West Berkeley Project a step closer to being adopted

The West Berkeley plan was under discussion again Tuesday, and will have a final vote on June 12. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Berkeley City Council Tuesday night moved the controversial West Berkeley Project one step further towards adoption when it approved a series of amendments and modifications designed to mollify critics. The  entire plan will come before the council again for a final vote on June 12.

As at previous meetings, the Council heard many passionate arguments against the third phase of the West Berkeley Project, as well as many in support. The focus during this third phase of the project was on Master Use Permits (MUP), which provide for greater flexibility in developing large sites.

The West Berkeley plan aims to expand the area’s manufacturing base to include more green businesses, R&D, and housing uses.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli brought a new compromise proposal to the chamber which, he said, he had been working on closely with stakeholders in the west Berkeley community. The suggestions concerned height limits and setbacks on new buildings, and also addressed view corridors and lot coverage.

Capitelli’s proposal included ensuring buildings be set back 5 ft from frontages abutting an MUR zone and building heights to be a maximum of 35 ft at frontage; making the maximum lot coverage in MUPs 75%; and preventing substantial detriment to view corridors, such as a structure looming over homes and public spaces.

Many members of the public, as well as a couple of councilmembers, agreed with Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s contention that a new proposal such as Capitelli’s required time to digest. “Let’s send these changes back to the Planning Commission and do it right,” he said. The council rejected that idea, although several members asked Berkeley’s Planning Director, Eric Angstadt, to make some tweaks before it was reviewed again.

The West Berkeley Plan has been under discussion for many years. Last year, the City Council approved zoning amendments for reusing and expanding existing buildings and businesses and which allowed new uses. The third part of the project dealing with MUPs would allow the creation of a maximum of no more than six MUP sites over the next ten years.

One key issue is how to minimize impact on Aquatic Park. The proposed plan includes provisions to minimize shadows on the park and require buildings to be constructed in a way to minimize harming birds, yet some environmental groups fear taller buildings may have a negative impact on wildfowl. On Tuesday, an application to consider the park for landmark status was filed with the city by Steve Finacom. Finacom, who is President of the Berkeley Historical Society and Vice President of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), filed in in his own capacity. The application was submitted by signed petition of about 100 Berkeley residents

The amendments were passed after nearly three hours of discussion. Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson voted against. Arreguin repeated his assertion that the whole West Berkeley planning process had been flawed from the outset. “It’s been a top-down process driven by corporate developers,” he said.

Mayor Tom Bates argued, as he has before, that there had been “huge shifts” in the plan thanks to public comment. He also reminded those present that even when the plan is adopted, all building proposals will need to go through the usual city permitting process.

Read the full West Berkeley Project plan and watch video of Tuesday’s special meeting on the City of Berkeley’s website.

[This article was revised on May 24 to include a clarification about the landmark application.]

West Berkeley Plan held for further council debate [05.16.12]
Debate continues about changes to west Berkeley [05.09.12]
Can area plan retain eclectic West Berkeley mix? [5.08.12]
Dozens speak out about controversial West Berkeley plan [05.02.12]

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  • Bruce Love


    But most of the time, the charge of NIMBYism doesn’t hold water. The
    fight over Berkeley Bowl West is one such example; the fight over the
    West Berkeley Project is another. I could cite others.

    It’s to the point in Berkeley where, in response to any argument against a proposed development (or zoning change), proponents can sustain a drumbeat about NIMBYs, vocal minorities, people who hate any and all change, etc.   And that is enough — regardless of the substance of the argument — to sway opinions.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    For planning purposes, it’s a distinction without a difference. But let’s help help people make an even better comparison: the existing Berkeley Bowl–a store that was and is far more than a neighborhood-serving market–is 42,000 square feet. Berkeley Bowl West is about twice that size. In other words, the new Bowl is a regional superstore.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I’m with the idea of a better public notice system as well.  I think that is something the City can do that would get “regular folks” involved earlier in the process. Right now it is mostly the “insiders” (and if you’re on the “other” side from one of the “regulars”, you probably won’t get mobilized). 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    And the original Bowl was crowded to the point where it was almost a blood sport at time to get your groceries.  I had to stop shopping there when I developed anemia because I couldn’t deal with the physicality required.  The increased floor space in the new store allows for wider aisles, which is better for accessibility and more pleasant for regular shoppers (including those of us with minor ailments that affect our mobility).   I can take a cart without worrying about getting stuck and appreciate being able to get around people more easily. 

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Thank you for the apples to apples comparision. 

  • Haselstein

    I succeeded at one point to get the 49 service at 20 minute intervals; then AC Transit increased it to 30 minutes in the afternoon and now 30 minutes all day. So the subway is 30 minutes away. 
    And then they show up early or not at all. 

    Zelda writes in well-respected journals on the need to preserve light industry in urban areas. 

  • I’ve always found them to be eyesores and a waste of potential for my neighborhood. Like Rachel, I’ve found the move of CliffBar a painful reminder of a city out of touch with reality. All they wanted to do was convert existing warehouse space to office use. The city said no and lost the employer and tax base. It pisses me off again just recalling the absurd inflexibility of the city.

