Berkeley praises Bayer, city’s largest for-profit employer

Congresswoman Barbara Lee joined local 11th graders at Career Day at Bayer on May 14, 2012. Photo: Bayer

Over the years, Berkeley’s largest for-profit employer has contributed $20 million to the city, created hundreds of jobs, developed paid science training programs for youth and invested in a community foundation to support key health and education programs.

Yet Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, said Councilwoman Susan Wengraf earlier this week, “may be one of the best kept secrets in Berkeley.”

Wengraf, and other council members, spoke glowingly Tuesday evening about Bayer’s many community contributions at a special meeting to receive a report outlining the past 20 years at Bayer’s Berkeley site. The report was required due to a 30-year agreement forged between Bayer and the city in 1992 to streamline the development permit process and guarantee benefits for the city.

Councilman Max Anderson applauded Bayer’s “continuous show of good will,” and Councilwoman Linda Maio described “a culture of connection with the community.”

Councilman Darryl Moore summed it up: “I can’t think of a better corporate partner we’ve had.”

The council members’ remarks followed a presentation by Trina Ostrander, associate director of public policy and communications for pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which has manufacturing operations in Berkeley and Emeryville that brought the company $2.8 billion in 2011. (Global headquarters, with sales of $22.1 billion last year, are based in Germany.)

Bayer moved into Berkeley in 1974 when it purchased plasma producer Cutter Laboratories (est. 1897) then unveiled a blood clotting agent to help treat hemophilia. Bayer, then Miles, Inc., “could have gone anywhere in the world, but it came to Berkeley,” said Ostrander, drawn by local hemoglobin expertise and the city’s educated workforce. [Watch a video about the history of Bayer and the Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley.]

In 1992, the company signed the development agreement with city officials with the goal of making Berkeley its global center of biotech operations, said Ostrander.

Berkeley Bayer employees display the site’s total annual production of hemophilia medication. Bayer reps told the City Council earlier this week: “It gets diluted.” According to Bayer, it takes more than 1,000 people about 250 days to make one lot, about a handful, of the medication. Photo: Bayer

Currently, according to Bayer, the company is the second largest biotech employer in the Bay Area, with 1,600 employees working across Berkeley, Emeryville and San Francisco. (Last year, Bayer union workers clashed with company management over contract negotiations.)

Ostrander described Bayer as a partner to the city in education, environment, economic development and safety. The company’s 45-acre site is located in West Berkeley, expanded from the original 30 acres with the 1999 purchase of land formerly owned by Colgate. It’s bounded by Dwight Way to the north, and Grayson Street to the south, between Seventh Street and the railroad tracks.

The development agreement, the only one in Berkeley, was the result of more than a year of public meetings and negotiations. (Wengraf and Anderson said they were on the Planning Commission when the deal was approved.) The goal of such an agreement is to encourage “long-term, major investments by giving companies security that land use policies will not change over time,” according to Ostrander’s presentation.

Bayer received several key perks in the deal: allowable build-out of 1.17 million square feet, rather than the 670,000 permitted at the time; a building height of up to 80 feet (45 was the max at the time); and use permits for building expansions up to 40,000 square feet (larger buildings would require Zoning Adjustments Board approval).

Since 1992, the company has built out more than 1 million square feet for its facilities, spending nearly $300 million, said Ostrander.

That’s in addition to nearly $4 million for street and traffic improvements; money (pending) for storm system improvements; more than $300,000 for Aquatic Park improvements; $100,000 for a bicycle boulevard; and more than $20,000 in landscaping projects. Bayer also paid nearly $900,000 into the city’s Housing Trust Fund to mitigate a demand for new housing that would arise from its growth in Berkeley.

(These fees were set as part of the negotiations that took place between the city and Bayer in the early 90s as mitigation for impacts Berkeley would face from the company’s growth.)

Biotech Career Institute student Lawrence Rawlins (right), 2009. Photo: Biotech Partners

The company’s contributions that seemed to be among those most appreciated by the City Council Tuesday night were the ones aimed at the Berkeley’s youth.

Bayer has invested more than $5 million in a biotechnology education program for Berkeley students (grades 9 through college), as well as adults who are unemployed or underemployed. The program involves student stipends and paid internships, a high school career day and a summer training program for Berkeley High teachers.

