740 Heinz project moves forward, sans historic walls

The Copra Warehouse at night. Photo: Ira Serkes

The Copra Warehouse at night. Photo: Ira Serkes

On Tuesday night, a Berkeley City Council majority upheld a 2012 zoning panel decision to allow the construction of a new 100,000-square-foot lab building in west Berkeley.

Thirty neighbors had signed a petition to appeal the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision in September, taking issue with the project’s environmental review, parking plans and changes in design since an earlier approval in 2009. The petitioners asked for an additional public hearing to ensure that the community knew about the changes and had time to comment on them.

Appellants said changes to the project, and the developer’s rationale, didn’t “pass the smell test.” They called the process “distorted” and said they were concerned that larger institutions, such as UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the federal government, were forcing a project into west Berkeley that wouldn’t be good for the community.

Some neighbors and officials said the project appeared to be a “bait and switch,” as original approvals had been granted along with promises to preserve two of the building’s historic walls. The developer later said the project would not be financially feasible with this element.

Chris Barlow, who’s running the project for Wareham Development, told the council that there had been extensive public input since the project’s inception in 2001. He said there will be ample parking nearby due to an agreement with another property. Barlow stressed that the project will add a much-needed life sciences facility to the area.

“UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab and the federal government are not behind this,” he told the council.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín said there should be another public hearing because of the substantial changes to the project. (Arreguín ended up as the lone no-vote to uphold the Zoning Adjustments Board decision; council members Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson abstained from the vote.)

Worthington took issue with the fact that, he said, the city was in the position of needing to trust the developers about what their investment returns and possible profits might be, saying that the city was under no obligation to help the developers make a certain amount of money.

Anderson said, with this project and future developments, the city would need to exercise “real oversight” because the city’s planning department essentially is funded by developers.

“When we have a department that’s self-funded, those funds come from some place,” he said. “They come from developers. So there is a propensity to satisfy their needs because they are paying the freight.”

Anderson also said that the vote against Measure T was essentially a mandate that the city should follow as far as how it will manage west Berkeley development going forward.

Council members Gordon Wozniak, Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Linda Maio, along with Mayor Tom Bates, voted to uphold the ZAB decision.

They cited the jobs, income and industry the lab will bring to Berkeley. Some said the changes to the project actually were an improvement over what zoning board members last approved. Several also spoke of the need to demolish what they described as a dangerous structure that could pose numerous safety risks.

“It was a good project in 2009, and it’s a good project now,” said Moore.

Read the appeal and city staff report here. The full administrative record, current as of Tuesday prior to the council meeting, is available here.

Wareham: Preservation of historic factory too expensive [01.18.13]
Measure T: Will it enhance or ruin West Berkeley? [10.29.12]
Can area plan retain eclectic mix of West Berkeley? [05.08.12]

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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  • The Sharkey


    Arreguin: No
    Worthington: Abstain
    Anderson: Abstain

    Wozniak: Yes
    Moore: Yes
    Capitelli: Yes
    Maio: Yes
    Bates: Yes

    Note that this was not a vote on the project itself, but simply a vote to uphold the decision that had been made by the Zoning Adjustment Board.

    Interesting to see the party of WAA (Worthington, Arreguin &
    Anderson) still holding together after the failed attempt to oust Bates.

  • Tizzielish

    Anderson showed a rare glimpse of backbone! I like this quote from him:

    “When we have a department that’s self-funded, those funds come from some place,” he said. “They come from developers. So there is a propensity to satisfy their needs because they are paying the freight.”

    Our city planning staff is a bit like the Downtown Business Association if it is funded from developers fees. Just like with the DBA, they have undemocratic power, wielding more clout that Joan Q. Citizen.

    And such a funding system is an invitation to conflicts of interests. Imagine being a city staffer, a few years from your sweet city pension, aware some layoffs are always possible, and a developer pressures you for a favor and you wonder if saying no to the developer with strain your department’s budget and your job. A classic conflict of interest that real estate developers exploit with at least as much expertise as they build buildings.

  • Tizzielish

    Along with Worthington, I take angry exception to the idea that developers can demand zoning adjustments based on the developers’ biased fantasy projections of future market conditions. How is giving into developer demands based on entirely projected ‘required profits’ (no one knows what the profit picture of any endeavor will look like in the future and consider all the money lost on stocks and other investments based on such projections!) a free market, fair approach to developoing a democratic city?

