‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way

More than 1,400 units are in the works for downtown. Image: Downtown Berkeley Association

More than 1,400 units are in the works for downtown. Image: Downtown Berkeley Association

More than 1,400 housing units are currently in development in downtown Berkeley, with demolition on one of the first in the pipeline scheduled to begin this week.

There are eight projects, including a hotel, planned in the downtown core, with two more planned just south, on Dwight Way, and another proposal on University Avenue just west of downtown that’s set to have its first public city review next week.

Demolition for The Durant, which has frontage on both Durant Avenue and Channing Way, was slated to begin Monday, Jan. 13, according to Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner.

Caner said the project is expected to break ground for construction several weeks after that.

According to Downtown Berkeley Association calculations, the new projects will bring at least 1,414 new units and more than 88,000 square feet of new retail space to the downtown area. Not included in those calculations is the project just beginning city review, The Overture, which would bring an additional 44 units and 4,151 square feet of retail and restaurant space to the city’s core.

A recently published association brochure described the growth as “explosive,” and described the population gains expected in the city as a result.

“Downtown Berkeley has nearly doubled in population since 2000 and now counts some 3,000 residents in its thirty block footprint,” according to the pamphlet. “The number of residents will nearly double again to 5,000 with over 1,400 new housing units slated for completion by 2018.”

Experts say the boom signals a rebounding economy. The city has also taken steps to incentivize building by, for example, reducing associated fees related to development within the city limits.

Critics of the boom say Berkeley may face problems as a result of increased density, whether from greater traffic and parking headaches to more issues with noise. Some criticize projects aimed to house students, noting that the university itself should be taking steps to shelter its affiliates, rather than placing the burden on the city and private developers. Many say the city needs more family-oriented housing, as well. The specter of steeper rents and a lack of affordable housing have been among other causes of public concern.

Last year at about this time, Berkeleyside reported in-depth and provided an overview of the 1,000 units in development at that time. Projections have grown since then. Scroll down to learn the latest news about many of the projects underway in downtown Berkeley and beyond.

The downtown core

Image: HSR Berkeley Investments

Image: HSR Berkeley Investments

The Residences at Berkeley Plaza (355 units; 12,000 square feet of retail) The 17-story rental high-rise will be an L-shaped building with one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at 2211 Harold Way. The Hotel Shattuck Plaza, which sits on the same block but has different owners, would share some of the project’s amenities but otherwise remain untouched. Under plans submitted in December 2012, Harold Way will become a string of stores and cafés, part of 12,000 square feet of retail in the building. The project, estimated to cost $75 million, would include a 180-foot tower next to the property that now houses Landmark Theatre’s Shattuck Cinemas and other offices. Developers also plan to include six state-of-the-art movie theaters, said Mark Rhoades, the project’s lead planning consultant and the property owner’s representative. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The project had a preview before the zoning board in March 2013, and an updated application was submitted in June, but there have been no rulings made thus far.

Image: Center Street Partners

Image: Center Street Partners

2129 Shattuck Ave. (293 units; 12,500 square feet of retail) A Carmel-based developer and UC Berkeley graduate were set to submit plans in December to construct a 16-story, 180-foot-tall hotel with office space, meeting rooms and retail space at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street. The new complex, proposed by Jim Didion and Center Street Partners LLC, would replace the 1970s-era one-story Bank of America building and parking lot, and, if approved, transform one of the most visible corners in downtown Berkeley. The hotel, with 293 rooms, also has the potential to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city, according to Matthew Taecker, a former city planner whose firm, Taecker Planning and Design, has been hired to oversee the entitlement process. The hotel rooms will likely rent for about $200 a night, and will be taxed at 12%. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The application was scheduled to be submitted in December, but has not been posted online.

Image: Kirk Peterson Architects

Image: Kirk Peterson Architects

Acheson Commons (205 units; 35,000 square feet of retail) The 48,122-square-foot project site includes the MacFarlane Building on Shattuck and University; the Krishna Copy Center building on University; the Crepes a Go-Go building on University; the Acheson Physicians building on University; the Ace Hardware building on University; and two homes on Walnut Street. The project involves the construction of 205 apartments and the rehabilitation of 34,000 square feet of commercial space. The project would increase the city’s annual tax revenue by $600,000, said Mark Rhoades. There would either be 18 permanently affordable dwellings for very-low income households or a payment to the city of $5.7 million to provide for affordable housing. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The project was approved in July 2013; groundbreaking is expected this coming fall.

Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

StoneFire (119 units; 8,700 square feet of retail) This eight-story building could take the place of the Firestone garage and parking lot, at Milvia and University, if the development at 1974 University Ave. is approved by the city of Berkeley. The developer, William Schrader Jr., plans to include 11 below-market-rate rental units on site, out of 115-120 total rental units. Including those units allows him, under state “density bonus” law, to build 35% more units than the project would otherwise allow. The units will include a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units. Underground parking is included in the project plans. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The city design review committee considered the project twice in late 2013, but it has not yet been scheduled before the zoning board.

