The trouble with Measure T: A lack of definition

By Patrick Sheahan

Patrick Sheahan is a West Berkeley architect and resident. He sits on the city's Planning Commission and on the Save West Berkeley Committee.

In endorsing NO on Measure T, the SF Bay Guardian says: “Everyone agrees the area needs updated zoning, but this is too loose.” This captures the fundamental problem with Measure T — a lack of definition regarding the scope of possible development and the details of potential community benefits.

A look at the City of Berkeley map of parcel sizes shows that up to two-thirds of West Berkeley could be eligible for increased development rights; i.e. 75 foot height and FAR 3 (density) vs. the current 45 foot height and FAR 2. Sites for expanded development rights are allowed by eligibility, rather than location, so it is unknown and unidentified where all possible sites may occur.

Community benefits are not guaranteed and will not be defined until after the vote; recent discussion at the Planning Commission indicates that potential funds will be inadequate for the many benefits proponents are claiming.

Proponents of Measure T have sent out two mailers containing a plethora of false and misleading information, starting with a false endorsement from SEIU Local 1021. In fact, SEIU Local 1021 has officially endorsed NO on T.

The mailer shows bubble photos of a library under construction and 4th Street retail, neither of which is in the affected Rezoning area. The mailer claims that Measure T will provide good jobs, job-training, money for schools and libraries, affordable housing and artist workspace, expanded shuttles, and Aquatic Park protections. In fact, no benefits at all have been defined under Measure T, having been deferred until after the election.

The second mailer shows two derelict buildings to illustrate the need for rezoning. However, this gives a false impression of activity in West Berkeley; one building is currently in the design phase for redevelopment, and the other has been demolished.

The mailer claims that current zoning prevents the creation of jobs and businesses. This is a false claim: zoning has already been updated, in 2011, to address zoning barriers and encourage new businesses and expansion, startups, R&D and green-tech industry. There is already ample opportunity to build within the current zoning height limit of 45 feet, which is double the existing average height. Zoning already exists for an ample supply of high-density housing on the transit corridors of San Pablo & University. What big developers want is to make their own properties much more valuable, with additional height for bay views. Out of scale development is fundamentally unfair to neighboring properties, which are deprived of light and sun.

The mailer mis-represents building height, citing a 50 foot average height; without saying that the allowable height is 75 feet, plus penthouses. A 50 foot average means nearly 75% of a multi-block site can be 75 feet high; typically with buildings in a ‘C’ shape to maximize bay views. The result allows a 75 foot wall across the site.

The mailer cites 1,500 jobs lost, which is a misleading statistic without mention that there has been a net gain of jobs in Berkeley; with about 25% of jobs in West Berkeley. Traditional manufacturing jobs are being replaced by a diverse array of jobs from artisan foods to specialty manufacturers.

An understanding of the true scope and details of Measure T requires a close reading of the eight pages in the Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet. The text reveals the lack of definition and details regarding the scope of the affected area and benefits. Measure T is complex, but vague, and should not be on the Ballot. Please vote NO on T, and ask your council members to consider a plan that works with the businesses and community of West Berkeley.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Visit Voter’s Edge Berkeley, Berkeleyside’s non-partisan voting guide to the ten measures on the Berkeley ballot.

Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to November 6.