The city process for the project at 2211 Harold Way is closing in on three years. In December 2012 the first application was submitted and the project is currently scheduled for another Zoning Board hearing on September 30, 2015.
I love Berkeley. I love its quirky charms and I love the passion that older generations have for their community. But enough is enough. The endless delays are amounting to a housing status quo that not only affects the ability of Berkeley to grow with the extant flood of talent and innovation, but is also a de facto barrier to cultural and economic diversity. I find it jarring that a community so proud of its history of fighting for rights of all people would then continue to obstruct the very instrument that will allow for population growth, new economic opportunities and increased community diversity.
During this three-year period the project has had in excess of 30 meetings, including many design review committee hearings where the project design was changed in order to accommodate requests and concerns of the City and the public. This includes the addition of new theaters, which was not a part of the original design. The fact remains that the reason theaters were not included in the original design is because the revenue received from the theaters does not compensate for the construction costs. The theaters will never be able to compensate the owner at a market rate. This point is even clearer when you consider the letter dated April 15, 2013 from Landmark Theaters that clearly states that the current theaters’ model is not financially viable.
With all the scrutiny this project has undergone, there are some who continue to manufacture new “concerns.” A never-ending list of “concerns” continues to delay and delay in the hopes that somehow this will derail the project. As a downtown Berkeley resident, a downtown Berkeley employer and a design professional with no vested interest in the project, I am disturbed at the message that this unreasonable process sends to the larger community. Most of my employees cannot find an acceptable range of housing in Berkeley and have been forced to move their families to other communities, along with their associated taxes and potential support for Berkeley’s small businesses.
It’s time for the City Council and its appointees on the Zoning Board to put an end to this madness. Downtown Berkeley is poised for a rebirth and this project is a key piece. The citywide referendum that passed the Downtown Area Plan in 2012 and the subsequent rejection of Measure R in 2014 were both clear messages that the people of this city will not tolerate the continued deterioration of the standard of living that we have seen in the past.
It is time for the city to move. Three years is long enough to debate all the details of the project. September 30 is hopefully the last Zoning Board hearing, and I urge you to finally approve this project. Do not continue to give in to the petty games being waged by the purveyors of the past failed policies. Their legacy is the current housing dilemma which is a direct result of years of no growth policies. Do not close the door on a new generation making Berkeley their home in a vibrant transit oriented downtown. After two votes of 64% and 74% in favor of the Downtown Area Plan, and 32 community meetings it is time to move ahead on this Harold Way project.
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