Op-ed: True green not green-washed, we must support Measure R

I am supporting Measure R 2014 Green Downtown Initiative for the following reasons:

In 2010, Berkeley voters overwhelmingly approved Measure R, but our City Council has not delivered on its promises.  Here is how the measure read:  

“Shall the City of Berkeley adopt policies to revitalize the downtown and help make Berkeley one of the greenest cities in the United States by meeting our climate action goals; concentrating housing, jobs and cultural destinations near transit, shops and amenities; preserving historic resources; enhancing open space; promoting green buildings; and calling for 2 residential buildings and 1 hotel no taller than our existing 180 foot buildings and 2 smaller office buildings up to 120 feet?”

Unless you read the fine print you would not have known that, while the added height and density were guaranteed to developers, the ONLY way environmental and community benefits would be obtained is if the developers voluntarily elected to deliver them via the “Green Pathway” permitting process.

NOT ONE developer has elected the “Green Pathway”  As a result, large developments are moving forward in Downtown without the benefits promised in 2010’s Measure R.  Even the pro-development organization, Livable Berkeley agrees.  They lamented these failures in a letter sent to City Council when the Acheson Commons project was approved.

Under the current plan, buildings can be developed with ZERO parking — rendering the buildings inaccessible to individuals with disabilities or limited mobility. There are also no required spaces for Car Share vehicles or electric car charging; and there isn’t even a requirement for providing bike parking to residents!

The “Green Pathway” was supposed to deliver an additional 20% affordable housing above the 10% currently required city-wide. That hasn’t happened. And it requires local hire and fair wages for construction and hotel workers. We aren’t getting that either!

Developers for the taller downtown buildings are promising they will be constructed to LEED Gold standards. That’s not good enough. The low standard of LEED Gold designation can be obtained simply by building in a transit-rich location like Berkeley’s Downtown. We were promised “green buildings” so increasing the standard to LEED platinum for the five tallest buildings only will deliver true “green” construction and benefits, reflect Berkeley’s values and help us meet our Climate Action and Zero Waste Goals.

The things we were promised in passing Measure R in 2010 have not been delivered and WILL NOT be delivered. With, of course, the exception of having tall buildings gracing our downtown.

From my experience, and I have been on all sides of the real estate and development business, it is true that some developers may choose to fold up their tents and go home, but there will certainly be others who are willing and excited to build. The City’s own report clearly states that significant building will continue under the 2014 Measure R, especially in light of rapidly rising rents. And these developments will reap acceptable profits and provide the benefits voters were promised and the community deserves.

The Council majority is protesting so-called “ballot box zoning,” yet it placed 10 pages of zoning code on the ballot in 2012 as Measure T, the West Berkeley Plan. And that is also what the 2010 Downtown Plan did – create special zoning for downtown.  City Council can’t have it both ways.

2014’s Measure R will also create a much needed historic district zoning overlay for the downtown that will save our civic commons from commercial development.  Not only is our post office in danger but also our old City Hall, and other historic and civic buildings.  If Berkeley values its legacy in art, architecture and public civic space, we need to reserve our historic Civic Center for public serving uses.

Finally, let’s address the topic of “lost revenue.” Should every single one of the high-rise and dense buildings throughout ALL of downtown be constructed, the revenue is estimated at only $1.3M per year.  At the same time, the city will incur infrastructure and other costs related to 1,300 new units and the 2,500 new inhabitants that will be housed in our downtown. That calculation has never been considered.

Back in 2010 there were those of us who believed the Downtown Plan would not deliver the environmental and community benefits that it promised. And we were right – the 2010 Downtown Plan “greenwashed” the right to develop tall buildings – and did nothing to “help make Berkeley one of the greenest cities in the United States”.

Berkeley voters did not get what they voted for. 2014’s Measure R will deliver the benefits we thought we were getting while making our new downtown truly green, and not merely “green-washed.”

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Jacquelyn McCormick is the President of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association and a candidate for City Council in District 8. She has over 25 years of experience in commercial real estate and is a neighborhood and community activist.