Third phase of West Berkeley Plan passes, heads to ballot

The West Berkeley Project, which is nearing completion, has provoked heated public comment over a long period. Photo: Tracey Taylor

After five meetings and countless hours of public testimony, the City Council decided on Tuesday to ask the residents of Berkeley to vote on proposed zoning changes to large parcels in West Berkeley.

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli introduced a measure to place the matter on the Nov. 6 ballot and it was adopted in a 6-2-1 vote, with councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin dissenting. Max Anderson abstained. City staff will now draw up wording for the measure and the council will take another vote on July 10 on whether to put it on the ballot.

“I really think it’s time for the community to discuss it and make a call,” Capitelli said on Friday. “Of course I believe the community will chose to move forward. I think it is a reasonable plan and will provide economic revitalization.”

The council did adopt a Final Environmental Impact Report for the development of six large areas of at least four acres, known as Master Use Permits (MUPS). But now city residents will be asked to vote up or down on the specifics of the development of those parcels, according to Planning Director Eric Angstadt. These details include height limits, density limits, and which large parcels fit the definition of an MUP, he said.

The council also agreed to not to issue any permits for the MUP sites until the Planning Commission has a chance to further refine the community benefits developers must provide in exchange for building on the large parcels — such as traffic mitigation measures, job training programs, and local hiring plans. The council will only consider MUP permits after they adopt the additional benefits. There will be wording in the ballot measure stating this, said Angstadt.

The council took the additional step of slowing down the development of two of the MUP sites near Aquatic Park: the American Soils site belonging to the Jones family and the site owned by Steven and Michael Goldin. While the West Berkeley Project requires developers to use “birdsafe” building methods, the council has asked the Planning Commission to create even more protections for the wildlife at the park. These could include additional setbacks  from either the water’s edge or Bolivar Drive, said Angstadt. No permits will be issued until the council adopts a new Aquatic Park Preservation Package.

Hundreds of people have stated their opposition to West Berkeley Project in testimony before the City Council. Last week, one opposition group, the Friends of West Berkeley, took papers out from the City Clerk’s office indicating it would gather signatures to put a referendum about the West Berkeley Project on the ballot. That could have delayed the plan for at least a year. Capitelli’s move to put on a ballot measure preempted that action and ensures residents will get to vote on the plan in November.

Dean Metzger, the treasurer of the Friends of West Berkeley, said his group now won’t go forward with a referendum.

However, one lawsuit has been filed against another phase of the West Berkeley Project and it is possible that a lawsuit will be filed against this phase as well.

Criticism of the original West Berkeley Project promoted the council to make a number of adjustments to the plan. The original plan allowed MUP developers with tracts straddling different zoning areas to sort of mix and match where they placed housing and manufacturing. That option was eliminated.

The original plan also allowed developers to build as high as 75 feet in those mix and match areas. That has also been eliminated. Developers will only be able to build to either 40 or 50 feet in areas zoned MUR or CW. They will only be allowed to build to 75 feet in the MULI, or mixed-use light industrial, zoning areas. Under certain circumstances, that could be increased to 100 feet.

Rick Auerbach, head of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC), criticized the city for its autocratic approach to the process. When the West Berkeley Plan was adopted in the 1990s, dozens of citizens group weighed in. This time around the city did not even bother to send formal notices to the neighborhood, he said. Auerbach said the city council had a preconceived idea of what it wanted to happen in West Berkeley and manipulated the process to make that happen.

“WEBAIC has accomplished a lot in the process but we still think the process is seriously flawed,” he said. “It didn’t have to be.”

But the West Berkeley Project is better now than when it was originally proposed, he said.

“There were improvements, but unfortunately the really exemplary effort made, specifically by Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio to make the provisions of the West Berkeley Project better for large segments of the community  — the effort they had to put in was proportional to how poorly planned the process was up to that point.”

Related:
West Berkeley project another step closer to being adopted [05.24.12]
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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  • EricPanzer

    It’s telling that these groups who oppose development, revitalization, and change usually choose Orwellian and ambiguous names. “Friends of West Berkeley,” “Concerned Library Users,” “Friends of Downtown Berkeley,” “Berkeley Citizens for Responsible Planning.” If they were truly confident that their narrow aims and NIMBY tastes were shared by the majority of Berkeleyans, they might choose more descriptive names like “West Berkeley Citizens Opposed to R&D Uses,” “No New or Rebuilt Libraries,” or  “Coalition for a Low-Rise Downtown.” And don’t tell me these names are too cumbersome, since “West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies” (WEBAIC) seems to do just fine.

