Can area plan retain eclectic mix of West Berkeley?

Diego Carreterero-Frades and his son Max in West Berkeley. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Diego Carreterero-Frades and his wife Irenka Dominguez-Pareto moved into their West Berkeley home 18 months ago. They were looking for an affordable space with a yard and a place to have a child.

Their son Max was born nine months ago and on Tuesday Carreterero-Frades was pushing his stroller throughout the neighborhood. As he walked, he passed 100-year old Victorian houses, newly renovated duplexes clad in corrugated steel siding, automobile shops, and industrial plants making a variety of goods.

“We like the mix,” said Carreterero-Frades, who is a software engineer at EFI in Silicon Valley. His wife is a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley School of Education. “It’s an industrial area, but it’s transforming. There are small businesses, small lofts. We like this style. It’s affordable to us and it’s a nice neighborhood.”

The eclectic mix of uses in West Berkeley is part of its charm. The question of how to retain it or how to build upon it and make it better is at the heart of changes being considered for the area.

Tonight, Berkeley City Council will hold a second public hearing at 7:00 pm on the West Berkeley Project, a plan that aims to expand the area’s manufacturing base to include for a wider variety of uses, including R&D, and more housing.

On Fifth Street in in West Berkeley, a Victorian house sits next to a laboratory. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The council adopted portions of the plan in March and June 2011 and is now considering MUPs, or Master Use Permits, for swaths of land as large as five acres or one city block. There are at least nine such areas in West Berkeley, but two are drawing the most attention: the Saul Zaentz Media Center on 10th Street, owned by Wareham Development, and Peerless Greens on Fifth Street, owned by Doug Herst. Their owners are interested in developing the sites into a mix of housing and industry.

These two tracts straddle different zoning areas (such as a manufacturing-only area, one that is mixed-use residential, one that is mixed-use light industrial.) The new plan would permit developers to sort of mix and match where they place housing and new manufacturing.

Most of West Berkeley currently has a 45-foot height limit. The new plan would raise that to 75 feet in certain areas, and allow the MUP developers to build structures as tall as 100 feet, but only if they are absolutely needed for manufacturing or production purposes. In exchange for this flexibility, the developers would have to provide benefits to the community, such as retaining or building affordable work spaces for artisans, providing job-training programs, and upgrading the area’s transportation network.

Critics of the plan contend that it would lead to more neighborhood disputes because industry is incompatible with residential areas.

“To minimize conflict, to protect inhabitants from noise, odors and pollutants, and to retain and attract recycling/reuse activities, green collar and manufacturing jobs, residential development should not be permitted in the industrial zones of West Berkeley,” said Igor Tregub, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club.

But proponents of the plan say detractors are creating a smoke screen that is obscuring reality. Housing and industry have coexisted in West Berkeley for decades.

“If you look at how West Berkeley was created way back, it was all about housing next to industry, but it was smoke stack industry,” said Michael Goldin, a developer whose home and business, Swerve, is on Seventh Street. “It’s what the neighborhood has been since its inception.”

Goldin thinks that the plan’s detractors are the same people who predicted a terrible outcome if Berkeley Bowl West was built. And those predictions proved wrong, he said. There is ample parking and the grocery store has become an integral part of the community. At lunchtime you can see crowds of people streaming toward the Bowl’s café. The development has brought vibrancy to the neighborhood. Goldin thinks the development of Peerless Greens and other parcels in the area will do the same.

City councilmembers are still weighing whether to allow MUPs to mix up the zoning and put housing in areas that once were reserved for industry. Last week, after dozens of people spoke out against the plan, city council members asked  staff pointed questions about many elements of the plan. Staff will respond tonight.

The City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the West Berkeley Project on May 15.

Dozens speak out about controversial West Berkeley plan [05.02.12]
Citizen groups sue city over West Berkeley proposals [05.13.11]
City takes first step towards adopting West Berkeley plan [03.24.11]
Slim Council majority for West Berkeley zoning [02.23.11]
Council considers dramatic changes in West Berkeley [01.25.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • The Sharkey

    What, no mention of the Open Town Hall poll in which an overwhelming majority of the 200+ people who responded said they were in favor of the zoning changes?

  • Gus

    So, it’s the position of The Sierra Club that the portion of Berkeley that abuts San Francisco Bay is best reserved for land use that is too filthy for humans to live near? That seems new and different.

