2 citizen initiatives on course to make ballot in Berkeley

City Councilman Jesse Arreguin and his aide Anthony Sanchez turned in 3,900 signatures Tuesday that they hope will qualify their Green Downtown and Public Commons for the November ballot. Photo: Tom Hunt

City Councilman Jesse Arreguín and his aide Anthony Sanchez turned in 3,900 signatures Tuesday that they hope will qualify their Green Downtown and Public Commons for the November ballot. Photo: Tom Hunt

At least two measures backed by Berkeley residents appear to have collected enough support to make them likely to be on the November 2014 ballot.

On Tuesday, a group backed by City Councilman Jesse Arreguín turned in more than 3,900 signatures to put a measure before voters that forces higher environmental standards on tall buildings in the downtown on the ballot. It would also create an overlay in the civic center district preventing certain buildings from being converted to commercial use.

Backers of an initiative that supports flexible work time also submitted a large number of signatures to the Berkeley city clerk, making it likely to be on the ballot. Those supporting the Flextime Work Initiative, an advisory measure, submitted 4,604 signatures May 2.

It takes 2,638 valid signatures to place a measure on the ballot.

City clerk Mark Numainville will now send the signatures to the Alameda County registrar of voters to be counted to see if enough valid signatures were collected. Then the Berkeley City Council must look at the various measures and either adopt them or place them on the ballot. Council is expected to do that by late July, said Numainville.

Supporters of the Green Downtown and Public Commons Initiative collected the signatures in just three weeks, which backers believe signals there is strong support to stop the sale of the U.S. Post Office and demand higher green standards from developers wanting to construct structures higher than 60 feet tall.

The initiative is very complex with many provisions (see Berkeleyside stories on it) but would require tall buildings to be LEED Platinum rather than LEED Gold, require developers to build more affordable housing on site and would prohibit any in-lieu payments into an affordable housing trust fund, and codify certain height limits and setbacks, removing the discretion of the Zoning Adjustments Board to grant a use permit.

Proponents say this is what voters wanted when they passed the advisory Measure R in 2010. Some of the promises made then have not been kept, they say.

“After ten years of involvement with Berkeley’s Downtown planning processes, and listening to the concerns and aspirations of my constituents, I am confident that this initiative is the right balance between private development and public benefits.  It’s a modest proposal that reflects our values and our needs, and protects our City’s Civic heart,” Arreguín said in a statement.

But Mayor Tom Bates and those in the development community strongly disagree with both the intent of the initiative and some of its claims. They point to downtown’s new vibrancy, where more than 1,400 apartments are under construction. Three tall buildings, including a hotel, are making their way through the planning process. New restaurants are popping up regularly and more people are coming downtown. Stopping the construction of new buildings they think will further downtown’s resurgence will thwart the changes, opponents of the initiative say.

Eric S. Robinson, a Berkeley resident and a principal architect at Paulett Taggart Architects in San Francisco, looked at the initiative for Berkeleyside and agreed that it would make development more difficult.

The Flexible Work Time Initiative

The Flexible Work Time Initiative would ask Berkeley and the state of California to pass laws making it easier for employees to choose part-time work and other flexible working arrangements. (Read the text of the initiative.)

The Flexible Work Time Initiative logo

The Flexible Work Time Initiative logo

“This sort of law is important to promote better work-family balance,” Charles Siegel, initiative organizer and author of The Politics of Simple Living, said in a statement. “But we also want to emphasize the environmental benefit of giving people the choice of downshifting economically. If people choose to work shorter hours and to consume less, then they will also pollute less.”

He claims having more flextime would do many things:

  • It would create stronger families: The standard 40-hour week dates back to a time when families were expected to have stay-at-home mothers. Today, American parents with children say that they have trouble balancing their work and family obligations.
  • It would create more jobs: If people worked less, employers would have to hire more people. The Dutch say that promoting part-time work caused what they call the “Dutch employment miracle”: unemployment fell from 13% in the mid-1980s to 6.7% in 1996, the lowest level in Western Europe at the time.
  • It will lessen human impact on the environment. Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, and consume less energy. Flextime could lower American energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

City officials are considering placing a soda tax and parks initiative on the ballot. Berkeley residents are also circulating other ballot initiatives — including two related to an increased minimum wage —but haven’t yet turned in signatures.

Read all Election 2014 coverage on Berkeleyside.

Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, parks measure (05.21.14)
Would new green initiative kill two downtown highrises? (05.14.14)
Initiative aims to tighten “green” parts of downtown plan (05.05.14)
New 16-story hotel proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.19.13)
New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.09.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Lawsuit challenges Berkeley’s new downtown plan (06.06.12)
After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan 

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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  • Liberal Louis

    Charles, I’m curious to see how this would play out for my business. Since you are deeply involved with the bill, have you back tested this against your employees, payroll and operating costs to see how it impacted your net income? Maybe you’ve already implemented it at your business. How has it worked out?