The Biotech Partners program involves 70-80 students per year from Berkeley High and Oakland Tech, and has funded 343 paid internships from 1992-2011. Of 142 students who graduated from the program, 94 were hired into biotech jobs, including 48 by Bayer itself. (The program, which was launched by Bayer alone, is now run in conjunction with a range of biotech companies, foundations and public entities such as the city of Berkeley.)

Councilman Anderson called the program “one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been associated with.”

In 2010, the Bayer USA Foundation announced a three-year $540,000 grant to build on the Biotech Partners model and establish a regional center to improve science in the Bay Area, especially for women and minority students.

The company also has invested more than $300,000 in projects for grades K-8 to “encourage basic education in areas related to biotechnology,” according to Tuesday’s presentation.

Ostrander also described the West Berkeley Foundation to city officials; the foundation, an independent non-profit, has spent more than $1 million helping launch a capital campaign to build Rosa Parks Elementary, and investing in programs such as Berkeley Youth Alternatives, the Center for Independent Living and the Family Violence Law Center.

(The last grants were paid in 2008, and program funds are nearly depleted, according to the report.)

In May, Bayer opened a childcare center for children ages six weeks to kindergarten-ready. It’s open to Bayer employees and other community members as well.

In 2011, Bayer’s Berkeley site won California’s highest environmental honor — the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Excellence Award. (Left to right: Jim Breitlow, Bayer Berkeley Sustainability Council; Gov. Jerry Brown; Thomas Daszkowski, Bayer Berkeley Sustainability Council; Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner). Photo: Bayer

The company also has made strides in sustainable growth, and invested in historic preservation and public art, said Ostrander. Earlier this year, Bayer built the city’s largest solar installation in its main employee parking lot. (Learn more in this PDF of her presentation.)

Other achievements included the development of computer software to limit the need to use animals for lab research, and the removal of animals from the Berkeley site in 2008.

In 2010, Bayer paid $23.3 million in taxes, and spent $227 million with Bay Area vendors for a range of needs, from construction and public utilities to metal works and facilities services.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said Ostrander’s report was proof the company had gone “way beyond” anything required by the development agreement.

Looking to the future

The development agreement sets terms for 30 years, and requires regular reports to city officials. Council members said they hope that, once the agreement ends, that doesn’t mean programs and other mitigations will run dry, citing Bayer’s deep commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Mayor Tom Bates noted that part of Bayer’s current land holdings are not covered by the development agreement, and asked Ostrander if, in the future, that area might be incorporated. Bayer reps met the suggestion with optimism and said it was under discussion already.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak asked if it might be helpful to Bayer to have additional biotech companies located nearby in West Berkeley to help spur innovation. Ostrander replied: “The synergy of capital and resources is totally important.” She noted that the benefits of proximity were already playing a role at Bayer’s Mission-based R&D operations in San Francisco.

This year, she said, Bayer’s Berkeley site will add 64 new jobs and, due to product demand, has reopened a manufacturing facility that had been closed. Bayer HealthCare’s best-selling products in 2012 are made in Berkeley and Emeryville.

Ostrander said the biotech industry is “changing fast” and becoming “increasingly competitive in a global marketplace.”

Despite this, she said, Bayer is “quite optimistic” about the future, and “committed to keeping the Berkeley site efficient, safe and cost-competitive into the future.”

Said Ostrander in conclusion: “That’s all we know.”

See the complete 20th anniversary development agreement report here.

Bayer unveils Berkeley’s largest solar installation [05.30.12]
Activists accuse Bayer of killing bees, protest in Berkeley [05.17.12]
Dozens speak out about controversial West Berkeley plan [05.02.12]
Bayer Healthcare employees reject contract [09.01.11]
Laid-off Bayer workers still fighting for their jobs [08.31.11]
Biotech Academy students get hands-on education [08.17.10]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • AlanTobey

    Our next community-supporting Bayers — though at smaller scale — await our passage of Measure T.

    Let’s remember how much opposition Bayer faced because it was allegedly a big, anonymous corporation without a soul that would never care about the city it was in.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    It’s ludicrous to compare the Development Agreement between the City and Bayer on the one hand and Measure T’s open-ended arrangements between the City and West Berkeley developers on the other. 