    I’m glad that this is going to finally have a chance to move forward, but it’s disappointing that Berkeley’s squeaky wheels compel the Council to put every big planning issue to the ballot. In all likelihood, it will be at least another year before Berkeley is able to pave the way for the sort of industry and economy other cities have had for twenty years. Sometimes Berkeley is so far behind it thinks that it’s first.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    A few corrections and one comment:
    “The council also agreed…not to issue any permits for the MUP sites until the Planning Commission has a chance to further refine the community benefits developers must provide in exchange for building on the large parcels — such as traffic mitigation measures, job training programs, and local hiring plans. The council will only consider MUP permits after they adopt the additional benefits.”In fact, no community benefits at all have been publicly specified for the MUP sites. “The original plan also allowed developers to build as high as 75 feet in those mix and match areas. That has also been eliminated.”In fact, the only mixing  of uses across zones that has been eliminated is housing in the manufacturing zones.”The original plan also allowed developers to build as high as 75 feet in those mix and match areas. That has also been eliminated. Developers will only be able to build to either 40 or 50 feet in areas zoned MUR or CW.”In fact, with density bonuses and heights, buildings in the MUR (Mixed Use-Residential) and CW (Commercial, West Berkeley) zones can go well above 40 or 50 feet. Finally, the reason the November ballot measure will not allow high-rise development on the two parcels abutting Aquatic Park until environmental protections have been specified is because the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society have both opposed such development, and Bates and his council majority would like to go to the ballot without opposition from those groups. In other words, the mayor and his developers allies are throwing a sop to the environmental community.

  • The Sharkey

    In other words, the mayor and his developers allies are throwing a sop to the environmental community.

    I’m surprised to see you attack him on that one. Aren’t you getting what you want, on that one issue at least?

  • Zelda Bronstein

    What, exactly, is Bates giving us on Aquatic Park? 

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.us/ West Bezerkeley

    I second what Eric said & want my elected officials to start voting on issues instead of voting to let us vote.

    If the council continues in this fashion, we’ll have to classify them all “middlemen” that are increasing the cost of democracy to the end users which should encourage all of us to look for a way to cut the positions in the next budget cycle ;-)

    Seriously thought, the council needs to grow a backbone and vote on controversial issues. That’s why they are in office getting paid and collecting benefits.

    God forbid a politician should actually go on record for what he/she believes. Or…is our council is voting in line with their beliefs? If that’s the case, are they telling us they believe they aren’t qualified to make the decisions we elected them to make?

    I can hardly wait (gag) to see the Sears Catalog of local and state props. and measures for the next 2 election cycles. I’ll probably have to set it down on table with reinforced legs since there aren’t any politicians in this state willing to make real decisions anymore!

  • The Sharkey

    the November ballot measure will not allow high-rise development on the
    two parcels abutting Aquatic Park until environmental protections have
    been specified

    Maybe I’m reading your comment wrong, but that sounds like a “win” on that issue.
    I haven’t read the final ballot measure, so I don’t know the specific changes that were made.

  • EricPanzer

    While I would also like to see the Council taking a stronger stance, I think that most of the blame for this state of affairs lies with our legal and political practices. Just as with California at large, it is possible to get virtually anything on the ballot in Berkeley by hiring signature-gatherers to put your petition in people’s faces. There is little to compel these political mercenaries to wholly or accurately explain to voters what they are signing. Being equally eager to sign and loath to read, voters are likewise complicit in this sordid process. The result is that anyone who doesn’t like what the Council or City is doing can force a city-wide vote—provided they are possessed of great money, time, or like-minded comrades to get the necessary signatures. (Most often it’s the former.)

    The Council’s action is actually proactive, in a sense, because they know anything they pass outright will be the target of a referendum campaign, a lawsuit, or both. Putting this to the ballot preempts the possibility of a referendum and helps strengthen future efforts by the City to defend the Plan from legal challenge. As such, the true blame lies with the sore losers who don’t understand that not getting your way doesn’t necessarily mean you weren’t heard.

    Bad as politicians can be, a lack of desire to make decisions is not something I would currently fault them for. Rather, it is the voters (or a vocal minority of voters—or corporations for that matter) who have decided that they know better.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.us/ West Bezerkeley

    I’ll agree with that analysis, but there are lawsuits by these groups even when propositions are passed by the majority. So, where does that leave us?

    I’m increasingly frustrated with more and more props over the past 20 years for everything under the sun, politicians that avoid making real decisions, and lawsuit happy folks with money that are making a seriously dysfunctional system of governance 100X worse.