Image: Menlo Management Company

Image: Menlo Management Company

2107 Dwight Way (99 units; 5,607 square feet of retail) We reported last February that Menlo Management Company wants to construct a six-story, 63-foot-tall building with 99 rental units, ground floor retail, and 45 parking spaces at the intersection of Dwight Way and Shattuck Avenue. (Some project documentation notes that 73 total parking spaces will be provided using “automated stacked parking.”) Three retail entrances are proposed. The developer asked for a density bonus to add a sixth story in exchange for providing affordable housing on site. According to the city, the project will include nine below-market-rate dwelling units. The architect is Richard Christiani of San Francisco. Read more on the city website. Status: The project received city approvals in December 2012. Berkeleyside has requested a status update from Christiani’s firm.

The Durant. Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

Image: Johnson Lyman Architects

The Durant (96 units, no retail) Located at  and , The Durant is the first project among recent proposals that is expected to begin construction. The building is set to have frontage on both Durant and Channing; it’s set mid-block between Shattuck Avenue and Milvia Street. The south side of the building is proposed to rise to four stories, and the north side to six. The architects are Johnson Lyman Architects of Walnut Creek. Developer William Schrader Jr. said he believes 70-80% of the building’s units will be occupied, at least at first, by students. The project includes 34 parking spaces, which Schrader said is 30% more than the city code requires. The project also features four electric car-charging stations, two car-share parking spots and at least 40 bike parking spaces. The project will not include below-market-rate units, but will send about $1.5 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: Construction is scheduled to begin in January 2014.

Garden Village, 2201 Dwight, Berkeley. Image: Nautilus Group

Image: Nautilus Group

Garden Village (84 units, no retail) “Garden Village,” at 2201 Dwight Way at Fulton Street, brings with it a number of innovative features, from its composition — it’s made up of 18 distinct but connected “volumes,” or towers, which range in height from three to five stories and are connected by open-air walkways — to its more than 12,000 square feet of rooftop farming plots and its small garage, which offers just enough space for a fleet of shared vehicles that will be rentable by tenants. Without the car-sharing idea, the project would have required room for 71 vehicles. Instead, Berkeley-based developer Nautilus Group decided it would purchase a fleet of four to 10 automobiles and contract with a car-sharing operator called Getaround to run the “car-share pod” operation. Units are tentatively slated to cost $800-$1,000 per resident. Read more on BerkeleysideStatus: The project was approved in October 2013, with groundbreaking planned in June 2014. It is expected to open by summer 2015.

The Nasser family has owned this building complex since 1950 and now plans to turn it into a 12-story apartment complex. photo: Google Maps

Proposed L’Argent site. Image: Google Maps

L’Argent (78 units; 5,000 square feet of retail) One of the newest projects on the list, this condominium proposal at 1951-1975 Shattuck Ave. is for a 12-story tower with two floors of retail topped by 10 of residential. The application was expected to be submitted in December, with architect Jim Novosel of The Bay Architects handling the design. Novosel said the units will be comparable in size to many of the bungalows in the Berkeley flats. The Nasser family, whose ancestor, Abraham Nasser, built the Castro Theater in San Francisco and was instrumental in popularizing Nickelodeon theaters, owns the property. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: Zoning and design reviews are still to be scheduled, and the application has not been posted online.

Image: Rony Rolnizky

Image: Rony Rolnizky

1931 Addison (69 units; 7,240 square feet of retail) This 69-unit building, with 7,240 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor, was approved by the city’s zoning board last July for construction on Addison Street. The six-story 60-foot-tall building is the latest development by property owner Avi Nevo, who has built numerous projects in Berkeley over the last 17 years, including Telegraph Gardens across from Whole Foods at Ashby Avenue. The Addison Street project, at 1931-1935 Addison (between Milvia and Martin Luther King Jr. Way), is set to take the place of two garages on adjacent parcels. Ten studio apartments, five one-bedroom units, 53 two-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit are planned. Ten percent of the units, a total of seven, will be affordable to very low income households — those earning 50 percent of the area median income. Nevo is not taking the “density bonus,” which would have allowed him to build a taller building. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The project was approved by the zoning board in July 2013; an appeal by neighbors was filed but withdrawn, leaving Nevo free to move forward.

Image: Tolbert Design Architects

Image: Tolbert Design Architects

The Overture (44 units; 2,668 square feet of retail and 1,483 square feet of restaurant space) This mixed-use development at 1808-1814 University Ave., set to contain 44 units, began wending its way through the city of Berkeley’s permit approval process in November. The “amenity-rich, sustainable development” would feature “large units” near downtown, according to the applicant statement submitted by the city. In addition to 44 dwelling units, a 1,483-square-foot commercial space is proposed, as well as nearly 2,700 square feet for a quick- or full-service restaurant with café seating. A 7,200-square-foot underground garage, with room for 19 vehicles, is planned. Four below-market-rate units would be included. Read more on BerkeleysideStatus: The project is scheduled to go before the zoning board Thursday, Jan. 23. Read the latest applicant statement, dated January 2014, here.

