things about representation and public opinion.

    I usually sign my Berkeleyside comments, but I’m making this one anonymously because several of my neighbors are very vocal WeBIAC supporters, and I honestly don’t feel free to make public comments about my support for revisions to the West Berkeley Plan. So I would like to double-co-sign DC’s comment that “it’s often the case in Berkeley that being loud is mistaken for being a majority.” It’s possible that opponents of the revisions were surprised by the online poll results because they’ve been so busy shouting down those of us who support it.

    A number of opponents have made the claim that most supporters do not live in West Berkeley. While District 2 residents are a minority of those supporting the revisions, more District 2 residents registered support in the online poll (23) than opposition (14).

    More importantly, this is an entirely specious argument. All Berkeley residents have the right to a say on major city planning issues. Laura Menard doesn’t live in West Berkeley. Why does she have a right to oppose while Chris Anderson does not have a right support the revisions? Are opponents claiming that, as a West Berkeley resident, I have no say regarding city business downtown, or in Elmwood, or on Solano? The only person from “Outside Berkeley” who participated in the online poll voted no. Does that person have a right to a say on this Berkeley issue? What if I use a park in a neighboring city, and that city’s residents want to enact policy changes that negatively impact my use? Am I just out of luck, or do I get to public meetings and make my vice heard?

    Deb, Bayer tests the emergency siren once a month: at noon on the first Wednesday of the month. The other audible alarms are not relevant to residents; they notify Bayer technicians that machinery needs attention. The Berkeley facility manufactures therapies based on recombinant protein technologies. The danger from this facility is an accidental ammonia release, but a) it’s ISO14001 certified, which is a higher standard than the U.S. government requires for this kind of facility, and b) if there is a danger, in addition to the siren, if you live within one mile of Bayer, you’ll get a phone call from the city’s Emergency Notification System. I got all this info from one call to the city. So don’t worry about it. Bayer is an excellent West Berkeley neighbor.

  • Deb

    Thanks for posting the info about Bayer, temporarily anon. Who did you call to get that info? I tried a few places and didn’t score so well. I wonder if ammonia gas would clean everything up? Ha ha. Anyway, good to know. Seems like the siren goes off more than once a month.
    I’ll relay the info you posted to the local fire station workers.
    You bring up a good point re everyone in Berkeley should have a say. I do wonder if those in other areas of Berkeley would feel the same if it was their living area.
    Call me a NIMBY. Let’s put all these 75 ft high buildings in your back yard, then. And the R&D and biotech companies.
    I’d love to see appropriate tests and research on the PG&E main gas line that runs underneath 7th Street before any major developments in the area.

  • Name Withheld

    “And were standing up for an estimated 7,000 jobs as one of the most significant regions of employment in the East Bay.” – Bruce Love

    Are you being sarcastic, or are you saying this in all seriousness? The way you’re framing your position is maddeningly misleading.
    The people who disagree with you and want to see zoning changes aren’t trying to eliminate 7,000 jobs, they’re trying to open the area up to new possibilities to create MORE jobs.

    You deserve a how to lie with rhetoric prize.

  • Name Withheld

    “Call me a NIMBY. Let’s put all these 75 ft high buildings in your back yard, then. And the R&D and biotech companies.” – Deb

    If the idea of living next to offices and manufacturing bothers you that much and you have such grave fears about environmental polutants, perhaps you ought not have bought a home a stone’s throw from the manufacturing district, several major freeways, and an active rail line.

    Perhaps I haven’t kept abreast of changes in the housing market, but when I was last shopping for a home property in West Berkeley near the manufacturing district was much cheaper than in other parts of the city because of its proximity to all that. I don’t have to worry about 75 foot high buildings in my back yard because I made the conscious decision (and paid the extra 25%-45%) not to buy a home close to major manufacturing sites.

  • Bruce Love

    @Name, you wrote: “The people who disagree with you and want to see zoning changes aren’t trying to eliminate 7,000 jobs, they’re trying to open the area up to new possibilities to create MORE jobs.”

    Are you aware that the people from WeBIAC, with whom I have substantial agreement and some minor disagreement, back zoning changes to create more jobs AND protect the existing jobs? That they are offering an alternative to the proposed changes, not a rejection of changes in general? That their objection to the proposed plan is rooted in the experienced based view of some of the major employers already there?

  • bf

    can someone explain to me why “light manufacturing” doesn’t produce pollution/residential challenges vs. R&D? I don’t buy it. I live in a part of Berkeley where “light manufacturing” is a residential quality of life concern.

  • Name Withheld

    @ Bruce – None of that changes the fact that your rhetoric about “standing up for jobs” is grossly deceptive.

  • Bruce Love

    @Name, some of the anchor employers are part of WeBIAC .. that is what I mean by “standing up for jobs”.

  • Name Withheld

    @ BF – I have the same question. Especially since my City Council member for District 1 has a whole section of her city website devoted to tracking information about reducing emissions from Pacific Steel Casting, at Gilman and Second Street.

  • Deb

    The toxins from manufacturing are also of concern.

    Let’s do whatever we do well–
    –with long-term safety in mind, as well as
    noise pollution, traffic, infrastructure upgrades.
    We also need to remember light is necessary for photosynthesis, and most pollinators live in the ground. We need thriving gardens and trees not only for the aesthetic and psychological value, but for the oxygen photosynthesis provides.

  • Name Withheld

    “We need thriving gardens and trees not only for the aesthetic and psychological value, but for the oxygen photosynthesis provides.”

