Op-ed: Save our green downtown: Vote ‘no’ on Measure R

Jacquelyn McCormick’s Sept. 9th Opinionator piece published on Berkeleyside is filled with misinformation about Measure R. Measure R is a 28-page downtown initiative on this November’s ballot that would impose strict new requirements on housing and office projects in Berkeley’s downtown.

McCormick claims that Measure R would assure that new buildings in Berkeley’s downtown provide new community benefits. What she didn’t admit is that measure R is full of poison pills that would stop construction of the new buildings that are supposed to provide these benefits.

Measure R would rewrite myriad elements of the downtown plan over the objections of a broad coalition of environmentalist, union, business and civic leaders.

Measure R would reverse our green progress and kill the Downtown revival.

Under Measure R, new requirements and fees would make buildings over 60 feet financially infeasible, thus blocking approximately 1,300 units of future housing, according to the City’s study of the measure’s impacts.

These lost living units would worsen our critical housing shortage, drive up rents, and make Berkeley even less affordable. According to Transform, the Greenbelt Alliance and the East Bay League of Conservation Voters, losing transit-oriented housing near the Downtown BART also means more auto commuting, congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Measure R would also trap the City in a regulatory straitjacket. Normal zoning codes can be changed through public hearings and City legislation. Measure R’s extensive new zoning regulations could not be changed, except through expensive citywide votes. Small details or illegal provisions, like requiring public restrooms in large residential buildings, could not be fixed without holding more elections.

It is particularly ironic that McCormick would call her no-growth measure green when the downtown plan it would shut down is a model of green, equitable development. Downtown Berkeley’s push for sustainability has been so successful, the American Planning Association recently gave the Downtown Plan its prestigious Achievement Award for a Best Practice. A recent comparison among Bay Area cities found Berkeley to be a leader in its comprehensive approach to public benefits and environmental standards.

The recently approved 98-unit Stonefire building at University and Milvia exemplifies the success of the Downtown Plan. This project includes units for low-income households, meets LEED Gold standards, and has 91 parking spaces for bicycles, as well as 76 spaces for cars, including two for car sharing. This project would have been blocked by Measure R.

McCormick is wrong when she insists that Measure R is a good deal for Berkeley, workers, and the environment.

If Measure R would truly benefit workers, why is it opposed by the Alameda County Labor Council (representing 100,000 East Bay workers), the Building Trades Council of Alameda County (28 affiliated unions), and the Hotel, Food Service and Gaming Workers Local 2850 (also known as Unite Here!)?

If Measure R would truly be more sustainable, why is it opposed by such organizations as the Greenbelt Alliance, Transform and the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay?

Measure R was written by three self-appointed individuals without public review or community input, but it would overturn the Downtown Plan developed through six years of community involvement, including more than 200 public meetings.

Measure R is opposed by environmental, labor and planning organizations, as well as by Berkeley’s top elected officials, including

  • State Senator Loni Hancock
  • Assemblymember Nancy Skinner
  • Six members of the City Council, including Mayor Tom Bates
  • East Bay MUD Board President Andy Katz (who represents Berkeley)
  • BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman (who represents Berkeley)

We can’t afford to lose sustainable development and badly needed transit-oriented housing. Please join those who want to save our green and vibrant Downtown. Vote No on R.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Berkeley resident Tim Frank is a longstanding environmentalist and sustainability expert, Director of the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, and Chair of the No on R campaign committee.