  • Sandy_Green

    I just looked up the Cliff Bar move, and it seems like they didn’t try hard at all. They didn’t even try applying for a variance. Now Annie’s Foods is there and I presume that brings in some tax money.

  • Bruce Love
  • Sandy_Green

    So many issues. Courting companies like Bayer seems absurd. Bayer CropScience produces the neonicotinoid pesticide that is one of the largest causes of honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). Most of Europe has banned their use. How many know why there is a Bayer siren that goes off on Wednesdays? There is no evacuation plan. What do our first responders know about the dangers at Bayer? Very little. According to Berkeley fire fighters I’ve spoken to, Bayer is notoriously secretive about their safety systems. Recombinant proteins is the main focus in Berkeley, according to Bayer. Seems innocuous, until you look that up and do a little research.
    Bayer advertises a foul insecticide for residential yards that ‘kills everything for months.’http://www.allgov.com/Controversies/ViewNews/Bayer_Beats_Out_ExxonMobil_for_Most_Toxic_Corporate_Air_Polluter_Title_100404Berkeley sewer and drainage systems are already overburdened, with no clear plan for a fix. The main PG&E gas line runs down 7th St. As bigger developments burden the power system further, we know we can trust PG&E to keep us safe, right? Everything below 5th St. is in the liquifaction zone in a big earthquake. Oh goody. 

  • Charles_Siegel

     Typical Tader Joes: about 20,000 sq ft.

  • Charles_Siegel

     ” The building fits right in to the area”

    Do you ever walk around the area after shopping at WBB?  Many people walk around after shopping at, for example, Shattuck Ave. Andronico’s. 

    That is my definition of a building that fits in area: it makes the area a good place for people to walk. 

    Maybe you think it fits in the area because it is the same style as Orchard Supply and Hardware. 

  • Not a myth. I was at a presentation at CliffBar during a broader tour of W.B. in 2006 when the WB plan revisions were getting started.

    CliffBar execs had a large group of us at their offices with Councilman Darryl Moore. While we were there, they told us why they wanted change in WB and told in detail of the stonewalling they were subject to when dealing with the city. There is only so much stonewalling and empty promises you can expect a business to take before it picks up and leaves, which is what CliffBar did.

    I was there during the presentation and buttonholed my councilman on the issue, so I don’t need to debate the questionable reporting by the Berkeley DP with you.

  • Not a myth. I was at a presentation at CliffBar during a broader tour of W.B. in 2006 when the WB plan revisions were getting started.

    CliffBar execs had a large group of us at their offices with Councilman Darryl Moore. While we were there, they told us why they wanted change in WB and told in detail of the stonewalling they were subject to when dealing with the city. There is only so much stonewalling and empty promises you can expect a business to take before it picks up and leaves, which is what CliffBar did.

    I was there during the presentation and buttonholed my councilman on the issue, so I don’t need to debate the questionable reporting by the Berkeley DP with you.

  • Bruce Love

    I was there during the presentation and buttonholed my councilman on the
    issue, so I don’t need to debate the questionable reporting by the
    Berkeley DP with you.

    There’s no such debate.

    The BDP report is interesting because it cites executives at Cliffbar.   It’s from the horses mouth.  So they started to move out of town in 2006 and sealed the deal in 2009, right?   Back in 2006:

    With emphasis added:

    David Jericoff, executive vice president of human resources for Clif Bar & Co., said that the move is the result of the company outgrowing its existing facility, occupied since 1994, and not because Berkeley zoning laws made it difficult for them to construct a day-care center at its current West Berkeley location, as reported elsewhere.

    “The day-care center was a project I worked on almost two years ago. Unlike what has been reported in the media, it not being built did nothing to trigger our move. In fact our current Berkeley location featured in the top two of the 14 sites that responded to our RFP. As our business has expanded, we could not find a space large enough to suit our current and future needs. The City of Alameda provided a unique waterfront site with an opportunity to employ green building and energy practices. The abandoned warehouse gives us ample opportunity to build it out as an environmentally-focused building. We also have the choice of purchasing it if we want to. All this made the entire package very attractive.”

    Later the Alameda deal timed out.   By 2009 when they sealed the Emeryville deal:

    Deputy Planning Manager Wendy Cosin said that the company had never applied for a variance to expand at their Fifth Street location in Berkeley. [BDP 2009-07-30 “Clif Bar Set to Move to Emeryville]

    By 2009 also you’ve got Caplan and some of the usual politicians keen to change zoning and keeping up a drum-beat that zoning had driven Clif Bar out of town.  But that’s them.

    See the link below for an example of why I think Emeryville attracted them (and Alameda before it) in ways that Berkeley would have trouble with regardless of zoning:


    They anticipated a need to grow further still.  Demand in Emeryville is low enough that this worked out very well for them:

    “We moved to Emeryville a year ago in September, and our current space is now small again,” Erickson said. “Fortunately we leased enough space to grow out and will be developing that space to start moving in there in 2013. We leased it knowing we’d grow into it in five years, and it ends up it’s going to be two-and-a-half.”