Image: The Bay Architects

Image: The Bay Architects

Fidelity Apartments (16 units; 2,580 square feet of retail) Prasad Lakireddy is in the process of building a Mediterranean-style, five-story, 16-unit building with 1,600 feet of ground-floor retail between his Namaste Restaurant (housed in the historic Fidelity Bank building) and Mechanics Bank on Shattuck. The apartments, in the 2300 block of Shattuck Ave., will mostly be large two-bedroom units from 850-1,300 square feet, according to Jim Novosel, of The Bay Architects, “bigger than the typical student apartment in the downtown.” Three affordable units were scheduled for inclusion. Off-site parking, totaling nine spaces, was required. Read more on BerkeleysideStatus: As of February 2013, construction had already started and the building was scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2014.

Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

These projects join Berkeley Central, which came on the market in late 2012, at 2055 Center St., with 143 units. With the rent for a one-bedroom starting at $2,500, and a two-bedroom at $3,900, the apartments were marketed mostly to empty-nesters and well-paid professionals. According to the Downtown Berkeley Association, the project reached full occupancy in a matter of months. Another project to come online in recent times was Telegraph Gardens. This five-story, 38-unit building on the corner of Telegraph and Ashby opened for rentals last February. All the units have two bedrooms and two bathrooms and range from 800 to 1,100 square feet.

The Association of Bay Area Governments determined in the late 2000s that Berkeley should set a goal of constructing 2,431 housing units to deliver its fair share of the region’s housing. As of January 2013, Berkeley had issued permits for 860 building units, according to a Berkeley city planner. (The projects listed in this round-up were not included in that count.)

Other developments in the works

In addition to what’s listed above, Berkeley has various other projects in development. Scroll down to learn more about those we’ve covered in the past year.

Image: CityCentric

Image: CityCentric

Parker Place CityCentric won approval in January 2012 to construct a 155-unit building at the intersection of Shattuck and Parker, the current home of Berkeley Honda. The project calls for two five-story mixed-use buildings at 2658 and 2660 Shattuck (both sides of Parker at Shattuck) and a three-story residential building at 2037 Parker. In addition to 155 dwelling units, there is nearly 23,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. Read more on BerkeleysideStatus: The late Patti Dacey, a Berkeley planning commissioner who died in 2013, joined with other local residents to file a lawsuit challenging the project. Update, 11 p.m.: Via Mark Rhoades, this site was purchased by Lennar Multifamily and is being developed by Lennar and the Rhoades Planning Group. They are in the construction process now. The Court of Appeals upheld the Superior Court’s decision to allow the project to proceed in December 2013. They expect to break ground this fall or winter.

Image: Gerdling Elden

Image: Gerdling Elden

The Higby After lying vacant for years, work began in December on a five-story, 98-unit mixed-use housing development at the southeast corner of San Pablo and Ashby avenues. Gerdling Elden, which specializes in infill and sustainable development, bought the property at 3015 San Pablo Ave., along with all related city entitlements, in 2012 from its previous owner, Ali Kashani of CityCentric. The price was not disclosed, although online real estate sites estimated it was worth $38 million. The complex had been known as “Ashby Arts,” but has been renamed “The Higby.” Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: Construction on the project began in December.

Image: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates

Image: Kirk E. Peterson & Associates

2501 Haste St. The proposal by Telegraph Avenue property owner Ken Sarachan shows a six-story, 14,000-square-foot mixed-use building, which includes a ground floor and sunken courtyard space for retailers, four residential floors of 79 one- and two-bedroom apartments, and a landscaped roof deck. The lot has been vacant for more than two decades. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: After the city brought a lawsuit against Sarachan for $640,000 in liens related to the property, the two parties settled in October 2013 with the understanding that Sarachan would have 45 days to move his proposal forward through the design review and zoning approval process. The project sailed through a preliminary zoning board preview in December and is set for design review Jan. 16. (The zoning board has not yet voted on the project.)

Image: Trachtenberg Architects

Image: Trachtenberg Architects

The Aquatic This proposal for a mixed-use development at 800 University Ave. is set to include 58 units. City zoning board commissioners have lauded what they described as its beautiful design and sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood. The 45- to 55-foot-tall building will feature 1,175 square feet of office or retail space, and 60 parking spaces. Two structures currently on site — which have housed a construction company, a veterinary clinic (circa 1973) and, later, medical research labs — will be demolished to make way for the project, which was designed by Berkeley-based Trachtenberg Architects. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: Construction is expected to begin in February 2014, with a possible opening by summer 2015.

Image: Mikiten Architecture

Image: Mikiten Architecture

Lion’s Hall St. Mark’s Episcopal Church is building Lion’s Hall, with frontage at 2300 Bancroft Ave. and 2301 Durant Ave. The five-story 44-unit building will be set over a 59-space parking garage on an L-shaped parcel that fronts Bancroft, Dana Street and Durant Avenue. The building will be a private dormitory for approximately 160 students. They would each rent a small bedroom slated to be arranged around a common area. Rooms will rent for around $1,100 a month, according to Chris Hudson, whose firm Hudson McDonald developed the project with the church. The project also includes a 2,722-square-foot church community center. Status: The project received its entitlements in 2012 and began construction early last year. Units will likely be available for rent later this year.