  • Dubai Dave

    “In the real world, most people cannot retire at age 60, no matter how hard they work or how well they plan financially.”

    That’s because they are getting ripped off at every turn by the state to pay for others poor decisions and to blow up things all over the planet.

  • Danyelle Smeeth

    I should have made myself more clear. The path to wealth and power for those with few marketable skills or creative ideas is left leaning politics. See the Clintons, who went into the presidency worth about $800k and today are worth north of $100,000,000.

    I will note that all of those that in the case of Gates and Zuckerberg there are dubious connections to the state that preexist their wealth, and in all cases the more power and wealth these individuals have collected, the closer they align themselves with statists and state policies. This is because the state has the spoils to hand out to the capitalists. It is a chicken or an egg question, but I believe the state has the power and money before the capitalists seek it, not the other way around.

    That was not a racist slur. It was an observation that the present disposition of the American left is to give extra credit to ethnic minorities. Case in point, Julian (pr Whoo-liawn) Castro. Inserting Racism into the argument today is the Godwin’s law of this era. I can’t think for myself about complex issues, deal with reality, or digest irony, therefore you must be a racist.

  • $6 Trillion & Counting

    Indeed. Everyone needs to pay their “fair share” of the American War Machine that’s eating through the desert countries on the other side of the globe.

  • Charles_Siegel

    We made this an advisory initiative, because we thought that the city council should get extensive input from the public before passing the law. As the initiative text says:

    3.1b: The city should fine-tune the ordinance based on the comments the
    city receives from the public. For example, the city should exempt small
    businesses from the requirements of the law, and should also modify the
    law in any other ways that are useful to accommodate the needs of
    Berkeley’s employers and employees.

    In San Francisco, for example, there was some opposition from small businesses when the Board of Supervisors proposed a similar law that exempted businesses with less than 10 employees. But when they changed that to exempt businesses with less than 20 employees, the opposition disappeared and the Board of Supervisors passed the law unanimously.

    The Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, have already implemented similar laws, and they have been successful. The UK law, for example, initially covered only caregivers, but it is so popular that they are planning to expand it this year to cover all employees.

    For lots more information about how this sort of policy has benefited many business that have implemented it in the United States, you might want to read “The Custom-Fit Workplace” by Joan Blades, who is a Berkeley resident and co-founder of moveon.org. Or you can check out the video of Joan describing some of those businesses and endorsing our initiative on our web site at http://www.flexibleworktime.com/endorsements.html#Blades

  • Charles_Siegel

    We recommend pro-rating benefits. This is a bit complicated because of the requirements of Obamacare, but it is the ideal.

    About its practicality, I can only repeat that this sort of law has been very successful in Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK – so apparently, it can work in professional settings.

    And I can remind you again that businesses can refuse requests if they would create operational problems. This law would just require the business to respond to the request in writing. If the business refuses, there is no appeal.

    You might be interested in this article about a law firm in the Netherlands where all the employees work part-time. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/world/europe/30iht-dutch30.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    In the Netherlands, about half of all employees are part-time, including many professionals, and they have a very successful economy.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There is a small one-time cost of rescheduling, but that is about it. There is not a significant added ongoing cost, as there is with a higher minimum wage.

    In addition, more workplace flexibility has been shown to increase employee morale and productivity and to reduce turnover, so on the balance, it actually reduces labor costs. Eg, reduced turnover reduces the cost of hiring and training new employees.

    Joan Blades is one of the experts on this, and you might want to check out the video of her at http://www.flexibleworktime.com/endorsements.html#Blades

  • Charles_Siegel

    Incidentally, I am a professional and I work part-time.

  • We work half days ourselves … doesn’t seem to matter which 12 hours.


  • Liberal Louis

    That’s Kind of what I thought you might say. You employ no one do you? You have no clue how much pure nonsense a business owner contends with just to open up each day hoping to make a living. For some reason you get a kick out of telling others what is best for them. Put your money where your mouth is and hire a few people. It’ll turn you into a libertarian in about 10 minutes.

  • Liberal Louis

    Professional what?

  • Charles_Siegel

    Rather than telling other people what is best for them, this law would give people more freedom of choice. Let’s let employees have more freedom to decide what is best for them.

  • Berkeley babe

    Wow, you must not have one empathetic bone in your body!

  • Antonio Noguerra

    Great, so there’ll be a bunch of “activists” slamming businesses for refusing.

