Op-ed: Measure R will kill emerging downtown renaissance

Berkeley has an international reputation as a free-thinking, expressive, welcoming and experimental city.  The current battle over the city’s downtown and November’s Measure R contradicts this image of ourselves, and in the worst possible way.

While promoted as a “soak-the-evil-developers” proposal, in reality Measure R is a thinly disguised attempt to freeze Berkeley in the past and wall off a potentially larger and more vibrant downtown to new residents. Rather than being progressive and welcoming, Measure R will keep people from living in and enjoying our great urban city. Like the anti-immigration rants of the far right, Measure R is based on exclusion and rejects inclusion.

Measure R means less housing. No matter what its proponents claim, a quick reading of the 28 page ordinance proves that any new development will quickly become muddled in unnecessary regulations, more red tape, more uncertainty and more cost.

Let’s start with the annoying:

Bars close at midnight five nights a week (in a college town, really?)

And then to the unnecessary and expensive:

One on-site automobile parking space required for every three residential units or every three hotel rooms (so much for the green downtown, now sure to be overrun with hotel guest cars)

And finally to the destructive:

Reduce height limits to 60 feet (from 75 feet currently) in the downtown core and 50 feet in the downtown buffer area, BUT

Give a bonus of 10 feet for providing extra automobile parking (wow, so green) AND

Require new in-lieu fees for projects not providing the required open space and a new fee to fund a loan program for businesses seeking to retain or create jobs in Berkeley. (These are probably unlawful under California law, but in any case they are such an aberration from norms that financiers will avoid Berkeley and developers will simply not build.)

We need to acknowledge as both a community and as Bay Area residents that we have a housing crisis and we have a moral imperative to do what is necessary to build more shelter for our friends, neighbors and children. The current rent increases experienced throughout the Bay Area threaten both our economy and our quality of life. These rent increases are especially harmful to lower-income residents, and as a result, Berkeley is becoming less welcoming and less diverse. Even our own children – those who grew up in Berkeley – will be unable to live in their hometown unless we build more housing.  Berkeley’s current downtown zoning – only a few years old and threatened by Measure R – is our best chance to begin reversing this trend through more supply and a reliable source of funding for additional affordable housing.

We need more people to live near transit, where they will have the least environmental impact and leverage the greatest economic benefits.  The most green and sustainable housing approach increases supply in downtowns and other transit-rich centers – downtown growth is green growth. The alternative is simply unacceptable:  to push development further out from our transit hubs and strain our natural resources through more sprawl, more traffic and more consumption.

Measure R is a lie – it will not create “community benefits,” because nothing of real consequence would be built. Instead Measure R will kill our emerging downtown renaissance. Berkeley voters should soundly reject this unwise and hypocritical attempt to put a fence around our progressive city.

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Anthony Bruzzone is President of Berkeley Design Advocates, a membership organization of architects, landscape architects, planners, builders and design professionals established in 1973 to promote excellence in the built environment of Berkeley.