Image: Kahn Design Associates

Image: Kahn Design Associates

2441 Haste St. The owners of a property destroyed by a devastating fire in November 2011 hope to build a new 42-unit, 65-foot-tall, 43,000-square-foot apartment building to replace it. The fire also destroyed popular Telegraph Avenue spots Café Intermezzo, Raleigh’s bar and La Fiesta. The building’s replacement would include two restaurants with courtyard access. The design calls for a U-shaped building around a courtyard with the entrances to the two restaurants on Telegraph, as before. Access to the apartments would be through a gated forecourt on Haste. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: The project received a use permit from the zoning board in July 2013 and had its final design review session, with approval, in October.

Image: Panoramic Interests

Image: Panoramic Interests

2701 Shattuck Ave. A controversial “micro-unit” mixed-used proposal struggled through the city review process in 2013, and was rejected by the zoning board in December when commissioners said the project was out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood. San Francisco-based Axis Development group had presented a five-story project that was set to include 67 units ranging in size from 269 to 344 square feet, as well as a roughly 2,000-square-foot full-service restaurant with valet parking, and a small parking garage. As an aside, a residential hotel proposal planned next door, in development by Patrick Kennedy, is reportedly still alive, though there are no indications of imminent action. Read more on Berkeleyside. Status: Instead of appealing the zoning board’s ruling, an Axis rep said this week, the company is moving forward with previously won entitlements that allow for 23 units above a street-level commercial and parking podium, and a separate townhouse unit, for a total of 24 units (four inclusionary) and five stories. The existing entitlements also include 24 parking spaces and approximately 3,200 square feet of retail space. (See those specifications here.)

Image: The Bay Architects

Image: The Bay Architects

Stranda House The city approved plans in 2005 for a 21-unit mixed-use building, with an average height of 53 feet, set to include 1,725 square feet of commercial space at 2489 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The approved project, on the former site of the Dwight & King Drop-Off Recycling Center, was slated to include three affordable units. Read more on Berkeleyside hereStatus: Site preparation began in November 2013. According to a construction worker on site at that time, the project is expected to take about a year to complete. Official representatives from Overaa Construction, the apparent construction management company, declined to respond to multiple requests for information.

See more of Berkeleyside’s past real estate coverage here. We invite readers to alert us to new projects or construction around the city. Send a note to tips@berkeleyside.com with details. Photographs are always appreciated.

Improving Telegraph Ave. on new UC official’s ‘to-do’ list (12.17.13)
Berkeley aims to bolster housing fund with fee discount (02.21.13)
1,000 new apartments planned for downtown Berkeley (02.07.13)

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook. Email us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

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  • Hyper_lexic

    I would agree that’s likely. not sure if that’s bad.

  • Guest

    “There is no doubt in my mind that this would reduce the upward pressure on housing prices in San Francisco and Berkeley.”

    Charles, in my rambling I neglected to ask:

    Why do you so strongly believe this? That is an earnest question.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I live in central Berkeley, and having no car works perfectly well for me. I live within easy walking distance of shopping and transit. My friends live within easy bicycling range.

    At times when I have had a car, I find it a nuisance to have to move it and to find parking. Now that I don’t have a car, I don’t miss it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Basic economics: supply and demand.

    Now techies who work in Silicon Valley are moving to SF and taking the google bus, because SF is one of the few interesting places to live in the Bay Area. Build more interesting places for them to live, and fewer of them would be competing for housing in SF and driving up the rents.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think you are right that the housing market is regional and Berkeley alone cannot do much to affect the market. We should be backing more transit-oriented housing throughout the region, not just in Berkeley.

    Housing was relatively cheap during the 1950s and 1960s, because the federal government spent vast sums encouraging development of suburban housing (primarily by building freeways and through FHA mortgages). At the time, there was a cultural preference for the suburbs, and families left the inner cities for new development – leaving lots of cheap housing in San Francisco and Berkeley. The Beatniks were attracted by the low rents in North Beach. Alan Ginsberg lived in a house on MIlvia St. that had been a middle class family’s home early in the century, but that was broken up into low-cost rental units by the 1950s, like many houses in central Berkeley (including mine).

    Prices have gone up since the 1970s, in part because the government has not done as much to encourage new housing development and in part because there has been a shift in cultural preference, so North Beach and Berkeley are now more desirable than the suburbs.

    I think we could keep housing prices down, if the government encouraged new housing development as vigorously as it did in the 1950s and 1960s – but today (for environmental reasons) it would have to be by building transit and smart growth rather than freeways and sprawl.

    The law of supply and demand worked in the 1950s, and it still works today.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There are some transit projects near suburban BART, but not many. And their quality is not high enough to compete with San Francisco.