    Germany and the Netherlands have economies that are structured quite differently. For one, there is almost no entrepreneurship. Two, small business hiring decisions are encumbered by laws like this and so there is reluctance to hire women of childbearing age. Three, the society has outsourced national defense to the US, which is why they have $$ for extensive social services and we do not. I’m not saying one is right or wrong, but pointing out that the comparison isn’t as easy as you make it.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to legislate this in the CoB. If you want to start a part-timer friendly business, no one is stopping you. My dentist works like that and you can too. It would be impossible in my line of work, and I don’t need busybodies driving from the back seat.

  • Liberal Louis

    No extra costs, eh? Who’s gonna deal with pro-rating benefits? Or is some HR fairy going to come and do that for the business owner.

    And if businesses can just say no, what is the point of the law? What a colossal waste of paper and ink and time to gather all these signatures unless this is an incremental step to ultimately make employers let their people work part time.

  • Dubai Dave

    Not true. I am extremely empathetic person.

    I was taught by my parents and grandparents that no one owes me anything, and that I owe no one anything either. It is a very simple truth, and when you embrace it at an early age it makes everything very clear.

    Why is it only empathetic for me to sympathize with people that haven’t developed the skills that enable economic freedom? Is it not empathetic of me to point out that it is morally wrong to use state violence and the threat of state violence against business owners to force them into doing something that is perhaps against their best interests?

    I think that you’d find business owners a lot better equipped to process reasonable requests from employees wanting to work part time if they were less burdened by the rest of the garbage that is piled on them.

    I will remind you that no one is forcing anyone to work for anyone else at the moment. If you don’t like the hours your employer can offer you, quit.

  • Liberal Louis

    Let’s give them more freedom by restricting the freedoms of their employers. Sounds about right.

    Right now the employee can quit at any time with basically no risk of repercussion. Ever contemplate letting someone go as an employer? God help you if they are in a protected class, or have an axe to grind. Hope you like legal fees! There is no riskier proposition in business than putting someone on your payroll. Hmmm…why are all of our jobs leaving? Charles???

  • Charles_Siegel

    How many employees do you have? I am curious whether the law would actually apply to you. As I said, we want to adjust the law so it is not a burden on small businesses. Since you are saying that it would be a burden on you, maybe we should set the threshold to exclude businesses of your size.

    I realize that small business owners are generally overworked and often do all the hiring and firing for their businesses, so I don’t want to make life harder for them.

    Though employers can refuse, this sort of law has been shown to be effective. There was a study of the requests in the UK over a year, and employers refused only 11% of the requests. Though it wasn’t mandatory to grant the request, the great majority of businesses did.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Incidentally, where I work, HR had no trouble pro-rating the benefits when I went part-time. Their computer program does it all. That is why this will not be a burden for larger businesses.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The economist Juliet Schor calculated that if someone quits his current job to take a half-time job, he will cut his earnings by 80%. Cutting your hours by 50% typically means cutting your earnings by 80% because part-time jobs are typically lower paid and have no benefits.

    Because of the lower earnings, most people cannot take your advice and quit if they don’t like the hours their employers offer. For most people, the choice is a decent full-time job or a low quality part-time job.

    I myself have developed the skills that you say “enable economic freedom.” I have a high paying job. But if I don’t have the choice of how many hours I want to work, I don’t really have economic freedom – the freedom to manage my own economic life as I see fit. (Fortunately for me, my employer was willing to let me work part-time, but that is the exception rather than the rule.)

    I could tell you horror stories about people whose suffered real hardship because they did not have the option of working part-time. How about some economic freedom for these people?

    You are not describing this proposed law when you say, ” it is morally wrong to use state violence and the threat of state
    violence against business owners to force them into doing something that is perhaps against their best interests.” If businesses think that it would be against their interest to let someone work part time, they can simply refuse the request. This sort of law doesn’t force businesses to do anything except provide the reason for refusing the request in writing.

  • liberal louis

    so you say in a post earlier that pro-rating is hard, but now it’s easy. talk out your a$$ much? the bottom line is that you rule making tools are the ones that have screwed it all up. the rules, the laws, the regulations… you are the ones making the loopholes to be jumped through by those that can afford to navigate them. just return property rights back to the individual and get the state out of the way of private enterprise, and much of this crap goes away.

  • Crawl in a hole and stay there

    I’m closing because it is clear where this bus is going. I’m laying off 6 but have had as many as 15. Please, do not try and help me. Just stop trying to help anyone and live and let live. It’s really f’n simple. You, and people like you, are the problem.

  • Charles_Siegel

    If you have had as many as 15 and now have fewer, then this law would not help you and would not hurt you. Because it would not apply to you.

    In San Francisco, the similar law exempts all businesses with fewer than 20 employees. I framed the initiative so Berkeley would also pass a law that exempts businesses that are small enough that the employer does all the HR work. That could be fewer than 20, as in SF, or we could set the threshold higher, if businesses want.

