Opinionator

Vote no on Measure T: let’s not lose local talent, treasures

By Cathleen Quandt

Cathleen Quandt is a West Berkeley resident, designer, and business owner and a member of the Save West Berkeley Committee.

My husband and I have an architecture and design firm in West Berkeley. On any given day, I am searching for plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, hardware, windows, doors, cabinets, tile, flooring, decking and furniture, to name a few. I have the unique privilege of looking at and specifying all of those products, and many more, all found or made in West Berkeley. Things look different on the computer, the colors aren’t accurate or the scale is hard to picture, so I like to see things in person as much as possible.  If I don’t find exactly what I am looking for, I usually can talk to the local fabricator or vendor and work together to customize.

There are incredible resources and talent here in West Berkeley, from the great selection of tiles at Import Tile and exquisite light fixtures made by McEwen Lighting (who also uses local glass blowers), to the technical glass produced by Adams & Chittenden and used by Libby Labs. It’s all very symbiotic and local, much like the creative resurgence of Brooklyn’s artisanal and niche manufacturing.

I don’t want to lose the treasures and talent that exist here, which is one of the reasons I am against Measure T. All small businesses (including mine) rely on affordable space. Whether they own or rent, if a neighboring property qualifies for a height limit of 75 feet, while their own property only qualifies for 45 foot height limit, there will be increased pressure to sell to a developer who wants additional property eligible for increased height. There will be less and less space to accommodate small businesses as the smaller properties get swallowed by the big ones, because only the big properties would be allowed increased heights under Measure T.

Aggregation has already been happening, as the big developers have been scooping up properties, while lobbying the city (and now the voters with numerous mailers) to get increased height limits. Blocks and blocks have been aggregated together to form single ownership properties that would qualify for 75 foot buildings under measure T.

One developer already owns the equivalent of 10 square blocks (average 2.25 acres per block), and though it could encompass dozens of Helios (Oxford and Hearst) type buildings, it would only count as one of the six projects allowed in the first 10 years. And yes, these properties are currently underutilized by being severely under built under current height limits, but it is quite intentional. Why would the developers settle for dozens of new 45 foot high buildings (currently allowed), which would increase their building square footage capacity by 300%- 400%, when they could hold out for the high priced views 75 feet would provide?

Developers can already build very big buildings under current height limits — buildings taller and bigger than the new Pixar campus in Emeryville or most of the tech buildings in Silicon Valley, including Dell Computers or Hewlett Packard. Under current height limits, there could be multi-block office parks of 45 foot buildings, which would still alter the landscape of West Berkeley considerably.

Yet, all properties (not just the large properties) would have the same height limits, taking much of the economic pressure off of the smaller properties. Not to mention relieving the negative aesthetic of having big swaths of 75 foot buildings next to the prevalent 20 foot tall buildings that currently make up West Berkeley.

The developers have been holding out precisely to make their own properties much more valuable than neighboring properties by capturing better views. They have claimed that if they can’t build to 75 feet, they won’t build. They have been comparing the value of their own “barren” properties to what could be if they get the 75 feet. There is no mention of the huge increase in value and square footage, if they were to build out those “barren” properties to 45 feet. The added jobs and city revenue would not be so different when comparing growth from zero to 75 feet heights with growth from zero to 45 feet heights.

The City’s own Environmental Impact Report (DEIR Chapter 5) states “Under the Limited Height Alternative [45’ height limit], the total floor area developed within the zoning districts that would be affected by the West Berkeley Project [Measure T] would be anticipated to be similar over the 20 year planning period to that anticipated under the West Berkeley Project.”  Right now, the only thing stopping the developers from building is greed.

The “yes on T” campaign has been very well funded, by a few developers for the sake of their own profits. I suspect, that if Measure T does not pass, developers just might start developing within the current 45 foot height limit, or maybe they will apply for individual development agreements like Bayer has. There is already plenty of room for West Berkeley to grow without Measure T.  And alongside the new and appropriately scaled 45 foot tall buildings, we would be able to continue working with all the incredibly talented people our own back yards who could then afford to stay here.

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.

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  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    Well at least you’re being honest about the real reason for opposing Measure T: You don’t want property values and rents to go up.