    As proof that it is still possible today to build the sort of high quality development that could compete with SF, see

    Imagine Bayfair Mall turned into something like that.

    Compare the new development in downtown Berkeley with the pictures in those articles, and you will see why I believe most of today’s architecture is pathetic.

  • Guest

    Now techies who work in Silicon Valley are moving to SF and taking the google bus, because SF is one of the few interesting places to live in the Bay Area. Build more interesting places for them to live, and fewer of them would be competing for housing in SF and driving up the rents.”

    To quote Andrés Duany: “Bad design is the only known technique to keep housing affordable”

    So, without resorting to design you consider bad design (many, massive towers for instance) can you sketch out the kind of development you imagine would be necessary to reach equilibrium? That is, the point where the increase in demand due to the more ‘livable’ nature of the community is offset by the number of new units produced?

    I’m not trying to ask for anything unreasonable, just a wild-ass guess.

    What has prevented places like Paris and Amsterdam from achieving this? That is, why do you suspect there is less innate demand to live in Northern California once the character of the cities has been equalized?

    To be frank, this strikes me as fantastical thinking. It also ignores (the admittedly meager) data as well as the growing belief in the ‘urban planning’ community that negative effects on affordability are a concern with ‘smart growth infill’.

    Personally I think we have a global shortage of housing in the kind of city Berkeley (and the Bay Area in general) may become with ‘smart growth’. I don’t think we’re going to build our way to better affordability *and* livibility without heavily subsidizing the former.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I just looked up a reference that might make shed some light on the numbers needed:

    “In the single decade following 1950, for example, the number of dwelling units in the United States increased by 63%.”
    Martin Anderson, The Federal Bulldozer (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1964) p. 75.

    Those are the sort of numbers on the supply side that made housing affordable in the 1950s and 1960s. If we had this same sort of federal push to build housing now, the law of supply and demand would keep prices down – though we wouldn’t need quite as much as then, because demand is growing more slowly today, because of the aging population.

    That building boom of the 1950s and 1960s created lots of affordable housing, which was not subsidized. As the middle class moved to the suburbs, the older housing in the central cities became more affordable – including the housing in very livable neighborhoods such as North Beach and central Berkeley.

    What is now People’s Park was filled with middle-class Victorian houses at the beginning of the twentieth century. By the 1960s, the middle class had moved to the new suburbs and the Victorians were broken up into apartments so affordable that they attracted hordes of hippies – and the university demolished them in an attempt to clear out the hippies.

    When it comes to supply and demand, the issue is the sheer quantity of housing that is built – not the form. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, they built lots of freeways and suburban sprawl, and it drove prices down. If we built an equal amount of transit and of housing that looked like Paris or Amsterdam, it would also drive prices down.

    I hope this sheds some light on the order of magnitude of new housing that I think we need. I think we could use the same sort of housing boom that the US had in the 1950s – but for environmental reasons, it must be made up of walkable neighborhoods and transit rather than of sprawl and freeways. That would not only give us more affordable housing, but it would also be a huge help in countering global warming.

    Note that the form is important for livability and for environmental sustainability, but not for affordability. Therefore, Paris is livable and sustainable but not affordable.

  • emraguso

    Thank you for asking.

  • John Freeman

    Build more interesting places for them to live, and fewer of them would be competing for housing in SF and driving up the rents.

    You have assumed that under Plan Bay Area, demand per housing unit in The City (or Berkeley) will be lower than it would have been without Plan Bay Area.

    In fact, though, the plan does not try to influence demand what way that and does not project that outcome.

  • BUSD Parent

    Busing is available if you live something like 1.5 miles away from the school. I know plenty of people who live slightly closer than that and are forced to drive or, at best, bike weather permitting. And if you suggest walking over a mile with a 6 year old in the rain and making it to school consistently by 8am you clearly don’t have children.

  • guest

    Go ahead and keep moving the goalposts if you like, but before you showed up, bfg and I were discussing the relative reliability of New York’s public transit system vs. that of the Bay Area. Turns out that NYCT and MUNI share similar performance records, and AC Transit’s is much better. So…

  • Bruce Freeman

    Building hundreds of new housing units in Berkeley doesn’t reduce the scarcity of housing units in Berkeley? That’s an interesting personal belief.

  • guest

    It’s 1.5 miles. That’s about a 20 minute walk. I went to school in an East Bay district that offered no busing at all. I rode my bicycle (alone) a little under 2 miles to elementary school, 2.5 miles to middle school, and 2 miles to high school. It is obviously possible for Berkeley’s schoolchildren to get themselves to school, by foot, bicycle, or bus.

    My point is that people, particularly liberal privileged people, often have a difficult time rationalizing the lifestyle choices that they make, and so they imagine that they have no choices. In fact, driving your child in your private vehicle to school in Berkeley in 2014 is a choice. No one is forcing you to make that choice. Literally millions of schoolchildren around the globe get themselves to school without being driven there in their mom’s Passat.

  • guest

    Why in the world would you think that I don’t have children? Just because I’m making different choices than you? In fact, I do have two school-aged children, at two different Berkeley schools, and we bike there.