    I also believe in live and let live, which is why I don’t want a law that hurts small businesses – but live and let live also includes making it a bit easier for employees to live.

    You don’t seem to consider that you are not the only one who has a hard time: parents with two jobs and preschool children also have trouble with all the demands that they face.

    This law would not make life any harder for you, because it wouldn’t affect you.

    It would make life easier for many parents, for many people who are old and want to retire, and for many other employees.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I said in an earlier post that pro-rating of health care benefits is difficult legally because of the legal requirements of Obamacare.

    I said in this post that pro-rating of benefits is does not require any time or effort in a large business, because it is done automatically by computer.

    If you think the world would be better with no labor regulations, I recommend that you visit Dubai to see how employees are treated there.

  • Charles_Siegel

    ” It would be impossible in my line of work,”

    If there is a business reason why it is impossible in your line of work, employers can just state the reason and refuse the request.

    The beauty of this law is that it encourages flexibility in industries where it is possible, but doesn’t require it in businesses where it is impossible.

  • Charles_Siegel

    correction: people who are old and want to semi-retire

  • mtaysic


  • http://bastiat.org/en/

    I know it’s hard. My wife and I worked as many as 3 jobs a piece all through our 20s to put ourselves in a position to have the skills to start a business, get a good job, have a family and live where we want to live, all without the use of force. We navigated our way through preschool often making less than ideal choices for how we would best like to spend every minute of our time. I believe that is called living in reality.

    Your law, just like most of them, has good intentions behind it. The problem is that there are always unforeseen consequences. As someone that has had enough brain damage running a small business, my recent choice to close is an unforeseen consequence of all these laws. I promise you that there are a bunch of other people in our town right now doing the same math for their own businesses. If not for personally guaranteed leases that have yet to term out, I know 3 storefronts that would be empty already.


    Employers are people too.

  • Come on bro

    Right… Play this out in your head…

    Dear Mr. Siegel,

    I’d like to go part time so that my same sex partner and I can spend more time with our developmentally disabled newborn of mixed race descent.



    My guess is that there is no good answer to this, particularly in writing, and anyway the business approaches it, it comes with a high four figure legal bill.

    I’m guessing you are an employment attorney.

  • Charles_Siegel

    No, I am not an attorney, and you are confusing this law with anti-discrimination laws.

    If there is a business reason for refusing the request, the employer just has to state that reason in order to refuse. The employee’s race, gender or sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. The law states that the employee cannot appeal this refusal – much less sue.

    This sort of law has been in effect in the UK for over 10 years. Can you give one example of an employee suing under this law? It has never happened, and as the law is framed, it cannot possibly happen.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I can understand that you and Liberal Louis both oppose labor laws generally, because they have made it harder for you to run your business.

    I cannot understand why you oppose this law, which exempts small businesses.

    You would do better to focus on specific labor laws that have made your life harder, rather than focusing on this law, which would not affect you at all.

  • Berkeley babe

    Hey sympathize with everyone, ideallly!

    i can see both sides here, and i get that it’s a tricky issue.

    But your comment of:

    >Maybe she should have worked harder, played less, and made better financial decisions when she was younger.

    doesn’t sound very empathetic to me, and not very caring towards someone who, if she doesn’t work less, may end up a burden on the state when she has no health left. You wanna think this though?

  • mtaysic

    The US really does not need to spend as much as it does on defense…

  • guest

    You made less than ideal choices, you worked 3 jobs, etc.
    Well and good. You have benefited from these choices. However, you cannot mandate that everyone should have to make the same choices!
    Also: what part of “small businesses are exempt” do you not understand?

  • edit

    “though” should be “through”

  • Liberal Louis

    It’s the cavalier attitude you take thinking that solutions lie within the making of more laws that I have a problem with, and the belief that there are no consequences to any of this stuff. If you think they hve it all figured out in the Netherlands and the UK, have at it.

  • Dubais Dave

    right! I can not mandate that everyone else make those same choices and i would never ever try. I never said that I should mandate anything. Turnabout is fair play though, so you should not try and mandate that an employer do anything either.

  • Applying the law of unintended consequences, wouldn’t large businesses take this law into account when deciding to stay in, expand in, or relocate to, Berkeley?

    I’m wondering if the incremental benefit of having a law like this would be overshadowed by fewer jobs to work flexible hours at.


  • Charles_Siegel

    They just passed a similar law in San Francisco, and businesses are flocking there. I haven’t heard that any business even took this law into account when they decided whether to locate in San Francisco. No one considered that a problem when they were deciding whether to pass the law.

  • you are

    Missing the point

  • Antonio Noguerra

    That’s another unfair comparison. The US is far more litigious than the UK.

  • Antonio Noguerra

    You mean startup businesses that only hire twentysomethings and promise unlimited vacation that no one really uses? Those businesses?