Berkeley zoning ballot language heading to court


Downtown Berkeley: at the heart of a ballot initiative and a lawsuit. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguín filed a lawsuit against Berkeley on Wednesday seeking to overturn ballot language that will be used to describe a downtown zoning initiative.

Arreguín wants an Alameda County Superior Court judge to take up the matter immediately, since final ballot language for the November 2014 election is due Sept. 2.

In the lawsuit, Arreguín alleges that the City Council voted to use misleading and inaccurate wording to describe the downtown initiative for the November ballot. State law requires that ballot language be neutral and non-argumentative, Arreguín said in the lawsuit.

The initiative will be known as Measure R.

The City Council rejected ballot language put forth by Arreguín and City Attorney Zach Cowan and instead adopted a description created by Mayor Tom Bates, who opposes Measure R. Many of the terms in the ballot language are intended to dissuade people from voting for the measure, Arreguín said. He would now like to have the city adopt the city attorney’s ballot language.

In July, when news broke that Arreguín intended to file a lawsuit, Bates said he thought his ballot wording was fair. He called the 28-page-long measure “extremely complicated,” and “difficult to understand.” Bates said it was not easy to craft the wording from such a dense document. Bates stands by the summary, and welcomes the court’s decision, he said.

See the Berkeleyside downtown initiative cheat sheet.

The lawsuit contends that Bates’ wording is factually incorrect and partisan. For example, Bates’s wording states that Measure R would “reduce height limits.” That is untrue because it suggests the measure would lower limits throughout the entire downtown, rather that just in two buffer areas, according to the lawsuit.

The initiative actually increases height limits because it allows developers to built extra 10-foot-tall “penthouse units” on buildings if they add all the parking spots currently required by law, plus 10 extra spaces for the public to use, the lawsuit contends.

Developers have said building parking spaces is so expensive that that incentive is no incentive at all.

Arreguín also expressed concern in the lawsuit, among many other issues, that one of Measure R’s most important provisions — the creation of a zoning overlay for the Civic Center district — is relegated to the center of the ballot paragraph where it gets lost. There is no real description of what it will do either.

“The ballot label is full of misstatements, negative characterizations, and highlighting of relatively minor features while omitting mentions of features with more significant reach or impacts which create an unlawful bias against the Initiative which must be corrected,” reads the lawsuit.

Arreguín was joined in the lawsuit by Austene Hall, chair of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Stefan Elgstrand, a recent UC Berkeley graduate who was one of the defendants in a lawsuit filed by Berkeley concerning new redistricting lines, Sarah B. Nelson and James Massar. Sophie Hahn, the city Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner who helped draft the initiative, is not a party to the lawsuit.

No court date has yet been set.

Read the lawsuit.

Read Berkeleyside’s coverage of the downtown initiative.

Berkeley hotel halted pending initiative vote (08.07.14)
Wording of ballot initiative headed to court (07.31.14)
Council member says Berkeley ballot is biased (07.23.14)
At B-Side: Implications of the downtown initiative (07.22.14)
Berkeleyside launches new talk series, the B-side (07.03.14)
Downtown initiative put on ballot; city may lose millions in fees (06.26.14)
Berkeley mayor will push for civic center overlay (06.09.14)
Would new green initiative kill two downtown high-rises? (05.14.14)

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  • guest

    Um, do mean to ask if I think it’s OK for the Mayor to stop Jesse Arreguin from engaging in yet another filibustering tactic trying to endlessly delay the vote? Yes, I do. Kriss Worthington’s groundless complaints and empty threats about legal action resulting in absolutely nothing because the Mayor did nothing wrong.

    Funny how you only complain about someone ignoring the rules of order when you disagree with their politics. No complaints about Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin filibustering council meetings with sing-alongs and a complete disregard for the rules of order.

  • guest

    1.) One incident =/= a pattern. Arreguin and Worthington cry wolf about everything and constantly make groundless accusations.

