Debate continues about changes to West Berkeley

In West Berkeley, a Victorian house sits next to a laboratory. This kind of mix is what makes the neighborhood unique.Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley City Council heard close to four hours of testimony Tuesday night about proposed changes to the West Berkeley plan.

Around 90 people lined up in council chambers to talk about the impact of zoning changes in the industrial neighborhood. Those opposed to the plan said increased density and tall buildings would destroy the unique neighborhood, now a mix of old Victorians, small businesses and artisans, machine shops, laboratories, and heavy industry.  The large development proposed by a few would drive up property values, cast shadows and ruin views, and bring terrible traffic to West Berkeley, they said.

Those in favor of the changes had a radically different view on what the plan might bring. They see the large-scale development at the Peerless Greens site on Fifth Street and Saul Zaentz site on Tenth as creating a critical mass of people, studios, and offices that will transform the area into a more vibrant, walking neighborhood.

New construction will provide space for growing technology and green companies, which often have to leave Berkeley now because there is no room for them to grow. And, if Berkeley is serious about complying with state and regional laws to create more housing and reduce greenhouse gases, it must change, and West Berkeley is the place to do it, they said.

The City Council spent time discussing the plan, but will have a fuller discussion, and a vote, on May 15. But what became clear is that a number of councilmembers see the plan as presented as seriously flawed and warned that adopting it would be akin to insulting the dozens of West Berkeley residents who have spoken out against it.

“I hope everybody realizes what’s at stake here,” said Max Anderson, who listened to the meeting by telephone because he was not feeling well. “I think our credibility is on line. I think our legitimacy is on the line…. The City Council has to regain its ethical center. There is nothing valiant about ignoring the pleas that have been enunciated eloquently here tonight. I don’t want to see us going down a path we might regret.”

Mayor Tom Bates and some of the councilmembers, however, pointed out that this is a process, and nothing is set in stone. While the council is deciding which parameters to set for “MUPs,” or Master Use Permits covering an acre or more, anyone who develops those sites must bring them to the Planning Commission for extensive review.

“A lot of the problems people have will go away,” said Bates. “Once it gets done it all goes through our process. They choose to do to this process and it has to be negotiated. People are frightened … by change.”

At that, a number of people from the audience started shouting: “We can’t trust you!” and “We weren’t included!”

City councilmember Laurie Capitelli said audience charges that deals were being cut in back rooms with developers was just not true. Capitelli said he had regular meetings at Café Trieste with Rick Auerbach, one of the principal critics of the plan and a representative of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC). Capitelli said the pair did not often agree, but they talked extensively.

“I take issue with those who allege there has been a secret cabal that’s plotting this thing in a dark room,” said Capitelli.

At the beginning of the meeting, Berkeley’s new Planning Director, Eric Angstadt, suggested major modifications that might mollify the plan’s critics. The plan currently allows MUP developers to mix and match residential housing on their large parcels, putting homes in areas once designated for industrial and manufacturing uses. Angstadt suggested eliminating that in zones designated solely for manufacturing or mixed-use light industrial.

The plan also allows construction of buildings up to 75 feet, leading some critics to worry about inappropriate massing and scale. Angstadt has suggested that buildings that abut the boundary between two zoning areas have 45 degree angles starting at five stories (or 35 feet high). That should reduce shading and make buildings look less bulky, he said.

Can area plan retain eclectic West Berkeley mix?
Dozens speak out about controversial West Berkeley plan [05.02.12]

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  • David Bowman

    Another excellent report on a contentious, complicated issue. Thanks for the reporting. There’s way more to be said, and many more particulars to be digested to understand what’s being proposed, but this article (and the previous one here) are fair reports and a good place to start.

  • Mayor Tom Bates is completely out of touch with his constituency in West Berkeley. To say we fear change is a bold and polarizing statement by a politician pushing a flawed agenda. Back out now Tom before it’s too late. We will prevail and it will cost you your election.

  • Anon

    are you really complaining about political polarization while threatening the mayor because he does not agree with you?

  • Gus

    Well, again Susan, I live in West Berkeley, and I support the Mayor’s desire to increase the density and variety of land use in my neighborhood. I know personally numerous WB neighbors who also share this vision. Many of them spoke last night, including Pastor Mike McBride, who stood up in front of you and said he had four West Berkeley church congregations who will support the MUP proposal in exchange for clear community benefits. Etc. etc. etc.

    You and your immediate neighbors clearly care very deeply about this issue, but I really wish you and the rest of the Project’s opponents would stop claiming to speak for all of West Berkeley, because you don’t. Speak for yourself. It’s a stronger argument.

  • Gus

    Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t mention it before, but Frances’ clear and calm reporting of this issue has been a real credit to Berkeleyside.

  • Hey Anon – I listen – and have removed what you perceived as a threat. My vote and my voice is precious and I will use it to push my elected leaders to listen and make good decisions. As of this moment, Bates and Moore have lost my vote. That’s no threat – it’s a reality.

  • Charles_Siegel

    This comment has been flagged for abuse – which means that someone is abusing the Flag For Abuse button.