    The citizens of Berkeley do not have a duty to guarantee profit to any business yet developers conduct business, demand adjustments, rule waivers, etc. based on their skillful propaganda about how much they have to earn to build in Berkeley. If they can’t make a buck building in Berkeley without special favors from the city agency they fund, build somewhere else. How much you wanna bet they still want to build in Berkeley? It’s Berkeley. All the reasons the developers want to build here remain if we end the sweetheart deals dealt to the insider, well-connected developers.

  • Marilyn Menses

    How much money do the city council members get from the developers?
    Bend over West Berkeley residents.

  • EricPanzer

    I can scarcely reply to all the misconceptions and distortions of this post. The history of this site and its proposed developments is long, unique, and complicated, not least of all due to the fact that the property contains an unsound historic structure which the City originally hoped the developer could preserve. This is, in part, why economic considerations were so key to the project. The commenter completely misunderstands the process of granting zoning variances–a process which requires a specific set of findings and is usually subject to the utmost political and public scrutiny here in Berkeley.

    The existing structure on the site is un-reinforced masonry and also contains asbestos. For a variety of additional structural and geotechnical reasons, this building is regarded as one of the most seismically hazardous in the City. Due to the dangers presented by the building and the need to either painstakingly preserve or carefully demolish it, the costs of developing this parcel are much higher than they would otherwise be. These exceptional costs negatively impact both the feasibility of the project and the resale value of the land, if the developer were forced to abandon the project.

    One reason zoning adjustments are granted is if a failure to do so would result in the loss of a substantial property right. Bolstered by detailed outside economic reports as well as the findings of City staff, the Zoning Adjustments Board judged that given these unique site conditions there was no realistic project within the bounds of existing zoning standards that would be economically feasible. Since the conditions of the site rendered all normally allowed development infeasible, it was determined that a height variance was needed to make the project feasible, thereby preserving a substantial property right (e.g. the right to develop the land for an allowed use). Without this variance, it would be impossible for the owner to develop, which would be unfair in light of other parcels without this exceptional circumstance being able to feasibly develop.

    In the end, the question wasn’t one of directly and unnecessarily bolstering developer profit, but rather whether those profits would be sufficient to allow the development to receive the necessary financing to render it feasible at all. This is merely one of the findings necessary for the granting of variances. The commenter would do well to look in greater detail at the over 600 pages of administrative record associated with this project.

  • EricPanzer

    Yeah! Did you West Berkeley residents think you were going to get off scott free with the status quo of a blighted and dangerous property? Think again! Bend over and withstand the unspeakable punishment as developers remove a hazardous structure, revitalize the neighborhood, provide hundreds of good jobs, and pour untold thousands of dollars into City coffers!

  • The Sharkey

    He can’t have been that angry about the project since he didn’t bother to vote against it.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I thought I would stop laughing after a couple of minutes, but nope, still rolling away. Thanks Eric!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    what’s with the abstentions though? Why would they WAAil away and not bother to cast a vote?

    And Anderson’s claim that Measure T not passing is a “mandate” is comedy gold.

  • BHS verteran

    I guess then, that’s all, Ms. Menses? Period?

  • 4Eenie

    Ha ha ha ha!

  • Charles_Siegel

    I have finally made up my mind based on Eric’s comment. This project seems to have an important benefit for Berkeley by eliminating seismic hazard and asbestos hazard, so I support it. But if anyone mentions major costs to the city that I have not heard about, I might change my mind.

    Comments about this project on Berkeleyside (both pro and con) have said very little about either the costs or the benefits to the city. The main objection to the project seems to be that the city should not alter the project to give the developer a profit. But it seems obvious to me that, if the project benefits the city, should do what is needed to make it work economically.

    An example is the Trader Joes building. To my mind, this project brought major benefits:

    — Providing housing near downtown, which benefits the people who have this convenient place to live and which benefits the environment by reducing auto dependency.

    — Providing a supermarket near downtown. Same two benefits: it makes shopping more convenient, and it benefits the environment by reducing the distance people drive to shop and allowing many people to walk to shop.