    It intended to sublease 35,000 square feet it didn’t need, but had trouble finding a tenant, Erickson said. That turned out to be serendipitous for the growing company.

    Meanwhile, I don’t see how Berkeley is hurt by this.

    Is Palo Alto hurt because Facebook picked Menlo Park and Google picked Mountain View?

  • Interesting, now there’s the question of why stories were changed from what was directly communicated by CliffBar execs on the WB tour meeting I attended a few years ago. There’s likely an unreported backstory.

  • Bruce Love

    Interesting, now there’s the question of why stories were changed

    I hypothesize a change only in emphasis with maybe a little polite hyperbole coming in.  

    That is, Clif Bar did  indeed have irritations with zoning … it’s only highly doubtful that “drove them out of town” exactly.

    The tour you were on was about zoning, though, so that’s what people wanted to hear about.

  • Pixxer1

    Once the City finally paid attention, the public input significantly lessened the negative impacts of the Bowl on the neighborhood. (The positive impacts were never in question, and no resident I know of ever opposed the Bowl moving in.) Neighbors all shopped at the old Bowl and residents supported the new one, but argued for many changes from the plan. Among those the city adopted were important traffic regulations. The Bowl then put in their stealth parking lot – extra spaces that the people in the neighborhood said all along they would need – which made a big difference. One of the repeat speakers at the WB Plan hearings keeps saying “they said there would be traffic problems b/c of the Bowl and there aren’t any”! Leaving aside that she doesn’t actually live anywhere near the Bowl, note that the REASON there are relatively few traffic problems (Heinz between 8th and 9th being the horrid exception – and good luck dodging the jaywalkers) is that the city took the neighbors’ recommendations to heart. All but the extra parking recommendation, which the Bowl finally realized was also needed. Now that there are 150 or so more parking spaces, the traffic cruising through our neighborhood, looking for non-existent street parking – has been more or less eliminated. I just wish they’d listened to us early in the process.

  • Guest

    the day care issue is a red herring – clif bar wanted to increase the office-to-manufacturing/warehousing ratio of their space which was not allowed by west berkeley zoning

  • The Sharkey

    Clif Bar, founded in 1990 by bakery owner and cycling enthusiast Gary Erickson, who named the business after his father, Clifford, has thrived in Berkeley. The company was named by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing private businesses for four straight years and has won dozens of awards for its environmental policies.

    A few years ago, the company moved its bakery to an off-site location, leaving its space at 1610 Fifth St. for offices.

    But when the company wanted to build a “modest” expansion, it
    encountered “Berkeley’s convoluted, miserable zoning regulations,” said
    Dave Fogarty, the city’s community development project coordinator.

    The West Berkeley Plan, which took 10 years to adopt, dictated that the neighborhood be zoned for manufacturing and because Clif Bar’s
    space was offices, not manufacturing, the company could not expand.

    To keep Clif Bar in town, the City Council said it would update the West Berkeley Plan to allow office expansion, but by then Clif Bar had hired a consultant to find a new location for what it called “Cliftopia.”


  • The Sharkey

    Berkeley’s economic development manager, Michael Caplan, said that Clif Bar was not able to expand because the company wanted to undertake several mixed-use projects, which were prohibited by zoning laws, laws made more complicated by the fact that the Clif Bar building straddles
    two zoning districts. 

    “In one room, you could have certain zoning laws which only allowed warehouse in one half of the room, while the other half could only be used for office space,” said Caplan. “The second problem was that they had a desire to do a number of mixed-used projects. All of the proposed projects were difficult to do in that zoning scenario. Berkeley was not able to accommodate their needs. It would definitely have been a challenge for them to do what they wanted to do.”


  •  Thanks Sharkey. That was my basic understanding of the issue to begin with. This conversation is starting to feel like the proverbial snake eating its tail…LOL.

  •  To which I have to say “SO WHAT?!” That kind of regulatory straightjacket is precisely what is wrong in West Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    Bruce is just obfuscating and cherry picking to promote his appeal to the past vision for West Berkeley.

  • The Sharkey

    False comparison, Charles.
    That Andronico’s is located in the middle of a major restaurant district.

    But hey, now that BBW is drawing a lot of people to one location, perhaps other restaurants and shops will spring up within easy walking distance to create a new shopping district there.

  • The Sharkey

    I agree completely. I also completely gave up on shopping at the old Bowl because it was too cramped. The new store is much, much better, and more accessible for the disabled.

  • The Sharkey

    Typical Trader Joe’s: Crappy produce selection.

  • The Sharkey

     Haselstein says:
    So the subway is 30 minutes away.

    Only if you’re terrible at planning and show up immediately after the last bus left.

  • The Sharkey

    Good points. Considering how hostile the City Council meetings are with people booing and hissing at members of the community who express different opinions, it’s no wonder the Council meetings end up being so one-sided.