Op-ed: Vote no on Measure R — it’s a misleading initiative

Most of us want a new downtown; why are we asked over and over to keep the old one? Why do we have to fight another misleading initiative — Measure R?

After years of debate on a plan to revitalize our downtown, we had the first initiative campaign to stop it, and a subsequent election, in which the plan was approved overwhelmingly by voters in every precinct in Berkeley. It provided for a new green downtown with new housing for people of all incomes and for a few taller buildings. Now that the award-winning plan is beginning to become a reality, the same people who opposed it before are again using a misleading initiative process to try to stop it – Measure R. Who are they?

The opponents of positive change downtown are strange bedfellows. They include: a few old-time progressives who view developers as evil money-makers to be thwarted whenever possible; some historic preservationists who want to preserve any building older than 40 years no matter its architectural merits or its inappropriateness for the needs of today; idealists or magical thinkers who believe that developers will build lots of affordable housing here no matter how many obstacles and financial demands are made on them; and residents who think Berkeley was perfect when they arrived and nothing should change.

Combined, these are a small minority in Berkeley, but they are evidently determined to keep trying to overturn the will of the majority who want a vibrant, green and exciting downtown neighborhood that provides new economic activity, new housing for people of all incomes, and millions in tax revenues that would be generated to beautify downtown and help the city and our schools.

These opponents of change use the initiative process because they cannot get their way through the regular decision processes. The current plan for downtown they wish to overturn had seven years of process including 200 public meetings and many reports, studies and presentations as various draft plans were publicly reviewed. These preceded the voter measure that was approved by a huge majority.

The vocal minority’s measure R had NO public vetting, NO feasibility testing, No public workshops, and NO environmental review. If the detailed zoning and building controls in the initiative are adopted, the many unworkable provisions cannot be changed or amended by the Council in contrast to normal processes.

The dozens of pages of zoning language and other requirements assure that there will be costly litigation for years while the downtown economy languishes and the lack of much needed new housing leads to rent increases in existing buildings.

Measure R tries to mislead voters by throwing in popular issues already solved — like saving the Post Office — and additional green building requirements so stringent that no one could afford to build anything: clearly their intent.

After the previous long battle with the naysayers, Berkeleyans overwhelmingly decided a new downtown for all of us was a good idea. Don’t let this same small group take this away from us with their misleading, inflexible and destructive initiative.

Vote No on Measure R.

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Dorothy Walker is a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.