    Argue the issue rather than making ill-informed assumptions.

  • guest

    I’m sorry that you think encouraging physical activity among our
    schoolchildren is “cruel.” Millions of schoolchildren across the globe,
    even those as young as six, do indeed ride their bicycles to school.

    Berkeley has crime rates twice as high as average for a city of its size. Perhaps those who are concerned about letting their six year old children bicycle across town to school are concerned about issues other than exercise.

    You get a lot of strange rationalizations when people are confronted with the choices they make.

    No parent of current Berkeley school children ever made a choice to perpetuate the antiquated lottery/busing system.

  • guest

    Sorry about my wrong perception of you as a non-parent. That’s because you rarely address the needs of families in your discussions. It is “possible” to live without a car but most people need a vehicle. You are motivated in your life style and beliefs and perhaps exemplary but your choices are not the usual habits of Americans.

  • John Freeman

    Building hundreds of new housing units in Berkeley doesn’t reduce the scarcity of housing units in Berkeley?

    First of all, Plan Bay Area does not claim to add more housing units to Berkeley than would be added without Plan Bay Area. Plan Bay Area doesn’t try to and does not claim to reduce housing scarcity.


    New units decrease “scarcity” only if they would significantly raise the vacancy rate at current prices. If that were to happen, rational landlords would lower their prices. That is what the law of supply and demand says once you take into account elasticities.

    There are problems with believing that this new construction will raise the vacancy rate at current prices:

    1) Empirically, developers of these new projects are not trying to beat their established competitors on price. Established landlords are not lowering rents in response to the new supply. The pricing behavior of these groups tells us that they believe new demand at current prices (or higher) is coming along to scarf up these increases in supply. The new development is not making housing less scarce relative to demand, it is just increasing the size of the population.

    2) Generally speaking, policy and other circumstance is driving the new housing development onto some of the most expensive real estate in the city. If the financiers expected the effect of this development would be to lower housing prices, it would make more sense for them to invest in other markets.

  • Tom Stieber

    I don’t think he needs to retract his statements since there is no requirement that free speech be factual vs opinionated, and there are plenty of comments rebutting his comments. That’s what free speech is all about.

  • Tom Stieber

    People living in denser urban environments will still need cars at times, but they won’t need them as often. I did live in a dense downtown for about six months once, and my car trips were down about 75 percent over my current suburban/semi-urban life. Because of this, more urban dwellers opt out of car ownership and opt into services like Car2Go for occasional driving needs, or they’ll hitch a cab or Uber for a quick ride somewhere. Overall, more people in urban cores will of course increase traffic, but not by as much as the same number of people in suburbs. And the reason it’s called “smart” growth is because the more attractive urban living is because of density, vibrancy, and variety, the more people choose to live there instead of in the burbs, and people are making those choices more and more around the country. And that makes for lower use of undeveloped land, which in scenic California is a lofty goal IMO.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “you rarely address the needs of families in your discussions”

    I think it is just a matter of different perspectives.

    I grew up in a neighborhood in New York with lots of families, very few of whom owned cars. My own family owned a car but used it only maybe once a week. My family walked for everyday tasks like buying groceries and going to school, and used the subway to commute to work. As a result, I take it for granted that families can live conveniently in this sort of neighborhood – as they do in New York and in European cities.

    You apparently grew up in a neighborhood where it was impossible for families to live without a car, so you take it for granted that families need cars.

    The “usual habits of Americans” have changed over time.
    –Before World War I, most American families who lived in cities, towns, and suburbs did not own vehicles. Only the rich could afford to keep a carriage.
    –You are thinking of the usual habits of American families during the second half of the twentieth century, which resulted from deliberate policy decisions to build freeways and zone for sprawl after World War II.
    –But the usual habits of Americans during the second half of the twenty-first century will depend on the policy decisions we make today.

    If we start promoting public transit and walkable neighborhoods today as vigorously as we promoted sprawl fifty years ago, then the habits of American families in a few decades will be different than they are now – and those future Americans are more likely to an intact global environment to live in.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I have said that supply of housing in this sort of neighborhood would be higher throughout the Bay Area – not that demand would be lower. I am talking about affordability in the entire Bay Area.

    More accurately, I hope that cities do a good job of designing the transit-oriented housing, so they build attractive neighborhoods like SF and downtown Berkeley throughout the Bay Area, increasing the supply.

  • guest

    BUSD’s controlled choice admissions system has been in place for almost 20 years. It has survived two court challenges.

    STAR testing scores in BUSD have been increasingly steadily for at least 7 years. For 2012-2013, statewide test scores declined, while those for BUSD increased across the board. Increases for disadvantaged students were even greater than those for the district as a whole.

    “We have very, very high performances,” Debbi D’Angelo, director of evaluation and assessment for Berkeley Unified School District, said.

    Lots of people wishing for the failure of various aspects of BUSD, but by the data, the district continues to thrive.