    Kinda sounds like we need a constitutional convention in California to try and wipe the slate clean(er).

  • Zelda Bronstein

    You got it: as you observe, it “depends on what’s specified in the end,” and, I would add, when the “end”–which is to say, when the specifics are laid out–occurs. 

    Nobody’s read the final ballot measure. It looks as if the language will be deliberated at the council’s July 10 meeting.

    In any case, if Bates and his buddies had wanted to make clear what they mean by protections for Aquatic Park, they would have waited until such measures had been specified before voting on changes to West Berkeley zoning or placing such changes before the voters.

    Ditto for the as-yet-unspecified community benefits.But they didn’t wait. They’re rushing this thing through–and don’t tell me about all the meetings and years of process: as many members of the public have repeatedly pointed out, the City has never invited the businesses and residents of West Berkeley whose lives and livelihoods will be affected by the radical zoning changes that the mayor,councilmembers Capitelli and Moore–all up for re-election this November, by the way–and their comrades are pushing. 

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     Zelda, perhaps I do not write clearly enough as your “corrections” are what I thought I said in the article. You are correct that the original West Berkeley Project had no specific community benefits outlined and now the Planning Commission will create them and send the list back to council. That is what I meant when I wrote “further refine” the benefits package.

    One of the most contentious issues in the original plan was the idea to allow MUP developers to build housing in commercial or manufacturing zones. Under that plan, developers could have built as high as 75 feet throughout the MUPS. Now they are restricted to 40 to 50 feet within the MUR or CW zones. That is what Eric Angstadt, the planning director, told me. MULI heights can go to 75 or even a 100 feet.

    I will ask next week about the impact of density bonuses, but I was told those were the maximum heights.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Frances, thanks for the reply. I realize this story is complicated. But it only complicates things further to say that a non-existent benefits package will be “further refine[d].”

    As for the proposed heights in the Mixed-Use Residential (MUR) zone, I believe you when you say that you only reported what Planning Director Angstadt told you. I suggest that when you look into the impact of density bonuses on those heights, you consult Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman.

  • Toni Mester

                The Aquatic Park amendments (protection, not preservation, as I heard on Tuesday night I may be wrong) is intended not only to protect the wildlife but also the recreational uses of the park. The core problem of the West Berkeley Project large parcels strategy is that that the planning staff chose to revise the master use permits section of the zoning code rather than employ the development agreement section of the municipal code. Many participants including myself felt this to be the wrong path, as one size of development standards does not fit all. Each one of these parcels has unique problems and potential and demands specific zoning. The development agreement is negotiated and includes a citizens’ advisory committee appointed by the Council that represents the communities concerns including benefits. I served on the Bayer committee, and that agreement has been a win/win.        When it comes to Aquatic Park, the problems became evident, and Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli rose to the challenge. The Jones site is particularly difficult because of a differential in grade, with an 18 foot bluff where the American soils is located. The SEIR did not produce adequate view simulations, so they must to be provided before the package is complete. New information about contamination west of the railroad tracks that emerged in the final SEIR will need to be further investigated, because Aquatic Park is already polluted. I’ve participated in these discussions as a Board member of Citizens for East Shore Parks and a participant in the CEQA process of the West Berkeley Project. I’ve earned my seat at the table, and I’ll probably continue working through the CEQA process of APIP, the Aquatic Park Improvement Program, whose DEIR is due in a few months.
                Putting this ordinance on the ballot is lamentable, as the it will probably have to be amended as problems arise in its implementation. Ballot box zoning is not good governance. Besides Aquatic Park, the benefits package is incomplete so the voters are being asked to endorse half of a negotiation, which amounts to a giveaway of valuable airspace without assurance of pay-back.
                So what if a referendum succeeded? The planning staff and the Council could spend a year discussing the benefits, getting needed information, and dusting off the development agreement code. As it stands, the MUP ordinance is a rough draft of a bad choice.

  • Bruce Love

     

    Bates has plenty of reasons to put this measure on the ballot rather than call for a direct vote:

    1) The 2012 November election will likely have high turnout, in part because of the presidential race and state issues.

    2)  All else being equal,  that would likely skew turn-out left, in Berkeley.

    3) But “No Sit/Lie” on the ballot will help bring out the right.  Just how much it brings out the right might matter in district 5.   Depending on who runs, it might matter for mayor.  It might matter for bond measures.   It might matter for the West Berkeley measure.

