Category Archives: Real estate

Berkeley rental rates skyrocket, causing headaches for students and those on middle incomes

An apartment for rent on Spruce Street. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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This is the second in a Berkeleyside series on housing. Read our first story on short term rentals.

The heated economy has pushed Berkeley rental rates significantly higher this past year, a jump of anywhere from 10% to 30.9%, depending on which study you look at, forcing some students to double and triple up in mini-dorm-like situations, and middle-class workers to stretch to meet their rents.

At the same time, technology workers and those in finance or other well-paying professions are snapping up luxury apartments that can cost from $2,500 a month for a studio to $5,400 for a three-bedroom, two-bath pad.

“The problem is that we are an extremely desirable community,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “With high rents in San Francisco a lot of people choose to be here. As a consequence we have huge demand.” … Continue reading »

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Short-term rentals are squeezing out Berkeley renters

The owners of this rent-controlled apartment complex at 3100 College Ave. are renting out three of its apartments on Airbnb. Berkeley law does not allow rentals shorter than 14 days. Photo: Melati
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In late January, Daniel Moore came home to his apartment in a 12-unit complex on College Avenue to find there was a new keypad lock on the front gate.

Moore, who had been living at 3100 College for 12 years, didn’t have the combination to the keypad. He was locked out of his own building.

That was just the first of a series of mysterious changes to the apartment complex, alterations that his landlords never told him about. Suddenly, washer and dryer units were installed on every landing. New couches appeared in the hallways.

Then Moore started hearing loud noises from the unit above him. It appeared as if a family of five had moved in suddenly and the kids were stomping on the new stone kitchen floor. That family moved out, but was replaced by others, people who stayed up until 3 a.m.

It turns out that three units in Moore’s rent-controlled building had been converted into short-term rentals through online rental company Airbnb.

“Airbnb has replaced our quiet environment with noise, anxiety and the nuisance of a steady flow of transients who have no investment in living here,” Moore wrote in a letter he sent to the City Council and the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board.” … Continue reading »

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Artist Rich Black gives Berkeley’s UC Theatre a new mural

Rich Black mural 5/22/15 Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Rich Black, the artist and muralist known for his high-impact art, has spent the last few days painting an eye-catching mural on the front of the UC Theatre at 2036 University Ave.

Black, who is probably best known for the murals adorning the front of the Ashby Theater (on Ashby and Martin Luther King Jr. Way), spelled out “SUPPORT” in huge yellow letters against a black background at the emerging UC Theatre. He interspersed the phrases “Employment,” Education,” and “Music” in between the letters.

Black is the creative force behind all the marketing material, programs and literature produced by Berkeley’s Shotgun Players who are based at Ashby Stage. (Watch a Berkeleyside video about Black made in 2011.) He paints the entire wall of the theater every time it puts on a new production — adapting a design he has devised to promote the play to fit the large expanse of the building’s façade. He is also the author of the flipbook, “Futura, L’Art d R. Black”
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Real estate

New Berkeley Humane shelter plans approved

Project renderings of the proposed Berkeley Humane building on Ninth Street. Image: Noll & Tam Architects
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Berkeley Humane won approval last week to construct a new facility on Ninth Street, and the organization is hoping to get the community involved to help make the project a reality.

The city’s Zoning Adjustments Board approved the permit for the new building May 14 to allow demolition of the agency’s existing facility and future construction of a new 2-story, 13,211-square-foot replacement building at the same location, 2700 Ninth St. in West Berkeley. The permit was approved on consent, and neither board members nor members of the public discussed the project during the meeting.

The approval comes five years after a deadly fire destroyed most of the existing building, killing 15 cats. Since reopening in 2011, the nonprofit — officially named the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society Inc. — has operated out of only a small portion of the salvaged building. … Continue reading »

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With Harold Way EIR approval on hold pending new design, Berkeley officials to consider community benefits

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
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After two recent discussions regarding the environmental impact analysis for a tall building proposed at 2211 Harold Way, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board agreed Thursday to delay action pending new plans expected from developers.

City staff told the zoning board at its May 14 meeting that the developer is modifying plans in response to Design Review Committee feedback in April. Staff said that, rather than move ahead to certify the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), it would be better to “take a step back” and wait to learn about the project’s most recent iteration. Staff will complete a report about the project revisions and environmental analysis, and the final EIR will not come back to the board until the staff report is complete.