    2.) Bates didn’t make any of the maps. The only gerrymandering was from Kriss Worthington who tried to violate the due process for creating new districts by submitting a gerrymandered district that split up communities of interest well after the submission deadline.

    3.) Perhaps if you replied to arguments instead of constantly attempting to engage in ad hominem attacks you might not have so much trouble crafting reasonable, logical responses.

    The only anti-democratic actions being taken by anyone on the city council are those of Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington who repeatedly try to use their status as council members to violate public process and undo popularly approved ballot measures with misleading and dishonest campaigns.

  • guest

    >multiple groundless conspiracy theories.

    Well, that tells me everything I need to know about you.

  • guest

    So do you agree that People’s Park should be either fenced off and have a curfew, turned into a parking lot, or shut down and turned into a site for UC Berkeley student dormitories?

  • Gus

    Uh, you are aware of the large-scale displacement of vulnerable communities currently taking place throughout the Bay Area due to the acute and ongoing housing crisis? Maybe you’re not aware, since you’re a homeowner just kicking back and watching his equity skyrocket, but I can personally introduce you to working-class and minority families who have lost their Berkeley housing and have been forced to move to outlying communities.

    I’ve spoken to Carl Pope about this personally. He called me one night to ask why I had dropped my Sierra Club membership.

    One wonders why Carl Pope, who stepped down from the Sierra Club in 2011, is taking the time to call a single one of the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members regarding a canceled membership.

  • Gus

    “We’re going to have to get lawyers to look at this tape and evaluate it,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the third abstention and the first council member to join the impassioned community members in song.

    So that was over two years ago. Did Kriss ever “get the lawyers to look at this tape and evaluate it”? Either Kriss was blowing smoke (again), or the lawyers didn’t give him the answer he was hoping for.

    But Kriss is often confused by basic elements of parliamentary procedure.

  • Gus

    What are you doing about vulnerable people currently being displaced by high housing costs?

  • guest

    He/she is trying to prevent more housing from being built. We all know that the best way to deal with the high cost of housing and to help people without housing is by preventing more housing from being built.

  • guest

    That same “reporter” also wrote this piece:

    Not a reliable source.

  • guet

    I frankly “grossly misinformed” seems like a pretty accurate assessment for someone who just keeps recycling vague innuendo without bothering to address specific differing points of view with actual facts.

    So do you consider Kriss Worthington do be “grossly misinformed”? After all, recycling vague innuendo without bothering to address specifics is basically all he’s done on the City Council for the last 14+ years.

  • SaveWestBerkeley

    I’m very familiar with his career, thank you very much, and if you bothered really reading my comments, you would have seen that I believe his realty connections have made him completely unwilling to even hear anyone who wants to tweak his so-called plan.

    Obviously you haven’t read anything I’ve said–I’m not anti-housing, but I’m very against displacing poor people to make more upper income units, particularly when the ones we already have had rammed down our throats aren’t even full yet. Affordability and broken promises related to it are but one aspect of it, but it’s tied for the number 1 spot.

    I know all about the part he narcissistically named after himself–but that doesn’t change the fact that he runs the council in an undemocratic manner and has had to be threatened with legal action more than once for attempting to gag other elected officials. Funny how you always seem to gloss that over.

    No, I don’t think all Bates’ supporters got a developer handout, but I know who funded the hype on this debacle, and I know opponents were outspent tens of thousands of dollars by developers. The second filing by the Yes on Measure R campaign of California Form 460, Monetary Contributions Received, reveals that between 1 and 16 October 2010, the campaign received $21,950, bringing the total contributed so far to $54,400. Here’s a little NYT expose on one of the ones with the deepest pockets. For all of you who say Anthony doesn’t get an opinion because he now lives in Walnut Creek, Zell lives in Chicago. Does that give him more of a right?

    And yes, I am a homeowner, but I’m not “making money” from any of this because I intend to live here until I die, and I’m not into borrowing against my home. I absolutely have an interest in this not just because I’m a homeowner, but because this is my community, and I want to be able to have neighbors who don’t have 6-figure incomes as well as all the rich techies who can come here no matter what. I want to be surrounded by the kind of community I moved to Berkeley to be around, and those people don’t necessarily do things that are rewarded with buckets of $$$ (artists, teachers, social workers, etc.). Just because I’m not renting doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for people who are.