    The City-Bayer Development Agreement was hammered out by a broad-based community task force. By contrast, Measure T would have developers propose what they like to the City from an as yet to be specified menu of community benefits and a similarly undetermined process for community input. 

    To date, development interests have contributed 97% of the funds collected by the Yes on Measure T campaign. One big West Berkeley landowner alone has effectively given over $35,000.

  • AlanTobey

     Currently undefined is not the same as never-to-be, unless you’re a Zelda type with zero trust for the council and the community.

    The Planning Commission has already taken up the process of defining the range of community benefits post-T large developers will need to consider in making their proposals to the council — resulting in what one developer calls a “mini development agreement”

    BTW, the planning commission’s first meeting on the topic drew a large attendance of West Berkeleyans eager to track and shape the outcome, which no amount of developer money can buy.  

  • y_p_w

    Do their products need to be labelled as containing GMOs?

  • My only complaint with Bayer is the extremely loud horn noise they make several times a day. Anybody know what that is?

  • “development interests have contributed 97% of the funds collected by the Yes on Measure T campaign”

    Well, duh…they clearly stand to financially gain if measure T passes. But that’s not a bad thing, since everyone else in Berkeley also stands to gain immeasurable benefits should/when measure T passes. I can’t wait for my hood to become an even better place to live!

  • Exactly Alan.  It is all about trust.  And there is a small vocal minority in Berkeley that will trust no authority.  Ever.   Or people with money using it to build stuff.  Freaking weird, man.  I don’t necessarily trust our city government to do everything right, but I do trust our vocal citizenry to keep an eye on them.  Let’s see where Measure T takes us.  

  • Toni M.

    As a member of the citizens’ advisory committee (appointed by Carla Woodworth) on the (then Miles/Cutter) Bayer development agreement and the one who advocated for an educational training program as the primary community benefit, I’m proud of what we accomplished. I’m opposed to Measure T because the standards are out of scale for West Berkeley and would result in too much traffic, according to the EIR, but mostly because the methodology is inferior to the development agreement. The Measure T (MUP) process goes through the zoning adjustments board, which really isn’t set-up to vet large projects. We’ve seen small projects held up in ZAB by the addition of a single parking space. The development agreement requires a citizens committee that is dedicated solely to the project. If Measure T fails, the City will fall back on the DA, and that’s all for the good in my opinion. If it passes, hopefully we can influence the large project approval process to make the individual projects as environmentally sound and neighbor friendly as possible. It’s not a matter of trust but community involvement. My essay on the MUP v the DA appeared in the Daily Planet in early October if you want to read more about the contrast in process.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Doing a bit of searching, I find that the Helios Building downtown is 100 feet high.  The maximum allowed allowed under measure T will be only three-quarters that much – which clearly is not high-rise.

    Does anyone know the height of the Oxford Plaza affordable housing (next to Brower Center)?  I have haven’t been able to find the answer using google, but I have a feeling it is about 75 feet high.

    I think people would benefit from a sense of how tall 75 feet actually is.

  • Bill N

    Though I may disagree with you on measure T I appreciate your reasoned and thoughtful response.  I think folks should consider what you say.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Dear Alan:

    As it so happens, not only was I at the planning commission’s first meeting on Measure T community benefits; I also led off the chorus of complaint from the public about the absurd arrangement that the city’s planners had set up that night for taking in public comment: we were to choose among stations dedicated respectively to process, content and, if I rightly recall, delivery–as if those matters were somehow separate. Thanks to collective pushback, the new planning director agreed to a real workshop format instead, with lively give and take among staff, members of the public and the community.  (Were you there that evening? If so, I missed you.)

    I do distrust City Hall–and with good reason: during the years-long planning that culminated in Measure T, the City never once notified thousands of people who live and work in West Berkeley about the enormous changes being contemplated for their district. This is only one of the many–and certainly one of the most egregious–examples of the contempt in which Bates and his five cronies on the council (all voted to put T on the ballot) hold the people whom they are supposed to serve. 

    West Berkeley residents were initially shut out of the planning process, even after they repeatedly asked to be included, while the developers were given a whole session to make their case, which they did, commercial real estate brokers and all.  Despite repeated requests from WeBAIC and WB residents, the City never agreed to hold meetings at which all the stakeholders–residents, businesspeople, developers and others–could meet and discuss their differences and hope to come to some agreement.