    But the signs on University Ave. insist that we should vote no on T to “save Aquatic Park,” not to “keep our rent low.” And the measure itself excludes the Aquatic Park parcels, unless a long list of protective restrictions are applied. These restrictions are new. Aquatic Park is protected by Measure T, not threatened.

    I walked all the way around the Aquatic Park lagoon just last week. There are many issues at play that affect the useability and quality of the park – but Measure T has nothing to do with any of them. (And those piles of dirt in the American Soils property — are they really worth preserving?)

    Measure T is has much more to do with the Peerless Green proposal on 4th st, a reasonably good bit of urban planning that could breathe a lot of new economic life into that part of West Berkeley, as will the five projects (maximum) that might follow in the next ten years.

    Vote YES on T — Save Aquatic Park!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

    I am a bit more in the middle on this issue. However, I am voting no on Measure T because while I’m pro development, I want development that is scaled for the neighborhood, the environment, addresses parking and traffic issues, insures a portion of the development is available for existing businesses, and reasonable allowances and support for Aquatic Park.  I don’t see or hear reasonable from Measure T. 

    Vote No on Measure T.  It is an unnecessary measure fueled by the money from one developer that greatly benefits a few.  There are better ways to bring business to Berkeley, create mixed use neighborhoods, and all can be done in West Berkeley with consideration for scale, traffic, the environment and the locals.

     

  • Cathleen Quandt

    Paul, Your
    comments miss the point. Measure T heavily tips the scales in favor of large
    parcel property owners, to the detriment of small property owners. This is not the way that city
    planning should work. Zoning should address the context and what is best for
    the community as a whole. By only addressing the economic interests of corporate developers,
    with disregard for existing businesses and neighborhoods, Measure T presents a
    very imbalanced and destructive solution. I am in favor of new development, as
    are most of my neighbors and local businesses, of an appropriate scale. To the
    point, a huge amount of development can already happen within the current
    zoning heights that would be much more appropriate for our city than Measure T.

     

    Regarding
    Aquatic Park, had you been present for the numerous City Planning and Council
    meetings, you would understand that there is no imperative for protections or
    improvements for Aquatic Park included in Measure T. Read the text of Measure
    T. There is no “long list of protective restrictions”. In fact, every
    Aquatic Park protection that was presented by the Sierra Club, Citizens for
    East Shore Parks, and The Audubon Society has already been rejected by our City
    Council. If measure T passes, there is little incentive to provide meaningful
    protections or improvements to Aquatic Park.

  • The Sharkey

    With zero net job growth in over a decade, it’s clear that West Berkeley needs some major change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

    Sharkey – you are so predictable!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

     Well said Cathleen.

  • The Sharkey

    If by “predictable” you mean “speak honestly and not try to pretend to be undecided about an issue I made my mind up about a long time ago” then I guess you’re right.

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    Okay, here’s the text of Measure T as it relates to the parcels next to Aquatic Park:

    C. No MUP may be approved for any site abutting, confronting or adjacent
    to Aquatic Park until the Council adopts an ordinance adopting measures
    to protect and where possible improves the environmental, recreational
    and aesthetic qualities of Aquatic Park. Such measures shall include,
    but are not limited to the following elements:

    1. Height limitations;
    2. Floor area ration (FAR) limitations;
    3. Setbacks;
    4. Controls on runoff and site drainage;
    5. Mitigation measures to avoid or lessen shadowing of Aquatic Park; and
    6. Protection of significant views of and from Aquatic Park.

    What protections do you think are left out?

    And again, note that none of these elements are required to be addressed in the existing zoning. They are new protections.

    SAVE AQUATIC PARK — Vote YES on T

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    As for the small parcel v. large parcel: Would you support Measure T if the 75 ft height limit were applied uniformly across the district, to parcels of all sizes?

    Somehow I don’t think so. It’s a pretext. And the bottom line is that the Council still controls zoning. Any reasonable proposal from a small parcel owner can always be considered, just in case you want to build your 7-story tower on a quarter-acre property.  

