Op-ed: Berkeley’s Measure R is bad government

Conceived with no public input and bewildering in detail, Berkeley’s Measure R sets a new low for proposals fostering bad government.

Measure R on the 2014 Berkeley ballot is 28 pages of complex zoning minutia, increased plan and development requirements (including some that are legally questionable), wage and other requirements, prohibitions, and a Civic Center District Overlay. It has pages of detail and tables with specifics including one six page table setting out precisely the kind of permits required for a host of activities.

Do you have any idea what is a reasonable type of permit to require for a pet grooming establishment? I don’t. Wouldn’t that be better left to planning staff and commissions? Do voters really have the required knowledge?

Interestingly, the 2014 Measure R was written by three authors – Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, Zoning Adjustments Boardmember Sophie Hahn, appointed by Kriss Worthington, and Arreguin’s appointment to the Landmark’s Commission, Austene Hall. There was no public input or public process. And yet the detail outlined in the measure is prodigious and will directly or indirectly affect the entire City.

2014 Measure R supporters claim it will improve the Downtown Area Plan passed in 2010 as (coincidentally) Measure R. The existing Downtown Area Plan (also called by its acronym “DAP”) received an overwhelming voter approval of 64 percent in 2010. The DAP was developed over six years of public process including over 200 public meetings. But three people want us to believe they can improve on that.

In addition to a flawed process in developing it, Measure R is written in such a long, cumbersome, and complex manner with inflexible detail that few voters will read it.

The introduction of the full text of Measure R is:

“INITIATIVE ORDINANCE AMENDING BERKELEY MUNICIPAL CODE CHAPTER 23B.34 (Green Pathway), CHAPTER 23E.68 (C-DMU Commercial Downtown Mixed Use District), SECTION 23F.04.010 (Definitions), AND ADDING CHAPTER 23E.98 (Civic Center District Overlay); PROVIDING STREAMLINED PERMIT PROCESSING AND ADDITIONAL HEIGHT FOR SPECIFIED DOWNTOWN PROJECTS IN EXCHANGE FOR SUBSTANTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL AND COMMUNITY BENEFITS; TO STRENGTHEN ENVIRONMENTAL,COMMUNITY BENEFIT AND PARKING REQUIREMENTS AND MODIFY USES, HEIGHT LIMITS AND SETBACKS FOR C-DMU PROJECTS; AND TO ESTABLISH A CIVIC CENTER DISTRICT OVERLAY.”

Did you follow that? Very few voters are likely to read the full 28 pages of text of the measure. So how can voters possibly become sufficiently educated to make an informed decision on such a complex measure? The ballot box is simply not the place to decide this kind of detail. 

Further, all of that detail of Measure R is essentially “cast in stone”. If passed, most of the many requirements in Measure R – no matter how small or no matter what unintended consequences – can be changed except by voters in another election.

Not only would additional elections be costly, but also immensely burdensome, inefficient and needlessly bureaucratic.

So let’s see: flawed process with no public input, complex and detailed beyond what can be reasonably expected of voters, and yet cannot be changed except by another vote.

Finally, Measure R would essentially kill the progress we’re now making for a green downtown. The increased requirements from LEED Gold to LEED Platinum stipulated in Measure R make such investments financially prohibitive, thereby eliminating 1300 units from proposed housing.

According to an independent report, the loss of that housing has a domino effect which

  • harms the potential for local businesses and economic growth,
  • decreases potential for taxes and total fees of nearly $5 million, including a loss of a potential $2,600,000 to SOSIP (Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan), and
  • most importantly, derails our Climate Action Plan, a key element of which is to build a concentrated downtown area, near public transport, with services in walking distance.

Will progress really stop? Some projects are already stopped because of the mere threat of Measure R. The downtown hotel and office project for the Bank of America lot has been put on hold, and the developer of the 302-unit Berkeley Plaza, says that the project cannot happen if Measure R passes.

Crafted by a tiny clique of authors, complex and inflexible, requiring a new vote of the people to change the smallest detail, and derailing our green downtown, Measure R must be defeated. Vote NO on Measure R.

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Diz Swift is a lecturer on climate change and public policy and a Berkeley Public Works Commissioner.