    So don’t give me this nonsense about “zero trust for the council and the community.”

    It’s the council, led by the mayor and my own District 5 councilmember, Laurie Capitelli, soon to be ex-councilmember, I fervently hope, who have squandered any trust the electorate might have for them.

  • BerkeleyBee

    Now if they’d just stop making products that kill Bees dead!

  • Biker 94703

    Wamu Building: 180′
    Gaia building: 87′
    Brower Center: 80′
    Fine Arts Building: 50′

    Unclear if 80′ includes the god-awful solar panels protruding over Allston St or not.


    75′ is pretty big for Berkeley, and clearly “high-rise”.  It’d be rather big next to your bungalow.  To put that into scale, go look at the 4 story apartment block behind the houses on Acton St (between Addison and Allston), then imagine something twice as tall.

  • Biker 94703

    The best thing about “immeasurable benefits” is that its like having no benefits at all.

  • Biker 94703

    That is the sound of progress.

  • Charles_Siegel

     To me, the Brower Center/Oxford Plaza doesn’t look “big for Berkeley.”  Ugly, yes, but not excessively tall.

    I have a feeling that height for “Brower Center under construction” includes Oxford Plaza, which I guessed to be 75′ and which I think is taller than the Brower Center building itself (with the solar panels).    Back when they were being approved, it was common to refer to the entire project as “Brower Center.”

    thanks for finding that information for me.

  • AlanTobey

     The “never once notified” myth is Romneyesque in its attempt to distract.  It relies on complaining that — during five years of deliberation involving dozens of council and commission meetings, many widely leafletted in advance by activists, and way more than 50 hours of public comment — the city was fatally at fault for not sending everyone in West Berkeley a formal snail-mail letter to let them know something was going on. Picky picky, and not consequential.

    No, I didn’t attend the planning commission meeting.  Unlike some self-appointed champions of the people from outside the district, I believe that “local community benefits” should be established by the actual local community, without interference from those of us who don’t live there.  That’s what I call political trust. 

  • Toni M.

    Thank you. Not that the Bayer agreement is perfect, and if I had to do it all over again I would never agree to so much surface parking. We should have insisted on at least two stories of parking that included spaces for small businesses in the area. Whatever happens re: Measure T, we will see three important concerns emerge. One is Aquatic Park. Each side claims the park as their territory, but nothing is certain except that we (the environmental community) won a reprieve for the park by insisting that APIP (the Aquatic Park Improvement Program) be considered at the same time as the zoning of adjacent parcels. I will be writing more about this. Two are the benefits, scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday night at City Hall. Please come, you all. And three are the traffic/parking problems. These are all difficult and important concerns that require good will on all sides. As for trust: verify, verify, verify.

  • The Sharkey

    Do you really need an analysis to tell you that adding more people to the neighborhood will be good for local businesses?

  • The Sharkey

    Disqus formatting fail.

  • The Sharkey

    Are you referring to the warning siren that they test once a week at noon?

  • No, it’s something else that happens much more frequently than once a week. It occurs on weekends as well.

  • tor_berg

    We called their PR person and asked once. Apparently, it’s an alarm to alert engineers to restart some piece of machinery. It is pretty “alarming,” but they assured us it has nothing to do with public safety.

    They test their “shelter in place” siren at noon on the first Wednesday of the month. I believe the danger there would be an ammonia release. 

  • tor_berg

    When I first became aware of the West Berkeley Project, some neighbors were concerned that these new buildings would resemble the much-reviled Fantasy Studios building at 9th and Parker. That building, however, is 92 feet tall at the parapet, and 108 including the mechanical penthouse, much larger than would be allowed under Measure T.

    Parker Plaza, kitty-corner to the Fantasy Building and with the Sawtooth, comprising the block bounded by 8th and 9th and Parker and Dwight, is 56 feet at the peak. Given the 50 foot average in Measure T, I think Parker Plaza is a reasonable representation of the scale of buildings you’d see in an MUP.

  • emraguso

    Thanks for the insight! That’s pretty fascinating.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Height is not the only issue.  These two buildings could be poster children for bad and good urbanism:

    Fantasy records: blank walls and parking lots facing the sidewalk

    Parker Plaza: entrances and windows facing the sidewalk.

