On a recent Wednesday morning, as the sun was trying to make its way out from behind rain clouds, two joggers ran down Fourth Street, passing the Takara Sake Factory, a tiny house hidden behind a woodworking shop, the new Sketch ice cream store, and the massive warehouse of Wine.com.
It may have been a routine run for the two men. But for many of the residents of West Berkeley, the runners’ path exemplifies what is special about the neighborhood: it’s an eclectic mix of housing, manufacturing, industrial production, and small businesses.
Despite this vibrancy, many consider West Berkeley underutilized. It is the only section of the city that is zoned for manufacturing and industrial uses. But over the last few decades, the number of these businesses has dwindled. In 1991, there were 153 manufacturers providing 5,024 jobs in the 94710 zip code. In 2008, that had dropped 38%, with 89 companies providing 3,636 manufacturing jobs, according to a report put together in 2009 by Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development.
Berkeley officials took steps in the mid-1980s to arrest the jobs decline. With the input of the community and under the leadership of then-Mayor Loni Hancock, Berkeley devised the West Berkeley Plan, which it hoped would be a long-term blueprint for the district. The plan, completed in 1993, added protections aimed at preserving manufacturing jobs.
“We were trying very hard to see if we could bring traditional manufacturing back to Berkeley,” said Hancock. “We had the Colgate plant, Bayer, Del Monte – many great manufacturing plants. We designed zoning to encourage that.”
But the West Berkeley Plan was developed as the drivers of the American economy shifted from heavy manufacturing to silicon, from industrial to green. Colgate and Del Monte moved out, although Bayer remained. Artisan food producers like Acme Bread and June Taylor Jams moved in near smaller manufacturers like Chittenden, Adams Scientific Glass, and Polyseal Industries.
But for a certain kind of business, West Berkeley grew less tenable because of the strict zoning laws that had been put in place to protect manufacturing. Those looking for R&D, office, or lab space to be near UC Berkeley or Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found few options because of the laws. And thriving businesses that wanted to grow felt hemmed in by the restraints. When Clif Bar, for example, outgrew its facility on Fifth Street in 2006, it wanted to expand and add amenities, like a gym and a day care center. But those kinds of mixed uses were not possible in West Berkeley. The company moved to Emeryville.
“We tried hard to keep them,” Mayor Tom Bates told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006. “But it seems to be Berkeley’s role in life to incubate small companies and see them grow and then move elsewhere.”
During the last few years, Berkeley has tried again to move around the playing pieces to make West Berkeley a place that companies come to stay — and grow. In 2011, the city council adopted more flexible zoning regulations that allow the conversion of warehouses to R&D, the subdivision of large buildings, and non-store retail space, among other changes. The definition of manufacturing was changed, too, to allow uses like computer-aided manufacturing.
Now Berkeley voters are being asked to vote yes or no on a final building block for West Berkeley. Measure T allows the construction of up to six large developments over the next ten years in a swath of land west of San Pablo Avenue. Proponents contend that allowing large planned development will bring in desirable green technology companies that will provide jobs, millions in city revenue, and will staunch the outflow of start-ups from UC Berkeley or LBNL that leave when they grow.
Opponents say Measure T would upset the delicate balance of people and businesses that make West Berkeley unique. It will drive up land values and price artists out of the neighborhood. They also contend that the idea the development would be restricted to six sites is fiction; Measure T would actually open most of West Berkeley to development when the measure sunsets in ten years, they believe. Berkeleyside has put together frequently asked questions on the key issues around Measure T at the end of this article.
Measure T has brought to the forefront the battle between Berkeley’s “smart growth” interests and a group that is suspicious of the motives of City Hall and what it considers its cozy relationship to developers. On one side is Mayor Tom Bates and most of the City Council, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, and groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Liveable Berkeley, the Downtown Business Association, the Telegraph Property and Business Management Corporation, as well as Fred Collignon, UC professor, former city councilmember and planning commissioner, architect Peter Calthorpe, and Mark Rhoades, a former city planner. The East Bay Express has also endorsed T.
On the other side are three city councilmembers, Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, and Jesse Arreguin, three planning commissioners, Patti Dacey, Gene Poschman, and Patrick Sheahan, Zelda Bronstein, a former planning commissioner, WEIBAC, a group that represents 1,000 West Berkeley artists, artisans and manufacturers, and Sylvia McLaughlin, the founder of Save the Bay, among others. The Berkeley Daily Planet and Bay Guardian have come out against T.
