Op-ed: Affordable housing or Honda parking?

1berkeleyhondaandstreetlandsm
The site of the planned Berkeley Honda with parking area across Shattuck Avenue, in the foreground. Photo: Charles Siegel

Berkeley has two proposals for development at a location in a Priority Development Area (PDA), which the city has designated for new housing near transit.

  • One proposal would create affordable housing, would modify the street to make it more attractive to pedestrians, and would add a protected bike lane.
  • The other proposal would create a lot for parking and for Berkeley Honda vehicle display. It would make it impossible to make the street more pedestrian friendly or to add a protected bike lane.

Which would you choose?

The Zoning Adjustment Board (ZAB) has chosen Honda parking and auto display. In all fairness, this is less ZAB’s fault than it is the fault of a city process that does not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

The proposal for affordable housing is being developed in the Adeline Corridor Plan. ZAB is charged with approving or rejecting proposed developments, and it approved Berkeley Honda’s proposal without even considering the potential impact on the Adeline Corridor Plan.


The City Council has the job of balancing all these interests. Now that the neighborhood has appealed the ZAB decision, I think the council should reject the Honda proposal and uphold the city’s and the state’s commitment to fighting global warming by concentrating new housing in PDAs.

At very least, the council should refer the issue back to the ZAB, telling them to consider Berkeley Honda’s impact on the Adeline Corridor Plan, so we can make a well-informed decision rather than simply ignoring its impact on the corridor.

Should this land be used for affordable housing or for Honda parking and inventory display?

The ZAB focused on Berkeley Honda’s proposal to relocate to the building at 2777 Shattuck Ave., which used to be occupied by Any Mountain and by the Berkeley Bowl, and it considered the triangular parking lot across the street to be a minor part of the project. But as you can see in the photograph above, the triangular parking lot and adjacent street land are as important as 2777 Shattuck (the yellow building in the background).

The Adeline Corridor plan has identified two alternatives for this block, and both involve narrowing the street to create an opportunity site for affordable housing on this underused land. In the maps below, from the Adeline Corridor draft plan, the areas in purple are street land that could be combined with the triangular parking lot to create an opportunity site for affordable housing. If a non-profit housing developer purchased the triangular parking lot, the city could vacate the unneeded street land, making it economically possible to develop affordable housing on the site.

Both options for this block would combine street land (in purple) and the triangular parking lot to create an opportunity site for affordable housing

But ZAB said that Berkeley Honda must use this triangular parking lot for off-street parking and for displaying its inventory, which would make it impossible to use the unneeded street width of Adeline to develop housing.

ZAB also said that cars would be delivered using the part of Adeline next to this triangle, which would probably prevent us from narrowing Adeline or even adding a protected bike-lane on this side of Adeline. Because cars are delivered to dealers on huge double-decker trucks, they must be delivered on this wide part of Adeline; the trucks could not make deliveries on the other adjacent streets without stopping traffic.

2adelineshattuckmap
Proposals for the Shattuck-Adeline area in question

In keeping with its mandate to consider the proposed Berkeley Honda development proposal, ZAB did not consider the alternative use of the site proposed in the Adeline Corridor draft plan. Neither ZAB nor the Design Review Committee had any discussions about potential conflicts of Berkeley Honda with the Adeline Corridor plan.

Now that an appeal has been filed, it is up to the council to look at these broader issues and to decide whether it is more important to use this site for affordable housing or for Honda parking and inventory display.

It seems clear to me that the city should use the site for affordable housing, following city policies, Plan Bay Area, and the state law SB 375, which all say we should concentrate new housing in Priority Development Areas near transit to help control global warming. The city has already designated this location as a Priority Development Area, and we should follow up on this commitment by building housing here.

But if the council feels it needs more information before making this decision, it should refer the project back to ZAB and ask ZAB to provide findings about how Berkeley Honda’s proposal will affect the Adeline Corridor Plan’s proposal to develop affordable housing and a protected bike lane in this location. The council should not make a final decision that would stop affordable housing here without getting all the facts from the ZAB first.

Finally, let’s dispose of one red herring that has gotten in the way of dealing sensibly with Berkeley’s Honda’s proposal. Auto sales are a large source of sales taxes for Berkeley, and Berkeley Honda has claimed that this is the only site in the city where Honda can locate, because other possible sites are within ten miles of existing Honda dealerships and state law prohibits them from locating there. The location that ZAB approved is also within 10 miles of existing dealerships, but Berkeley Honda is grandfathered in at this location, because it was already located within 10 miles of these dealerships.

In reality, state law does not prohibit a new dealership from locating with ten miles of existing dealerships. It just says that the existing dealerships can file a protest with the California New Motor Vehicles Board, which could lead to a public hearing. But the dealership that protests would have to show good cause at the hearing for preventing the move. In the past, less than 10% of dealerships that have filed this sort of protest have succeeded in preventing the move.

So let’s put Berkeley Honda in west Berkeley, where it belongs. Let’s not put a lot for parking and inventory display in this location in a Priority Development Area, where we should be developing affordable housing in a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood near transit as part of our effort to control global warming.

Visit Charles Siegel’s website about the Adeline Corridor.

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. Email submissions as Word documents or embedded in the email to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Charles Siegel is a long-time Berkeley resident and an environmental and labor activist.