    Fantasy records would be ugly even if you cut off everything above the first floor and left it as a one-story building.

  • franhaselsteiner

    How could this article be written without mentioning the work of District 2’s former councilmember, Margaret Breland? She was key in its development–correct me if I’m wrong. 

  • franhaselsteiner

    You know, I don’t recall that there was that much opposition from the residents. For one thing, they built a double-hull structure for safety. I know you want to make it sound like community residents like me are always against development, but that isn’t true. We want it appropriate, we want it to be a good neighbor, and we want it to offer benefits to the community. 

  • franhaselsteiner

    Unmitigatable traffic congestion in residential areas and gridlock at major intersections are not good–period. 

  • franhaselsteiner

    So why did Bates et al. put Measure T on the ballot, so that a whole lot of people who don’t live in West Berkeley and won’t have to live with its direct effects (i.e., unmitigatable traffic) could vote for it? 

  • Margaret

    Everyone everywhere doesn’t love Bayer as this puff piece suggests.  See this article about its opposition to Proposition 37:

  •  Measure T will pass, and the sky will not fall on West Berkeley.

    The really interesting issue going forward is how to manage the incremental traffic increase that will be forecast with each new project. In a regional context, and over a long time frame, high-density mixed use infill is a traffic congestion mitigation in itself. But if we insist on more off-street parking, more turn lanes and more signals to “mitigate” increased economic activity, then we are back to the same tail-chasing exercise that leads to another Emeryville.

    We need to put walkable and bikeable design first, and not obsess over an extra minute or two at a few intersections sitting in our cars. Those intersections will be overloaded with or without the new projects in West Berkeley anyway.    

  • Fran, I just reviewed “Significant Traffic Impacts of the West Berkeley Project” that you posted in another thread a few days ago, and I can’t find the word “gridlock” in it anywhere.


  • Allison Landa

    So true. Looks like Bayer has itself a great PR person.

  • Haselstein


  • Haselstein

     Whether there is a project or not, the traffic at, for example, University and San Pablo is already operating at LOS-F. Please see the West Berkeley Project Draft EIR on traffic impacts, 


  • Rob Wrenn

    average height of 4-story Brower Center as approved by ZAB in 2005 was 59′ 7″
    average height of 6-story Oxford Plaza 68′ 7″. 

  • Toni M.

    It’s a complicated scenario. The EIR does show that most of the 29 studied intersections are going to operate at unacceptable LOS due to regional traffic even without the West Berkeley Project. The 3 intersections that fail due the Project alone are University at 6th, Ashby at 7th and University at 8th. And it’s true that “gridlock” is not a CEQA term. Failing (E and F) LOS relates to the time at an intersection. Walkable and bikeable design features are definitely desirable, but census figures show that more people commute by single occupancy vehicle the closer the tract lies to the freeway. The Bayer DA annual report shows that since 1992, Bayer has hired a total of 322 Berkeley residents including 48 Biotech Partner graduates. Most of their employees commute, and presumbably, this pattern would repeat with new labs.

  • guest

    (once again I find myself wishing for a “love” button)
    (don’t go there)

  • Toni M.

    The scale of Parker Plaza, a renovation, and the new building across the street on the corner of 9th and Dwight Way are both the work of local developer Dennis Cohen et. al. and both are stylish additions to our neighborhood. The Oxford apartments are indeed ugly. The other day I drove from an appointment at the City Club past the Oxford Street project, and few buildings in Berkeley could offer a starker contrast. When people obsess over heights, they forget that facade, fenestration, and other elements command as much attention. Good planning=sound zoning=beautiful architecture: that’s what I  want. The City should stop emphasizing development at all costs and focus on design. How about a conference on West Berkeley design?

  • anon

    This alarm has gone off in the middle of the night several times as well.
    The first time I leapt out of bed, still asleep, and raced around the house closing all the windows (for fear of an ammonia leak), then called the police dept to find out it was only a water boiler.
    It happened several times for the next week and then was apparently dealt with.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Thanks, Rob.  I think the figure I cited was maximum height, not average height.

  • Charles_Siegel

     The sad thing is that Oxford Plaza was designed by Danny Solomon, a very well respected architect and one of the founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  I don’t know how he could have done such an ugly design.

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