Berkeley west of Sixth Street has long supported a vibrant community of small manufacturers, artists, artisans and local-serving businesses. Yet much of the rest of the district has been contributing little to the city, holding abandoned former manufacturing sites and sleepy warehouses that can’t be better used because of current zoning.
The status quo has not helped West Berkeley thrive. Because there is little space available for new or growing businesses, we’ve lost 75 companies and over 1,500 jobs to other cities in recent years, including Clif Bar and solar pioneer SunPower.
To provide many new Berkeley jobs, keep successful companies in town and gain millions in new tax revenues to support citywide programs, we need to adopt a development strategy that keeps pace with changing technologies, new markets and green manufacturing models — and makes the sleepy part of West Berkeley as vibrant as the rest of it. This is what Measure T will do.
Measure T will complete five years of community and city council effort to bring the West Berkeley Plan into the 21st century. It will define enough new business space for startup companies to be born and for successful ones to expand and still stay in Berkeley, while at the same time protecting the traditional small businesses and artistic enterprises that are a vital community resource.
We’ve already passed the first two steps: reaffirming protective zoning for existing artisans, artists and small manufacturers, and allowing new uses in some of today’s underutilized zones. Measure T is the final major step: it will allow some larger sites to be developed over time with a single overall approval each, encouraging the new zoning to be fully utilized for the city’s benefit.
Thanks to dozens of commission and council meetings and more than 50 hours of public comment, the projects later approved will fit their industrial settings. Measure T limits possible development to no more than six sites in ten years, averaging less than 5 acres each, with prudent limits on building height and lot coverage. Height limits and lot coverage for all projects would be less than recently approved for some new developments downtown. Measure T will make no changes to Aquatic Park’s zoning, yet it sets up a mandatory process to require additional Park protections from neighboring properties. And Measure T ensures that developers will be required to share their profits with the community, financially supporting significant ongoing benefits to the neighborhood.
Citywide financial benefits would be substantial. To take just one example: the Peerless Greens proposal. Annual property taxes would grow from $360,000 today to $3,500,000 — a nearly tenfold increase. And thousands of new local jobs not requiring a car commute would help both the prosperity of the whole community and the city’s Climate Action Plan.
Opponents of Measure T are a mixture of the usual anti-development suspects who find nothing but a “greedy developer” behind every proposal in town, and some local West Berkeleyans who fear physical change to their community and the “inevitable gentrification” that greater prosperity would allegedly foster.
I could detail a long list of untrue claims, but it’s sufficient to quote from Bob Gammon’s recent “Berkeley at a crossroads” column in the East Bay Express: “Opponents of Measure T are running a spirited campaign. But they’ve also made some false and misleading statements. For example, in their official ballot argument, they asserted that Measure T would allow ‘75-foot high multi-block office parks’ and ‘huge buildings next to Aquatic Park.’ In truth, Measure T would allow neither.“
Berkeley Bowl West, now a neighborhood treasure, was subjected to equally false predictions of “inevitable” disaster — from some of the same opponents who are most vocal today. No such disaster, of course, has actually arrived.
Despite the same sort of misguided opposition two years ago, in 2010 we approved a similar upgrade for another important part of town. Berkeley voters in every single precinct (and 64% overall) passed Measure R to provide much-needed revitalization benefits to our Downtown, allowing selective additional development in exchange for community benefits. Now we need to enable our underused industrial zone to create new jobs, new city revenues and new local-community programs.
It’s West Berkeley’s turn to thrive. Please vote Yes on Measure T.
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