  • Guest

    Your point of view is nakedly self-interested. You don’t seem to understand, or you don’t want to acknowledge, that West Berkeley is what it is because development has been suppressed there. You want the city to forgo greatly increased tax revenue by protecting the environment that you describe. But that environment leaves the space in West Berkeley underutilized, losing tax revenues that Berkeley needs. Certainly the people who own the land that will be developed will profit – but so will the great bulk of Berkeley’s citizens as we gain a new neighborhood and the jobs and tax revenue that come with it. Measure T isn’t “imbalanced and destructive”, it merely makes it possible for the city to permit redevelopment of a portion of the city. 

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    Let’s discuss the actual, real-world effect of Measure T, the Peerless Greens re-development.

    Cathleen, what is it about Peerless Greens that scares you so much?
    http://www.peerlessgreens.com/

  • The Sharkey

    Increase of $2.65 million in New Annual Property Taxes to the City.
    In 2009, the Peerless Greens site generated $268,791 in property tax
    revenues to the City of Berkeley. Even without taking into account any
    possible future tax rate increases, upon completion Peerless Greens is
    projected to generate nearly $3 million annually to the direct benefit
    of Berkeley residents — over ten times the revenue currently generated
    by the site.

    Dang!

  • Zelda Bronstein

    What is the source of this statement? Who’s doing the projections here?

  • The Sharkey

    Oh, I should have provided a link.
    It’s from the Peerless Greens website. I hadn’t actually looked at their site before Paul posted it.

    http://www.peerlessgreens.com/pages/project-benefits

  • Cathleen Quandt

    I refuse to acknowledge any commenter who refuses to use their real name, especially those who have already or will profit directly from Measure T. 

  • Guest

    Well, your reply is in itself an acknowledgement. How does the identity of a commenter – known or unknown – change the content of the comment? What you are really saying is that you are unwilling to face difficult questions, even if they are presented in a civil tone; the anonymity issue is an easy escape route for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

     Who is pretending to be undecided?  You misunderstand.  I’m solidly against T, but not for all the same reasons many are against, which was the point I was trying to make.  Perhaps I didn’t make that point so your shark brain could understand?   You seem to like to lump us all together Sharkey, but I suppose a vote is a binary question….

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

     Dear Mystery Guest – I can’t imagine how a 45 foot structure with adequate parking would also not increase tax revenues and improve the lives of the citizens of Berkeley.  There is a lot of unused space in West Berkeley that sits fallow for no apparent reason other than that the developers want more.

    Adjusting the current plan to expand to support greater mixed use seemed to be a more reasonable approach for this neighborhood and greater Berkeley.

    I have yet to hear why the density needs to increase and the heights need to be increased and the parking requirements reduced, to name a few large changes. 

    Cathleen is serving our neighborhood generously and selflessly.  Suggesting ‘naked self interest’ is a spurious remark.

  • http://www.BerkeleyWaterfront.org/ Paul Kamen

    Okay, I’m using my real name and I have no direct financial link to Measure T (although we’ll all profit indirectly if it passes). 

    To repeat the question: What is it about Peerless Greens that is so scary?

    From the developer’s point of view, increased height is driven by economic viability. From an urban planning point of view, increased height allows the density necessary to support local commerce in a walkable neighborhood.

    A generation ago we didn’t need such high density to have a nice commercial neighborhood. But now, between internet shopping and big box stores, local retail has a much thinner slice of the pie. It only survives if we stack up some more pies.

    And higher buildings in mixed-use developments minimize the carbon footprint, especially in infill locations like West Berkeley. 

    SAVE AQUATIC PARK — Vote YES on T. 

  • Guest

    Spurious? You must have meant something else.  Quandt’s article is written to defend the status quo in West Berkeley, and she clearly explains why her business depends on that status quo. Measure T is the product of very long discussion and negotiation: if you or Ms. Quandt had a better idea, you had plenty of chances to argue your case. As many have pointed out, Measure T serves as a referendum on the redevelopment of West Berkeley. There is no question that this is going to have an impact on those who are benefiting from the current situation, but the rest of Berkeley stands to benefit from what could amount to the creation of a new neighborhood. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/susantobes Susan Tobes

     No – I meant spurious.