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.