    Maybe I am looking at the wrong parts of West Berkeley but in the parts that I visit there are a bunch of huge warehouse buildings, asphalt, and gravel. Not gardens and trees. Any plants that are living there are either trees in the sidewalk, part of one of the City’s parks, or sickly weeds growing up between the concrete.

    I don’t recall seeing any information saying that your plan for West Berkeley calls for knocking down some of the buildings and putting in parks, or somehow changing the way in which the city allocates land to tree & plant growth. Am I missing something here, or is this talk about gardens and trees just a non sequitur?

  • Name Withheld

    NOTE: I meant to say the parts of West Berkeley that are zoned for industry. Obviously there are thriving residential neighborhoods in West Berkeley with gardens and parks, however nobody is talking about flattening residential homes or city parks to build office high-rises. We’re talking about the areas that area zoned for industry.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    @Name Withheld: Your own words say it all: “I don’t have to worry about 75 foot high buildings in my back yard because I made the conscious decision (and paid the extra 25%-45%) not to buy a home close to major manufacturing sites.”

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    I have observed a certain hypocrisy in Berkeley about environmental impacts: “Green” mainly means architecture and food and perhaps support for transit for “other” people. As a regular transit rider, I mainly have schoolkids and poor people as riding companions. People will fight like crazy to keep traffic off their own particular streets but think nothing about the impacts of their driving elsewhere. In this so-called green city, cars rule. Prove to me that it’s otherwise.

    This is an aside to what I was thinking as I read the West Berkeley Draft EIR on traffic impacts last night. West Berkeley is an old area that was not built to take the traffic it now has and certainly not what it can handle in the future, with or without new development, especially in the east-west streets. Emeryville does have much wider streets, and they are still choked with traffic.

    The Draft EIR is like any other EIR. Mainly, it’s trying to figure out how to jam more vehicles onto streets that already have bad or really bad levels of service. I honestly don’t know why this is the approach in EIRs, because, at least to me, an assessment of environmental impact from traffic should be looking at air quality–readings of parts per million of all those combustion-related toxins–which directly affects people’s health. West Berkeley is already downwind from a major freeway, and the East Bay flatlands in general have higher rates of asthma and lower life expectancy than other areas.

    Many of my neighbors here (southwest Berkeley) have lived here for decades. I’ve watched children grow up here. Ashby and Dwight Way are narrow and primarily residential streets, so all that traffic is a highly significant impact. I think I’m just asking the proponents of the zoning changes and highrises to really think about it: We’re the people most affected by all this proposed development, and we’re going to have to live with it, every day. Would you want that for yourself and your family?

  • bf

    Good questions. But I still have to ask about the meta issue. The neighborhood is “quieter” now in that the industry currently zoned is not attracting businesses that fit. Do we want a vibrant city with vibrant businesses that will come and grow? I live near san pablo and am constantly shocked that other who live here fight and resist development that is legitimately zoned for the area. What kind of neighborhood do they think they moved to? We are talking about a stagnant commercial AND active residential neighborhood. The commercial half needs to be made active and vibrant. Traffic is an issue, yes. But that is part of living in a mixed use neighborhood. It’s a reality and it has to be brought to life.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    So would you mind if the traffic barriers were taken out?

  • bf

    I would welcome it! I welcome traffic calming interventions, but totally object to the traffic barriers. They simply divert traffic to another street and increase congestion on those neighborhood areas that don’t organize as vociferously.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    I personally would have no problem with development if the traffic were shared more equitably.

  • Name Withheld

    @ Fran Haselsteiner ––– Presumably people who bought homes in a mixed-use industrial/residential area would be smart enough to realize that such things are part and parcel of living in the kind of area they live.

    My point was that the old “how would you feel if XXXX was in your back yard” question is irrelevant and idiotic. Unless these folks are idiots, they knew what they were getting into when they bought homes next to a manufacturing zone.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    But the impacts are not just in the manufacturing zone–there are issues in the adjoining residential areas. For example, if, say, a lab had an ammonia leak, it wouldn’t necessarily stay confined west of San Pablo. And the traffic impacts on South/West Berkeley streets have grown significantly since the mid-80s.

    I do agree that people know when they are buying a residence in a manufacturing zone. But a lot of the people living on the north-south streets west of Sixth are, to all appearances, pretty poor. No matter what their situation, they should also have some expectation that the activities there are appropriate for a mixed residential/manufacturing area. Although I continue to believe that residential and office development is incompatible with manufacturing, because it sets up certain expectations.

  • Name Withheld

    Well, I don’t disagree with you on those points, Fran.

    The 75-foot building heights was one of the few things I really disliked about the proposed zoning alterations, but I decided I’d rather see it pushed ahead as-is so that we can get some change in West Berkeley than have the whole thing end up stuck in legislative limbo forever.

    The traffic is worse everywhere in Berkeley these days. I live on a busy east/west street that keeps getting worse every year. And try getting down University on the weekends without getting stuck in a traffic jam. It just can’t be done. Unfortunately this is just going to keep getting worse until we get some better public transportation. The city is looking to increase housing density, and with the crap-tastic service of AC Transit most people won’t ride the buses if they can avoid it.

    It’s a shame the Key System got torn apart and the infrastructure was destroyed and replaced with buses. Imagine how nice it would be to have the streets of Berkeley filled with old streetcars like the ones running along Market in SF instead of big, stinky buses.