  • John Freeman

    If we start promoting public transit and walkable neighborhoods today as
    vigorously as we promoted sprawl fifty years ago, then the habits of
    American families in a few decades will be different than they are now

    This sounds like a plan that will be every bit as successful as Soviet-style social engineering.

  • Guest

    So first we heard that human children are incapable of traveling 1.5 miles without motorized assistance. Then that the nearly six inches of rain that we received in 2013 requires that schoolchildren be kept in an enclosed space at all times. Now we’re concerned about roaming packs of violent thugs randomly assaulting schoolchildren.

    Berkeley’s violent crime rate is 4.52/1,000 people. The rate for the entire state of California is 4.23. The national median is 3.9/1,000. Oakland’s rate is 19.93. El Cerrito’s is 5.3. Richmond’s is 10.93.

    Looking at cities with around the same population as Berkeley, Vallejo is 7.45. Murfreesboro, TN has a violent crime rate of 6.35. Lansing, MI is 9.43. Peoria, IL is 6.97.

    Not sure how any of those are “twice as high.” Looks like Berkeley’s violent crime rate is actually on the low side.

    And you certainly are not acquainted with every “parent of current Berkeley school children,” so I’m not sure how you’d know what choices they’re making. Clearly, you’re mistaken about our family.

  • John Freeman

    More accurately, I hope that cities do a good job of designing the transit-oriented housing, so they build attractive neighborhoods like SF and downtown Berkeley throughout the Bay Area, increasing the supply.

    You also said that:

    this would reduce the upward pressure on housing prices in San Francisco and Berkeley

    It is that second claim that has problems. Let’s look at it from the perspective of rental housing:

    At any given point in time, landlords generally try to rent vacant units to tenants who will pay the highest price.

    If the vacancy rate is low, and there is “pent up” demand waiting to get in, the people who are willing to pay the most will move to the head of the line.

    Therefore, current prices are set in such a way that raising them much higher would significantly increase the vacancy rate. If prices are not already maximized like that, then landlords have made a mistake.

    When new units are added to the supply there are two possibilities:

    1) There is yet more pent up, matching demand at current prices (or new, matching demand at higher prices).


    2) There isn’t enough demand at current prices and the vacancy rate will go up. If it goes up significantly, rents will come down.

    Note that in scenario (1), the new units do not “reduce upward pressure” on prices. Prices are already as high as they can go and they’ll stay right there.

    Plan Bay Area does not try to create scenario (2).

    Plan Bay Area’s projections do not forecast scenario (2) happening.

    Housing prices are behaving as if scenario (1) is the case.

    Plan Bay Area does nothing to change scenario (1) from being the case.

    Plan Bay Area tries to influence where new population will live — where new supply will be located. It does not try to provide extra supply to “reduce upward pressure” on prices. It just tries to make it more crowded in some places.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Or it could be as successful as the policies of that notorious Commie social engineer, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

  • gogoolives1

    Would you please include Berkeley High’s STAR testing scores in BUSD when you laud the performance of BUSD?

  • Alvarezko

    “density, vibrancy, and variety” – funny, that’s why I moved out to the suburbs (as did all my neighbors) but you keep believing that the world is full of yous – did you check out Hong Kong cage living for some real density? I am not kidding – true story.

  • guest

    Uhhh… Berkeley High is a part of BUSD, so my comment does pertain to BHS as well. But specifically, BHS’s STAR test scores improved in all five categories between last year: .

    Though you might note that djoelt1’s comment — to which I replied — implied that BUSD’s controlled choice admissions should be eliminated because it has no effect on test scores. Controlled choice admissions does not apply to BHS. So, arguably, your comment is off-topic. But nonetheless, BHS is doing very well.

  • designgauge

    What great news for our city! Finally Downtown will start to have the density that can support a thriving, dynamic, interesting urban center. Hopefully the retail businesses that have fled will be encouraged to return and add to the liveliness.

    As someone who appreciates the walkability of many foreign cities, I think it’s high time we realize that density is not the enemy. Urban living next to effective public transit allows us to accommodate our growing population without gobbling up more countryside, creating driving fumes, adding acres of additional of freeway lanes etc. And at the same time creating a more entertaining, engaging city, supporting a lifestyle that can be enjoyed by more people.

  • guest

    I don’t reference my childhood when thinking about public policy; it’s irrelevant. What matters is Bay Area infrastructure. Most parents do not want to bring up children on “transit corridors” with traffic and exhaust fumes. Small apartments on busy streets may provide housing for some people, but they don’t meet the needs of most families and they don’t prevent sprawl. The only way to prevent further suburban sprawl and preserve open space is through protective and appropriate zoning in the suburban cities.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “The only way to prevent further suburban sprawl and preserve open space
    is through protective and appropriate zoning in the suburban cities.”

    That is true, and the other half of the issue is where to provide more housing. If we just zone for no housing in the suburbs without accommodating more housing somewhere else, we will create a massive housing shortage, driving prices up dramatically. We “don’t meet the needs of most families” if we just zone to prevent housing from being built.