    4) Just passing  “No Sit/Lie” directly might itself be enough to lose a seat in district 5 or, depending on who runs, lose the mayor’s seat, lose the bond measures.   In 2014, after redistricting, a straight up vote for “no sit/lie” might have lost district 8.

    5) At the same time, some of the mayor’s main political friends in Berkeley are demanding “No Sit/Lie”.    These are his sources of influence, money, access, etc. so why piss them off?  It has to be possible.  

    So it’s  clever:  Putting no/sit-lie helps to bring out “yes” on road bond, “no” on pools, “yes” on w.b., and Bates and Capitelli.    Passing it directly would have done the opposite.   Not doing anything at all about it would have cost Bates and the majority some good will with their political friends.

    Or…is our council is voting in line with their beliefs? If that’s the
    case, are they telling us they believe they aren’t qualified to make the
    decisions we elected them to make?

    They are expressing their belief that that is not their job.

    Or, if you prefer, their belief that their vote has to be as much influenced by the concerns of their political friends as anything else.

    It’s an industry you get into by bootstrapping a campaign organization, making political friends (sources of access, influence, and money), getting elected, acting so as to maximize your chances of retaining and expanding your campaign org / set of political friends.   Lather, rinse, repeat.

    While your there, I gather, some people just try to take the most personal advantage of it possible;  others try to influence outcomes according to their own values;  most in that position are probably somewhere in between.

  • Bruce Love

     Eric you wrote:

    The Council’s action is actually proactive, in a sense, because they know anything they pass outright will be the target of a referendum campaign, a lawsuit, or both. Putting this to the ballot preempts the possibility of a referendum and helps strengthen future efforts by the City to defend the Plan from legal challenge. As such, the true blame lies with the sore losers [….]

    I agree that that’s right in a very small part — but that it misses the bigger picture.   It’s not the main reason this is happening, by far.

    The West Berkeley plan changes are politically difficult for the mayor and full council majority because some aspects of the proposal split their political friends.   They also split some voters who might otherwise vote for Bates or Capitelli but who might vote “anyone but”.

    On top of that, the financing market isn’t helping and LBL didn’t pick Berkeley — so the demand from the political friends who want this measure is softened.   They thought that by the time this thing passed there would be a bunch of ready to go projects.  The markets have changed a lot.

    So, what to do?   Well, if you are one of the council majority, strategizing on the premise that you’re going to be driving a lot of Berkeley voters from the right to the polls this November, you:

    1) Soften the proposal as far as you can to appease certain political friends whose support for the measure is weak (e.g., write in vague protections for Aquatic and make it look like the community benefits stuff is being taken seriously).

    2) Try to get it passed at the ballot where, mostly, it will serve as measure R-like support for future changes to the W.B. plan.   (This is where your analysis about pre-empting the referendum process is closest to right, in my view.)

    3) If it passes, all the political friends are happy.

    4) If it fails, to give one example, Bates can say to the political friends that most wanted it “Hey, we did our part.  We did everything we could.  We gave its best chance.  It’s just not going to happen.  Hey, whaddaya want, that’s Berkeley for you.   What are you going do, support Running Wolf?”

    It’s interesting seeing some of the groups coming forward to support the measure but predicating their support on a very strong “community benefits” component.   I believe these vote influencers are basically making a threat, especially to the mayor.   Same goes for the Sierra Club’s position.   These are representatives of votes that Bates can usually count on declaring that they’ll work with him on this measure — but only for something in return.   Of course, this doesn’t at all help the political friends that really want the liberalized zoning.   So it’s some of the evidence for that split among the council majority’s political friends.

  • The Sharkey

    Well, LBL might have picked Berkeley if not for so much vocal opposition from people like you, so in a way I guess if your theorizations are correct that means you played right into Bates’ hands.

  • The Sharkey

    Yes, Goddess forbid those far-right Berkeley moderates show up at the polls and exercise their right to vote. How dare those evil politicians “game the system” so that more people end up in the voting booth! Democracy only works when a small, far-left contingent make all the decisions.

    ;-)

  • Cathleen Quandt

    A question for the editors about West Berkeley articles:
    Why do you always show the backside of buildings in West Berkeley as the photo choice? I have lived in this neighborhood for 12 years and have never seen most of the (less than attractive) views you have portrayed in West Berkeley. This neighborhood is incredibly rich historically, architecturally and energetically. It would be a true loss to the entire city, if we lose what is so creative and unique about West Berkeley. Do the people of Berkeley really embrace the generic-gigantic office parks that are being proposed? If you need a better photo representation of this amazing neighborhood, please let me know.