    I want to be able to have long-term neighbors and families around me, and a sense of community. I don’t want rich people further lining their pockets at the expense of our community, our vulnerable renters, and the small businesses that make Berkeley unique. he way Bates’ plan is imagined, that will be increasingly difficult.

    No, I’m not a manufacturer, but I was once a small business owner, and I understand how those people will be hit as well. I am no longer a small business owner, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stand up for others.

  • SaveWestBerkeley

    Trying to have any kind of reasonable discussion with you is starting to feel absurd. At least I post specifics, which is more than can be said for most of the posts labelled “guest,” which the apparent numbers of you seem to think I should be able to psychically differentiate between.

  • SaveWestBerkeley

    I don’t see Kris blocking off the possibility of even voting on a measure–something Bates regularly does.

  • SaveWestBerkeley

    Um, no. I see Kris Worthington as being better informed than most. I had questions about city regs I didn’t understand. Did Bates’ office or Linda Maio’s get back to me. Of course not. But Kris Worthington wrote back–two detailed pages, with citations of specific statutes. I’m not in his district, I don’t know him personally, but he personally did it. The bar is high with him.

  • guezt

    What a weird way to characterize it when the democratically elected Mayor sides with the majority of the democratically elected city council and enacts policies that a majority of Berkeley residents approve of.

  • Guest

    LOL, Zelda Bronstein has a track record of being AGAINST almost every POSITIVE thing that has ever happened in Berkeley.

    Did you know that Zelda Bronstein was a loud OPPONENT of the extremely popular new Berkeley Bowl West, which provided an excellent and much-needed grocery store to the residents of West Berkeley?

  • guest

    When you say that you believe commenters here who support smart growth must be profiting from development, that is a personal attack – just as when you say the same thing about Mayor Bates. It shows you will just make up personal attacks off the top of your head, with no basis.

  • Guest

    No one is addressing your points because they’re ridiculous.

    a. Families aren’t the only people looking for housing.
    b. Not building any new housing to meet the demand will only make things MORE unaffordable.
    c. Why would any of us clamor for development in other communities where it won’t help Berkeley?
    d. There aren’t any.
    e. Arreguin’s ballot measure is a deceptive attempt to undo a popularly approved measure that he disagrees with.

  • guest

    You don’t see Kriss blocking the possibility of voting on a measure??? When he started leading the crowd in singing and making noise, he was blocking off discussion of the measure – much less voting on it. Or do you think that disrupting a meeting a proper parliamentary procedure?

  • guest

    As part of the democratic process, do you think it is okay to disrupt the meeting by singing and yelling, so the democratically elected majority could not speak?

  • We are closing the comment thread on this post as it has been hijacked by a couple of readers and become nothing more than a tedious slanging match.

  • SaveWestBerkeley

    Actually, there’s nothing “simple” about it. The ABAG proposal is 1300 fricking pages long, and I’d be willing to bet money that if a majority of these people who voted for it listened to a moderated debate from both sides, there’s be a lot more contention. What you see if the result of huge private interest money behind measures and candidates which benefit *them*, along with a steady campaign of just anyone who wants to modify the more developer-whoring elements of it to benefit a wider variety of people “NIMY” or “obstructionist.” Are you going to just keep calling names hoping it will stick, or do you really want to look at what people are upset about and maybe learn something?

    I would love to see what would happen if there were caps put on campaign spending, wouldn’t you?

  • DM


  • emraguso

    For those who are interested, the hearing on this matter takes place at 1:30 p.m. TODAY, Aug. 29, in Department 31 of the Alameda County Superior Court.
    Department 31 is located on the second floor of the U.S. Post Office Building, 201 13th St. (between Alice and Jackson), in Oakland. Berkeleyside will be there.