The stakes are so high that Measure T has attracted the second highest amount of campaign contributions, dwarfed only by Measure S, the sitting ban. The bulk of the $36,500 raised to support the measure comes from Doug Herst, Herst Associates, and De Tienne Associates, all involved in the Peerless Green project, a 5.5-acre mixed-use development of homes, artists, studios, light manufacturing, urban gardens and underground parking planned for Fourth Street near Bancroft Avenue. If Measure T passes, Herst’s chances of seeing his project realized would dramatically increase.
The biggest contributor to the No on Measure T campaign, which has raised $15, 200 so far, is the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, which donated $4,000. Urban Ore donated $2,000 and Bronstein gave $1,025.
Both sides have accused the other of heated rhetoric and even fraudulent claims. Proponents of Measure T contend that the No on Measure T website contains many falsehoods, like stating its passage will mean West Berkeley is dotted with numerous 75-foot high business parks or will allow buildings that destroy Aquatic Park. They also point out that many of the Yes on T campaign signs have been removed or altered to read No on T. About 90% of the signs put up since Oct. 19 have been defaced or ripped down, said Deborah Matthews, the co-chair of the Yes on T campaign. “These are deplorable actions by our opponents.”
Bronstein filed three complaints against Measure T with Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission, which decided last week it did not have jurisdiction over two of them, but will hear the third this week. The most serious charge concerned two mailers sent out by the Yes on T campaign claiming that SEIU Local 1021 endorsed the measure. That was false, Bronstein charged, as the SEIU website clearly states it opposes Measure T. The Yes on T group even sent out the second mailer even though the mistake had been brought to its attention. “The Yes on T campaign,” said Bronstein “can be blamed for its own willful disregard of the truth.”
The officials running the Yes on T campaign defended their actions by saying Berkeley members of the 33-county SEIU Local 1021 expressed support for the measure, but it was overruled by union’s political action committee.
Measure T: FAQs
The Measure T item on the Nov. 6 ballot is complicated. Here are some commonly asked questions about what the measure would do and how the two sides differ:
What would Measure T do?
Measure T would allow the owners of six large parcels of one city block or four acres to develop large structures in exchange for giving extra benefits back to the community. The Berkeley Planning Department has identified nine parcels that fit this criteria, although only six can be developed in the next 10 years. The six most likely sites to be developed cover about 30 acres, or 4% of West Berkeley.
How big can these developments be?
The current maximum height limit in West Berkeley is 45 feet. Measure T would set limits and ratios on the large parcels. While some parts of a building could be as high as 75 feet tall, the average height of the buildings covering the site would be 50 feet. Any section over 60 feet cannot cover more than half the lot. Current law allows developers to cover 100% of their property with a structure. With Measure T, developers could only cover 75% of a lot and would be required to set aside 10% for open space. Current zoning regulations require a maximum Floor Area Ratio of 2; with Measure T it increases to 3.
Won’t structures this size be out of proportion to the neighborhood?
Measure T takes steps to make sure there isn’t a tall façade right next to a small Victorian or other homes. None of the proposed developments, known as MUPs or Master Use Permits, are next to a residential district, although some are adjacent to areas zoned Mixed Use Residential. Measure T will require buildings next to homes to be stepped back. Developers must also create a gradual transition between old and new buildings. In addition, all the projects would have to go through extensive city approval and design review. The measure states that any development “would not substantially degrade the existing visual character of adjacent property,” and “would not cause unreasonable shadows on any sensitive area.”
What community benefits will the developers pay?
The city council voted to put Measure T on the ballot before nailing down the specific benefits. The planning commission is currently discussing a benefits package, and it will come before the council soon. No permits will be issued before the community benefits package is adopted and implemented. The developers of the six sites will have to offer at least one of these 10 options, according to the wording of Measure T: Retain and provide affordable work space for artists, provide transportation management measures, provide access to job training programs, provide affordable work force housing, contribute to environmental improvements at Aquatic Park, pay prevailing wages, provide access to open space area, build or support affordable childcare space, require local sourcing of building materials, and provide benefits or money for programs and initiatives that further goals of the West Berkeley Plan.
Opponents of Measure T argue that the community benefits package should have been worked out before it was put to a vote. They believe the passage of Measure T will remove developers’ incentive to provide adequate benefits.
Won’t Measure T mean massive office park developments in West Berkeley?
The “No on Measure T” site argues that it will allow “75-foot high multi-block office parks.” While the height limit under Measure T will go to 75 feet, that height would be restricted to part of any development. Measure T requires that the average height of any site be 50 feet, and that any section 60 feet or higher cannot cover more than half the site.