    We can accommodate those families not right on transit corridors with heavy traffic but within easy walking distance of those transit corridors.

    You might do well to think about your childhood occasionally when you think about public policy – because it would give you some insight into your biases. When you talk about the needs of “most families,” you obviously are not thinking about most families in the world, or most families in west Europe, or most families in America before World War I. You are just thinking about most families in the auto-dependent neighborhoods that have become dominant in America only since 1950 or so.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Incidentally, Orenco Station (a suburb of Portland) is a famous example of smart growth and a good example of family housing located within walking distance of transit.

    At http://www.terrain.org/unsprawl/10/ scroll down to see all the pictures. You will see that Orenco Station has apartments, row houses, and single family houses that look like bungalows built a century ago.

  • Guest


    Unfortunately the real world prevented a timely response to your comment. You’ve likely moved on, but I still think it is important to complete the thought.

    “When it comes to supply and demand, the issue is the sheer quantity of housing that is built – not the form.”

    First off, and I don’t mean to pick on you in particular, but you’ve inadvertently voiced what seems to be a very common misconception here: ‘Supply and Demand’ has one variable, supply.

    I suppose being able to ignore demand is attractive. Trying to accurately model demand for housing is very, very complicated. Given the prevailing conventional wisdom and available data contradicts

    Back to the real ‘meat’ of your comment: Of all the people here I think *you* would disagree with this statement. Form can have a tremendous impact on demand.

    Coincidentally, you cited Seaside in an earlier post. Real estate data for Seaside is difficult to come by, but what is available suggests houses in Seaside command well over $1000/sq ft. Next door Santa Rosa Beach is closer to $260/sq ft. By comparison, Berkeley’s 94705 (Elmwood/Claremont): $558/sq ft.

    As you’ve voiced repeatedly, ‘New Urbanism’ describes the type of communities where people really want to live. As a result, cities that follow this form tend to be very expensive. Form can drive demand.

    Additionally, form can have an impact on the ‘quantity’ of housing you can produce, particularly as it relates to urban infill. Given a static footprint 30 story towers will yield many more units than ‘traditional’ 4-5 story buildings.

    This is why I asked you to stick to what you consider ‘good design’.

    Think about what you’ve just quoted:

    “In the single decade following 1950, for example, the number of dwelling units in the United States increased by 63%.”

    That is 63% nationally. While I agree, it would like take less than this now, what are we talking about? 55%? 45% 35%? These are huge numbers.

    Let’s narrow the focus to Berkeley’s contribution. A 40% increase in available units in Berkeley would be ~20K units. The ‘boom’ described in the article is 1400 units (and that includes 3 towers!).

    What does 20K units look like sticking to 4-5 story ‘traditional’ buildings? If you take my favorite, Acheson Commons, it is listed at ~185 units/acre. ‘Parker Place’ is ~156 units/acre. If we bump it up to an even 200, that gives ~100 acres.

    What does that look like for coverage of ‘transit corridors’ in Berkeley? If you estimate about 2 acres per city block, that’s ~18 blocks per mile, or about 2.8 miles of new development on transit corridors.

    Start to factor in lost existing units, acquisition of real estate, build time, capital necessary, etc. and just Berkeley’s contribution starts to look not terribly feasible.

    Factor in the regional (and national) requirements and, well, it just starts to get silly.

    Again, like you I’m a proponent of ‘smart growth’. I’m a proponent of ‘new urbanism’. I support what is going on in Berkeley. I support more of it.

    I’m also realistic: We’re not going to build our way to affordability. We can build our way to a nicer, more livable Berkeley, but that will likely be a more expensive Berkeley.

  • viewsfromthebox

    Poor schools? Dubious accusation.

  • SarahSiddell

    I’m always curious when I read these paeans to intense development in downtown Berkeley as to how many of the writers actually either live downtown or spend a significant portion of their time in this highly-congested area. I do and can’t imagine that anyone who has to navigate around this crowded central district would think it progress to double the population.

    Then there is this mantrum, “near to transit…near to transit…Om” that also arouses my curiosity. How many of the true believers in “higher, bigger, better” actually themselves ride BART during peak hours? It’s my experience that existing trains are so crammed with humanity at those times system operators are soon going to need giant shoehorns to push in those few fortunate public transit passengers.

    I’ve been given to understand BART is already close to capacity when it comes to the number of trains during the hours when most people want to use them. When trains simply cannot take another person and there are hundreds of the new thousands of central city residents waiting in downtown Berkeley stations, what then?

  • emraguso

    Looks like 2211 Harold Way (Berkeley Plaza) is coming back before ZAB for a preview in March.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I live two blocks from downtown, and I am there every day.

  • Andrew E

    Possible correction on Higby: “The price was not disclosed, although online real estate sites estimated it was worth $38 million.” I doubt that vacant lot was worth $38,000,000. Taxes on the land according to http://www.propertyshark.com/mason/Property/38753111/3015-San-Pablo-Ave-Berkeley-CA-94702/ show it valued at about $2,398,841 so did you mean $3.8 million?