  • Gus

    It seems a little confusing, since you can either “vote up” or “vote down” a comment. So I think people are merely treating them as “Like” and “Dislike” buttons (although I’m not sure what there is to “dislike” about David’s comment). I think Berkeleyside should just set the threshold for hiding a comment really high, like 50 votes against.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Apart from the like or dislike buttons below, there is a Flag for Abuse option that you can access by clicking the arrow at the far right of the line with the commenter’s name.

    This one was Flagged for Abuse – not voted down. If one person Flags for Abuse, the comment is hidden.

  • Charles_Siegel

    In fact, his vote is +10, so one person made it disappear despite the large positive vote.

  • serkes

    I think the person who designed the ^ or v voting button is the same one who designed the hanging chad voting ballot.

    My initial tendency was to click the arrow on the right to vote for the comment, but it’s actually the one to vote against the comment. Perhaps that’s simply a preferences option.

    It also should give the total count of + or -; I think it may give the net count … which is useless.

    As Josh Kornbluth might suggest, picking a random number (perhaps 1917): if a post had 1917 votes for, and 1916 votes against, I think it might just show the net of +1 vote rather than a spirited discussion where many people have contributed.

    How would Steve Jobs have designed it?


  • L.

    Can someone expand about, or point me towards a resource about, the ‘shade’ issue? I’m in general a supporter of infill and the development plan for West Berkeley, but felt a little nervous when I realized my house (and wonderful sunny yard) is in the sunshade, based on a flyer we got in our door that was clearly from the anti camp. There was no information on the flyer about the timing of the shade (as in – will my yard ALWAYS be shaded with these buildings, or is it from 6 pm instead of 6:30 or whatever). I’d like to know more about this issue specifically (and technically, i.e. non-biased, just the facts). Anyone know where I can find it?

  • Heather_W_62

    Pastor McBride will do anything to further is strange agenda. He got rode out of San Jose with his carpet bag, and hopefully he’ll get ousted from here as well. His voice isn’t in Berkeley’s favor, it’s in McBride’s favor. But I guess he’s got you fooled, too.

  • David Bowman

    You can find the shadow reports in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report on the Planning Commission’s website. It’s in a big PDF – but there are shadow studies there for the longest and shortest days of the year and the equinoxes if you care to dig them out and look at them. Look at this link: – then follow the link to the Draft EIR which has the shadow studies and the traffic studies as well.

  • David Bowman

    Pretty amazing that someone reported my praise for Frances Dinkelspiel’s reporting as Abuse!

  • serkes

    It’s Berkeley

  • Bill N

    “But what became clear is that a number of councilmembers see the plan as presented as seriously flawed and warned that adopting it would be akin to insulting the dozens of West Berkeley residents who have spoken out against it.” Did no one from West Berkeley (someone who lives there) support the plan or a part of the plan?

  • Bill N

    OOOPS, that what I thought they were – Like or Dislike buttons! Report Abuse should just say that.

  • Gus

    Increasing economic opportunity for working-class
    African-Americans in Berkeley is a strange agenda? I certainly think that’s one
    of several troubling implications of the opponents’ position, but it’s
    surprising to hear you articulate it so plainly.

    Opposing “evil developers” and protecting their own slice of
    the pie has forced some otherwise fine old Berkeley progressives to take some
    very awkward positions with regard to the West Berkeley Project. Steel
    foundries and chemical warehouses “enhance the beauty and ecology” of Bay’s
    shoreline. Working-class jobs and job training are “fake.” Berkeley has
    “plenty” of affordable housing. And so on. It’s quite odd.

  • bgal4

    how about working class kids of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.

    Employment in Biotech industries requires competency in science, this fact is ignored and glossed over in the disconnected discussions about community benefits. Have you reviewed the results of BUSD science instruction, very discouraging.

    McBride (BOCA) already pushed his way into Berkeley high school with his Lifelines program promises, which is a vague intervention program that fails to implement current best practices for such programs. He will be hard pressed to produce positive results. Lets wait and see Lifelines program outcomes before we hand over any more important community decisions and funding to this ambitious and well connected pastor.

    McBride should enlist all those do gooders in BOCA as tutors for middle and high school science classes, then he will at least have one leg to stand on when speaking as an expert on youth access to Biotech employment.

    Where were you when BOCA help dismantle the once excellent BHS science program?

  • David Bowman

    Yes, several people who live in West Berkeley spoke in support. The comments were 2 against for every 1 for, by my count. Fully half of the people speaking for the proposals in general were people with direct financial interest in the new proposals – the developers and landowners, their lawyers, architects, and engineers. The people opposed to many of the new proposals included residents, business owners and workers from the affected area, and representatives from two other neighborhood organizations in the city, come to support our neighborhood concerns. In addition there was a representative of the building trades union, and members of several West Berkeley organizations who came to make the point that they would support the plan only if there is a guarantee of benefits to the City in return for development.

  • Gus


    How about jobs in West Berkeley, period? Zero aggregate job growth in West Berkeley in almost two decades.