Opponents of Measure T have “Save Aquatic Park,” on their campaign signs. What will the measure do to the park?
Measure T will not immediately affect Aquatic Park. The city council voted that the two large parcels adjacent to Aquatic Park, the American Soils and Goldin properties, will not be eligible for development until the council considers and adopts a new set of regulations to protect Aquatic Park, including height limits, how to protect views and lessen shadows, and controlling runoff. However, some language in Measure T already addresses protections for the park, stating that new development “will not unreasonably create shadows upon, degrade the existing visual quality or character of, or pedestrian access to Aquatic Park.” It also requires developers to use “bird-safe building design guidelines.” Proponents of Measure T contend that developers will spend private funds to enhance the park as a way of making their sites more attractive to tenants.
Opponents point out that the City Council has had years to develop safeguards to Aquatic Park and are not convinced they will ever do so.
What will happen after 10 years? Won’t West Berkeley be open for more development?
Measure T sets the zoning regulations for 10 years and specifies that only six large parcels that had already been controlled by one owner by August 2011 can be developed. After that, there are no controls. City Council members who placed the measure on the ballot say that a future city council will be better situated to make decisions about the area.
Opponents of Measure T point to this sunset as one of the more worrisome areas of the proposal. They contend that it means there might be rampant development in the future. Although Berkeley’s Environmental Impact Report on the West Berkeley Project only identified nine possible MUP sites in West Berkeley, opponents of Measure T believe that there might be other unidentified parcels or owners that no one yet knows about that will want to take advantage of the MUP process. Opponents fear that actually as much as 2/3 of the land in West Berkeley west of San Pablo Avenue might be able to be intensely developed. Proponents disagree with that assertion.
What will happen to land prices if Measure T passes?
Opponents of Measure T believe that allowing more intense development that includes housing will drive up the value of all the land in West Berkeley, pushing rents up and squeezing out artisans and small manufacturers. Some West Berkeley companies have complained this is already happening; they want to buy land to expand but landowners are not selling because they are hoping for new zoning which will make their land more valuable.
Proponents of Measure T point out that land values and prices have been declining since the economy tanked in 2008. As development comes to Berkeley, land values will go up – which is a good thing.
Will Measure T bring jobs to Berkeley?
Because of the strict zoning requirements, Berkeley has lost out in attracting a number of companies, proponents of Measure T contend. They estimate that 75 companies with about 1,500 jobs did not come to Berkeley because they could not find adequate space. Berkeley has recently loosened some zoning restrictions to address this. The six MUP sites would be a mix of housing, R&D, labs, and manufacturing and provide new facilities for companies to use – creating jobs.
Opponents of Measure T point out that West Berkeley is already thriving, with hundreds of places including Pacific Steel Casting, offering good paying jobs. The vacancy rate is about 2%, which indicates the strength of the district. But if rents go up because of Measure T and force out these companies, the number of jobs may decline.
What does Measure T have to do with “synthetic biology?”
One group opposed to measure T, the Friends of the West Berkeley Plan, has issued a flyer that says the measure will allow for “dangerous unregulated technology called synthetic biology” to come to West Berkeley. Supporters of Measure T say this a scare tactic. It is true that Wareham Development, which owns sites in Berkeley, does often build laboratories, but that does not necessarily mean anyone doing synthetic biology will do work there. And if these kinds of companies come to Berkeley (and anywhere else) the federal and state governments will regulate them.
What will happen if Measure T doesn’t pass?
Opponents of Measure T believe existing zoning regulations are sufficiently flexible to permit growth in West Berkeley. They point out that current height limits are 45 feet, but most structures in West Berkeley are only 25 feet. There is room for developers to construct larger, state of the art facilities under current regulations. Building structures 45 feet high won’t change the nature and feel of the neighborhood, while office buildings that are 75 feet high will.
Supporters of Measure T believe Berkeley will lose out on millions of dollars in additional revenue if the proposal fails. The city won’t reap fees from development, increased property taxes, and incidental income from an influx of thousands of new workers and residents. Companies will continue to look to Emeryville, Richmond and other locales to expand.
Commission won’t review veracity of campaign literature [10.26.12]
District 2 City Council race is battleground for Measure T [10.23.12]
Measure T supporters mail false flyer, critics contend [10.19.12]
Visit Berkeleyside’s Voter’s Edge Berkeley for complete coverage and tracking of the city’s 10 ballot measures. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to Nov. 6.