Measure T: A step towards a more consistent set of rules

By Paul Kamen

Paul Kamen is a naval architect specializing in small craft accident reconstruction. He owns a small sailboat in the Berkeley Marina, has taught sailing for U.C. in Aquatic Park, and chairs the Berkeley Waterfront Commission.

It’s easy to dismiss the most vocal opponents of Measure T (West Berkeley up-zoning) as nimbies and bananas (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything). It’s also easy to see that the objections to development near Aquatic Park on environmental grounds are exaggerated beyond the breaking point. But one of the more cogent arguments against T has been put forth by Toni Mester in several op eds in the Berkeley Daily Planet. (Google “Toni Mester West Berkeley” for links.)

Toni argues that the individual development agreement (DA) is a far better tool for managing development projects than zoning. She advocates development agreements as the preferred alternative to the Master Use Permit (MUP) system provided for in Measure T. Toni cites the success of the Bayer DA, and the entire city of Santa Barbara, as evidence of how well this approach can work.

Let’s take a step or two back from these selected examples and think of long-term policies, benefits and costs. If every major project drives a new DA process, we end up with a patchwork of civic amenities and services, each negotiated separately by each property developer. Sure, these concessions are good things: public park space, job training programs, support for public transit, infrastructure improvements and other socially desirable mandates.

But… these are all things that should be provided by good local and regional government anyway, not by private developers. And they should be paid for by fair and uniform taxes, not by extorting developers for concessions that depend on political connectedness and squeaky wheel advocacy. A new DA process for each project makes about as much sense as Romney’s claim that 50 different state-run health care systems will somehow be more efficient than a single federal system. A new DA for each proposal is like re-writing the tax code for each property.

Services should be provided according needs and priorities determined via an open political process, not by negotiations with each new developer. And they should be paid for by a transparent tax system that extracts funds according to fair and predictable rules. The Development Agreement system fails badly on both counts.

Same with mandates for socially desirable policies. If they are worth having then they should apply equally to everyone, city-wide, not just to certain big players according to their skill at cutting special deals and their need for exceptions to restrictive zoning.

Perhaps more disturbing than the inefficiencies and inequities of the DA system is the implication that top-down management by City commissions will result in a better outcome than market forces working within a known set of rules. I’ll take rule-based development patterns over the capricious results of individual development agreements any time.

Measure T is a step towards a more consistent set of rules via a reasonable zoning revision, and is ultimately a much better path to improving the economic, physical, and cultural value 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.

Print Friendly
Tagged , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Berkeley Resident

    How delightful and refreshing to read a well-reasoned think piece about Measure T, without sturm, without drang.  Hope to see more articles and Op Ed pieces like this, on T as well as other Measures, as we approach the elections. 

  • Blog

    Thank you for finally sharing a logical and well thought through op ed. I live in West Berkeley and am so tired of commentary by people who don’t understand how dire the business and living situation actually is over here. We need development badly.

  • local resident


  • Rob Wrenn

    1992 Development Agreement with Bayer in West Berkeley has delivered clear benefits for the city. Bayer actually supports a shuttle, among other TDM measures. Bayer supports Biotech Partners to train Berkeley High students and includes paid summer internships. Between 1992 and 2008, Bayer made development agreement payments totaling $13,921,120.86. Measure T advocates claim that the measure will provide many of the things that Bayer actually agreed to in their development agreement. DAs are appropriate to large projects, though exactly how large a project needs to be for a DA to be appropriate is a matter for debate. Even without a DA, Community Benefits could easily have been included in Measure T. And the City could develop a set of impact fees for developers as countless other cities have done. Measure R on the ballot two years ago specified what developers had to do in return for allowing greater density. Measure T could have done the same. Its authors chose not to so there is a lot of opposition. 

  • But aren’t “community benefits” really the primary function of local government? That’s the whole point here. Not every business has the kinds of margins found in the pharmaceutical industry, and if we expect each new venture to run its own little public works, education, transportation and parks department then we chase away more commerce than we attract (aside from being spectacularly inefficient). That’s how we arrived where we are today, with insufficient tax base to provide the community benefits we would like to have. Not just for friends of Bayer, but city-wide. 

    At least we seem to agree that Bayer in West Berkeley is a good thing. Do you support more development on the same scale, by businesses other than pharmaceuticals?