City planner Shannon Allen said she hopes to bring back the EIR for consideration at the end of June, followed by the community benefits and project entitlements package for Harold Way at the end of July.

The Berkeley City Council, too, is in the process of considering new policies related to the community benefits required of large projects downtown — including 2211 Harold Way — under the city’s Downtown Area Plan. That topic is slated to be back before council next Tuesday, May 26.

Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli have suggested several new guidelines, including a $100 fee per square foot for residential portions of buildings 76-120 feet tall; a $150-per-square-foot fee for that portion above 120 feet; the requirement of a project labor agreement; and voluntary on-site benefits related to arts and culture that must be approved by council. Under the proposal, the developer could get fee discounts related to the labor agreement and voluntary benefits, and “The remainder would be paid into a City fund to be used for affordable housing and arts and culture benefits.” … Continue reading »

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7-story building, no parking, proposed on Telegraph

At right: a rendering of a 7-story building proposed on Telegraph to take the place of The Village. Image: Pyatok Architects
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A quaint shopping mall on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue — the site of restaurants Norikonoko, Finfiné, Koryo and Fondue Fred — along with the adjacent electronics shop, have been proposed for demolition to make way for a 76-unit 7-story mixed-use building without parking.

According to the developer, “many of the tenants” that operate on the property — called “The Village” — have said they might simply close rather than try to find new locations elsewhere.

The developer said in project documents, submitted to the city April 21, that the units will be marketed to students, couples and young professionals alike. A proposed rooftop deck fronting on Telegraph will offer residents “sweeping views of the bay,” along with “a variety of seating, shading, planting and other amenities.”

The developer plans to include 11% affordable units on site for people making 50% of the area median income, or $32,550 ($37,200 for a couple). “Prominent retail storefront” is planned on Telegraph, with a lobby and lounge proposed on Blake Street for tenants of the residential units. A bike storage room is set to include one bike space for each unit, but no vehicle parking is proposed.  … Continue reading »

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Housing, restaurant, garage planned at Spenger’s lot

A rendering of what 1900 Fourth St. may one day look like. Image: TCA Architects
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The owners of an empty lot on Fourth Street that’s a designated city landmark related to Ohlone Indian archeological remains have applied to build a mixed-use development on the site, adding to a burst of similar building in West Berkeley.

The move was expected after a recent archeological investigation of the property at 1900 Fourth, across the street from Spenger’s restaurant and used as a parking lot, failed to find anything of significance, according to a report commissioned by property owners, developers Ruegg & Ellsworth.

Read more about West Berkeley.

The 2014 investigation was the most recent chapter in a long, contentious debate about the history of the land and the boundaries of the well-documented West Berkeley Shellmound, a 30-foot-high hill of discarded shells, bones and other debris from years of Ohlone activity. … Continue reading »

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City may boost affordable housing with density bonus

This proposed four-story, 23-unit project on San Pablo Avenue is partially funded by Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund. Image: HKIT Architects
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The city of Berkeley is looking at how to build up its affordable housing stock by giving developers an alternative to a state law that grants them extra density in exchange for including affordable units on site.

Under the proposal, from Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli, developers of rental housing seeking a density bonus would not have to include below-market-rate units in their projects. They would instead pay new fees that could potentially bring millions into the city’s Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing, Bates said.

The state density bonus allows developers who include 11% below-market-rate units meeting very-low-income standards to add 35% more units to the project. Council previously created a $20,000-per-unit fee for developers who prefer not to include affordable units on site and do not seek the density bonus. But most projects that have come before the city have elected to take the bonus — to get the extra units — which has meant that little money has come into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: How to get more affordable housing in Berkeley

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One of the most contentious issues facing Berkeley is how to require developers to help provide affordable housing. We are proposing a new approach.

Everyone agrees we face a critical shortage of affordable housing, but what’s the best way to increase it?

Under current City law, developers of market-rate rental housing projects are required to pay an “affordable housing mitigation fee” into the Housing Trust Fund, which funds affordable housing in Berkeley. There was considerable debate when we voted with … Continue reading »

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Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers

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The city of Berkeley is crafting a new law to require private developers of many buildings to spend 1% of their construction costs on public art.