    — A more attractive and safer city. The strip mall that used to be in this location was ugly, and the drivers who used it were aggressive and did not yield to pedestrians. I used to live just down the block, and I can tell you that people using this strip mall never stopped for pedestrians on the sidewalk.

    In this case, the city did have to allow higher density to make the project economically feasible, and I am glad they did it. If they had not made accommodations to make this project economically feasible, my neighborhood would be uglier and less convenient to live in, and Berkeley as a whole would be more auto-dependent and less environmentally sound.

    Note that this project was on the margin of being profitable, and the city had to allow more housing to make it work economically. I think this project disproves one poster’s claim that projects that are on the margin of being profitable do not benefit the city.

    And note that the argument that the city should not accommodate a developer to make a project profitable would have stopped the Trader Joes project as well as to 745 Heinz.

    I can’t understand why anyone would want to stop a project that makes the city a better place just because they dislike developers so much that they refuse to make concessions that would make the project economically feasible.

    If the project is good for the city, we should make the concessions. If the project is bad for the city, we should not make the concessions.

    The important question is whether the project is good or bad for the city, which most of the comments about this project on Berkeleyside have not addressed at all.

  • Progress in West Berkeley! Thank you Darryl and the rest of the majority that wants the city & West Berkeley to move forward and embrace the 21st century.

  • The Sharkey

    I think a lot of people don’t comment on whether the project is good or bad for the city because it is so obviously good that it seems like it doesn’t need to be stated.

    Replacing an empty warehouse that is a severe seismic hazard and full of asbestos with anything would be good for the city.

  • Hyper_lexic

    I’m thrilled to see Charles and I on the same page on something…

    As long as we stay away from questions of design, maybe we’re ok!

    Certainly my view would be that there don’t seem to be viable alternatives to allowing this. I really don’t think that anyone would be able to fully preserve this building – historical as it is – in earthquake country…

  • leilah

    Seriously? Ms. Menses makes an inane statement after an extremely-uninformed question, and the best you can do is make a juvenile dig at (presumably) her family name?? And doing so when your own screenname leaves you so open? (What is a “verteran”? One who survived, upright?)

  • leilah

    Ms. Menses, “smugness” isn’t a good look, especially when jumping into the fray without some pretty basic information. The City Council’s budget is supported 100% by the City’s General Fund. Thus, unless you’re claiming that members of the Berkeley City Council are illegally receiving payments from developers, the “city council members” receive no “money…..from developers.” Councilmember Anderson’s cavalier statement that the City Planning Department is “funded by developers” should have been your first clue…

  • Charles_Siegel

    Maybe it is obvious why it benefits the city, but I didn’t think about it until Eric said it explicitly.

    I would also like to see those who are against explain why they think this particular project is bad for the city, rather than just talking about how they dislike developers and politicians in general.

    My point is that we would do well to actually discuss the project, rather than just venting anger one way or another.

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are right that I generally have fairly mainstream views about city planning and more unconventional views about architectural design.

    My own view is that there was a widespread rejection of modernism in both planning and architecture during the 1960s and 1970s. In city planning, the rejection of modernism was carried to its conclusion: influenced by the New Urbanists, most people now reject modernist planning in favor of neo-traditional planning. In architecture, on the other hand, there was a modernist revival beginning in the 1980s; architecture today has gone back to something much more like the modernism of the early to mid twentieth century.

    I think that architectural style involves larger social issues. It is easy to that mid-century modernists were promoting the technological optimism of the 1950s. Likewise, today’s modernists are supporting (or at least are failing to challenge) our technological society.

    My views on architecture would have been more conventional during the 1970s and 1980s, before the reactionary modernist revival took over so completely, when architects were still looking for a more human-scale.

    So, I suspect you and I will continue to agree about city planning and to disagreee on architecture – until the current modernist revival is supplanted by a post-modernist revival. Since architects today are reviving the 1950s, I wouldn’t be surprised if architects in the coming decades revive the 1970s.

    (See what happens when you get me started. I become a bit hyperlexic myself.)

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Actually, fees from developments and projects are applied to the Planning Department’s budget. The idea is to have that department as self-funding as possible.

  • leilah

    That was my point, fees from development projects fund the Planning Department, not the City Council.