  • Rob Wrenn

    The tax base argument doesn’t work in practice. Any marginal increase in city revenues has in practice gone to employee salary increases, and to maintaining health benefits and pensions, not to fund new programs or community benefits. We need impact fees to fund alternative transportation, affordable housing and open space improvements, with the money earmarked for those things, not just added to the General Fund. The Council recently finally passed an affordable housing fee to their credit, and by an 8-1 vote. Developers can afford to pay fees. Patrick Kennedy could easily have paid some impact fees when he was building his apartment buildings on commercial corridors. He sold his first set of buildings for $145 million or so, clearly making a tidy profit. But he and other developers haven’t had to contribute anything. (for many years there has been a small housing fee on commercial projects and an even smaller fee for child care, but no fees on housing development). Impact fees get factored into any deal made between the owner of a site being developed and the developer. Lots of cities have them. Development creates impacts along with profit for the developer and the developer should help address the impacts that his or her development creates. Of course fees have to be set at reasonable levels that don’t shut off development, but zero is not a reasonable level.
       As far as West Berkeley goes, I think the priority should be to maintain affordable industrial space so that Berkeley’s economy remains diverse. Industrial uses can’t go anywhere else in Berkeley. Large scale office development would be better suited to downtown as would large scale housing development. I’m for transit-oriented development to address global climate change, and transit service is far better in downtown, even with the unfortunate rejection of Bus Rapid Transit, than it is in West Berkeley where all you have is the 51 on University, the 72 on San Pablo and a couple of other bus lines. As for another Bayer-sized project I don’t know if there are any vacant sites in West Berkeley big enough for that. Are there? If there were, I’d favor the development agreement approach, but with more of a focus on encouraging “green” projects that meet the highest feasible level of LEED standards. That’s another thing I don’t understand about Measure T. Why is there no requirement or even encouragement of green building? If green building is good for downtown, why isn’t it good for West Berkeley?   

  • The Sharkey

    You have to admit that it’s odd that the same people who complain about Berkeley’s unfunded pension liabilities are also against Measure T, which would add new revenues to the city’s general fund.

    The constant repetition from the No on T folks that the transit we have right now is all the transit we’re ever going to have is, frankly, stupid. While something like BRT or light rain is a big undertaking, adding a new AC Transit line would be easy, and cheap.


    High density infill is inherently “green” (and we don’
    need no stinkin’ LEEDS certification – the
    carbon footprint is all about miles driven and gas burned).


    The bus routes will follow the market, not drive it. Add
    more commerce and housing and then it will make sense to add bus routes.


    More to your point, what’s the real difference between an
    “impact fee” and adding to the tax base? Well, in your world,
    everything in an impact fee is earmarked for this or for that, whereas a tax
    just gets sucked up by those evil public employee unions, I suppose. As if
    every penny spent by those bureaucrats uptown is wasted. Personally I’ll take
    the public process for allocating scarce resources instead of the private deals
    that turn out to be self-serving for the developers as often as not.


    Let’s take two examples: Transportation and education. I’m
    told that Bayer runs a BART shuttle as part of their Development Agreement.
    Very nice, especially for Bayer employees, but does it serve anyone else? And
    the job training – great for the interns working at Bayer, or kids interested
    in a career in pharmaceuticals.


    Compare and contrast to more public-oriented services, for
    example the proposal to extend the Emery-go-round through parts of West Berkeley. Now that would actually be useful to the
    community at large, not just to Bayer employees. Compare the in-house job
    training to increased funding for adult education through our public school or
    college districts. Which one benefits the broader community?


    “The priority should be to maintain affordable
    industrial space so that Berkeley’s
    economy remains diverse” translates to “let’s make sure no-one ever
    wants to build here, so our rent stays low.” It’s self-serving and

  • Rob Wrenn

    “The bus routes will follow the market, not drive it. Add more commerce and housing and then it will make sense to add bus routes.”
    This is unfortunately untrue. Berkeley has added a substantial amount of infill housing over the last 20 years, but transit service is more limited than it was 20 years ago, and it’s more expensive ($2.10 to ride AC; $1.75 for the shortest distance BART trip). We lack any kind of effective regional planning. There is nothing to guarantee that transit service will improve just because we have more development. That’s especially true if we don’t even ask developers to contribute anything to support that improved service.

  • Rob Wrenn

    If adding new transit lines is so easy and cheap, why isn’t it happening? Why has AC Transit been cutting back on service?

  • Well, it’s even more “especially true” if we don’t have any new development at all. Then you can really forget about a new bus route.

    Actually, most of the housing infill in the last 20 years you refer to has been on transit arterials. I agree with you that the state of funding for public transit is not great, but the arterial routes are still being served. Higher density helps keep those routes viable in the face of cuts.

    One of the underlying structural causes of public transit problems is the diversion of resources to unseen auto subsidies. Required parking spaces as conditions for development has been one of our more egregious land use planning mistakes. I suggest a quick peak at Donald Shoup’s _The High Cost of Free Parking_.  His table of contents lays it out very well: http://tinyurl.com/7888zct

  • Paul – thank you for your well articulated position to support Measure T.  Your arguments are very compelling and I agree with your statement  “I’ll take rule-based development patterns over the capricious results of individual development agreements any time.”

    My question, why are the rules changing so drastically?  Why must we practically double the height limits?  Why must density increase by 50%? 

    I live in West Berkeley and would welcome less drastic development in the neighborhood with provisions to maintain the economic and cultural diversity.  I realize that may be naive, but it seems that we are painted as complete nut jobs because we want a more reasonable approach to change.