Under a recommendation put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and approved in concept by the Berkeley City Council at its March 17 meeting, the “private percent for public art” legislation would apply to all new commercial and industrial buildings, and residential buildings with at least five units, except for projects in downtown Berkeley. The one-time fee would pay for publicly accessible art on-site, or the developer could instead pay into a new city pot for public art.

At the same meeting, council expanded the city’s definition of art to include installations, performance and social practice works, and other types of original displays. Continue reading »

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Old Berkeley animal shelter to become live-work units

A photo simulation of 2013 Second St. Image: Levy Design Partners
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A new live-work project for artists and craftspeople has been approved in West Berkeley by the zoning board, to take the place of the city’s old municipal animal shelter, which closed in 2012.

The project, at 2013 Second St., was unanimously approved April 9 by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, with no one speaking against the proposal.

The four-story, 26,500-square-foot building would include 19 one-bedroom live-work rental units of approximately 1,000 square feet each. It is also set to include one vehicle and one bike parking spot per unit. According to the project staff report, “A large landscaped courtyard will provide shared work/live open space for the residents.” The old animal shelter would be demolished to make way for the new project.

Read more about West Berkeley.

The building is the latest to win approval in the increasingly busy neighborhood, where the nearby Grocery Outlet, at University Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, is set to be demolished and replaced by a large housing complex (152 units), and plans are underway at 800 University (between Fifth and Sixth streets) for a five-story building (58 units). In recent years, new apartment developments have gone up nearby at Fourth & U (171 units) and The Avalon (99 units), which opened last May.

City staff noted last week that there aren’t very many live-work complexes in Berkeley. The West Berkeley Plan — from 1993 — put the number at about 2% of the area’s housing, but also noted that the city had no comprehensive directory of those properties.

Chris Hoff, who owns the Second Street property with his brother Greg, said theirs is the first project of its kind to come to the city in more than a decade.

“We want to run a great artist, ‘maker’ community,” he told the board. “We think it’s a great idea.” … Continue reading »

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Most expensive home for sale in Berkeley is private oasis

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The newly listed five-bedroom home on Tanglewood Road in Berkeley’s Claremont neighborhood has the distinction of being the most expensive home currently for sale in Berkeley (we don’t count the $21 million home for sale also in Berkeley’s 94705 zip code, as it is technically in Oakland).

While it is priced at $4.25 million, it is also worth knowing that the home’s owners spent around $2.5 million totally rebuilding the house after they bought it 13 years ago — a two-year process which has resulted in a stunning spot, one that has served the family of six who have dwelt there very well.

In fact, it was the 17-year-old son of the family, one of four children, who, on first seeing the original property at 25 Tanglewood, designed by noted local architect Hans Ostwald, exclaimed, “I don’t deserve to live in a house like this!” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley officials seek feedback on ‘community benefits’

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
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The Berkeley City Council has launched a public discussion on what sort of benefits are required by developers who hope to construct tall buildings downtown, with two meetings focused on the topic in the next few weeks.

The conversation about “significant community benefits” generally comes up before the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, but that panel has struggled to determine whether tall building proposals it has reviewed meet current city guidelines. That’s because those guidelines, set out within Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, are more of a menu of suggestions, rather than concrete items that can be checked off a list.

Crafters of that plan have said the city wanted to offer flexibility to developers to work with the community to come up with the right mix of benefits. But, so far, the lack of specificity has made it difficult for various stakeholders to agree on what developers should bring to the table.

Last week, council took public comment on the topic at its regular Tuesday night meeting, but did not itself much discuss the issue. Mayor Tom Bates — whose office is spearheading the new talks in collaboration with council members Jesse Arreguín, Laurie Capitelli and Darryl Moore — announced a special council meeting May 5 at 7 p.m. for that discussion to take place.

Separately, Councilman Arreguín also has scheduled a workshop on the subject, from 7-9 p.m. this Wednesday, April 15, in Live Oak Park’s Fireside Room. The workshop will focus on the general framework of community benefits, not specific projects, and attendees will be asked to rank the categories of benefits that matter most to them.  … Continue reading »

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