  • The Sharkey

    “More polluting industries! Fewer offices and condos!”


  • EricPanzer

    No one ever went broke betting on Berkeley’s capacity for hypocrisy. Industrial uses that currently result in conflicts with residents are worried about conflicts with residents, even as they fight to keep out new industries that are actually less likely to create conflicts with residents. This same group fights tooth-and-nail to preserve the declining historical status quo of West Berkeley industry, but objects to the intermingling of residential and industrial that was the historical status quo. The mind boggles!

    I think we should take reasonable steps to protect and keep West Berkeley’s artists, artisans, craftspeople, small manufacturers, etc. But this sort of exclusionary economic tribalism and the disingenuous stonewalling that comes with it have got to go. It is patently absurd that Berkeley leaks so much talent, capital, and economic opportunity to surrounding cities, even as former industrial lands lie fallow. I hope the Council will vote to actually move the City forward. See y’all at the meeting tonight!

  • MFox327

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that preserving dirty old industrial activities will cause way more pollution than creating new, energy efficient residences within walking distance of new jobs.

  • Julie

    Who are you? I see you post frequently on here. You say you can’t go to the meeting because you work, like thousands of other Berkeley homeowners. Many people who work do go to these long meetings. Many write emails and phone their reps. Have you done any of these things? The Townhall is not a good sampling of what the people of Berkeley think. It is sent out by a few city council people to those who have computers and is presented to the people by the three most conservative members of the council. It only really gives a brief overview according to Capitelli who doesn’t really tell the entire story. It is an insult to say that those who take the time to attend these council meetings are people who have nothing else to do. You also make a snide remark about retired people. So, my guess is you are young and if you can’t get to a meeting by 7:30– did you read the agenda, usually most things don’t even begin till then, then maybe you work outside Berkeley? But why hide behind the name “The Sharkey”? Don’t you know most people ( including myself ) don’t take anonymous posters seriously. Well, ’nuff time responding to a shark troll who has nothing better to do.

  • The Sharkey

    Who am I?
    I’d rather discuss the issues than discuss the people discussing them, but here’s some basic information for you:

    • I am a Berkeley homeowner of just shy of 10 years.
    • I am tired of seeing Berkeley lose businesses like Clif Bar due to outdated zoning.
    • I work odd hours and commute via a combination of bus and BART, which prevents me from attending most City functions.
    • I am not involved in nor do I profit in any way from development, construction, or any associated businesses.
    • I am not involved with, related to, or in any way involved with any political figures in Berkeley or the surrounding community.
    • I no longer use my “real” name/identity online for any reason, after an incident in which I was physically threatened and had personal property destroyed as a result of expressing my opinions online using my real name.

    In this town pointing out that Councilmember Kriss Worthington was making the ridiculous error of mistaking the opinion of the majority of the people in the room for the opinion of the majority of Berkeley residents (or more likely pandering to a specific audience) is enough to get the Editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet to call someone “pig-headed” and deliberately misconstrue their comments in an Editorial:—By-Becky-O-Malley

    Yikes. Not hard to see why I’d be reticent to use my real name when valued members of the community respond like that.

    I’m not trying to be snide about retired people. I like retired people. I hope to be one someday. I’m just trying to point out that taking a poll based on who shows up for a zoning meeting will skew the results. If you read the comments on the Berkeleyside article about the last meeting, I also pointed out that the Townhall poll was probably skewed. But that poll wasn’t just put out by those council members – it was also posted about on Berkeleyside repeatedly.

    Personally I’m in favor of the proposed zoning changes but because we don’t have any solid data either way I’m well aware that I might be of the minority opinion. I’d like to see the issue decided by a true majority of Berkeley residents which is why I support taking the proposed changes to the ballot box and letting the voters decide.

  • Gus

    Oh wow, the Daily Planet is still publishing? I thought they went out of business.

    School board committees usually meet on Tuesday nights, as well. I know of at least a couple of parents who sent letters of support to Bates and Moore because they were unable to attend either Council meeting.

    But ultimately, the only majority that matters is the one that shows up to the polls in November. I didn’t vote for Darryl so that he could hold his finger to the wind every time he has to make a decision. I’m looking for him to weigh many factors and make a decision that is good for his district, the city, the region at large, and the planet. That decision may or may not be in line with the stated desires of a few dozen people who show up to a city council meeting.