Berkeley has a Downtown Plan. The path has not been smooth or simple, but thousands of hours, plus voter buy-in has solidly approved it.
It was a compromise – the outgrowth of hundreds of hours of public meetings that took place from 2005 to 2009 by a special Advisory Committee and the Planning Commission. This original plan, approved by City Council, was later overturned.
The 2010 ballot’s Measure R could only be advisory, but it gave Berkeley voters the opportunity to be heard, and all of Berkeley’s precincts approved a progressive plan that would adopt policies to, among other things, “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; [and] promoting green buildings.” It also included tall buildings. Jesse Arreguín campaigned against the measure. Laurie Capitelli backed it and Berkeley voters approved it with 64% of the vote.
The measure led to a revised Downtown Plan that was approved by the Planning Commission in 2011 and was finally approved by City Council on March 20, 2012. Seven years of commission hearings, quarrelsome deliberation, and a ballot measure endorsing it finally resulted in a revised Downtown Plan that garnered an 8 to 1 vote, with Kriss Worthington as the lone dissenter.
Berkeley started to move forward, assured that the people had spoken and the plan was a go. One of the plan’s finest features is a Housing Trust Fund that collects fees from developers who do not wish to include low-cost units in their own plans; they can mitigate by paying a substantial per-unit price into the fund, and Berkeley can build its own low cost housing in areas where space is at less of a premium than downtown and a dollar can go farther.
But spoiler alert – two people were just not willing to let go: Jesse Arreguín yet again, and my opponent in District 5’s City Council race, Sophie Hahn. Despite the mandate of the people and lacking any public process, they co-authored and financed a proposal of their own. 2014’s Measure R described a Berkeley that was more to their liking. It cost the city a bunch of money and was soundly defeated, 74% NO to only 26%YES.
Measure R-2014 would have stopped much of the housing planned for downtown. Because of this, the measure had some heavy-hitting opponents. As Tim Frank put it so succinctly, “The Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Greenbelt Alliance, East Bay League of Conservation Voters, the Building Trades unions and organizations representing the downtown small businesses all opposed Arreguín’s [and Hahn’s] measure.” One must ask, what’s so progressive about standing up to these groups? “Capitelli helped organize the defense of the downtown plan… And now this  election is the third in 6 years that has become a referendum on whether to build more housing in our transit-oriented downtown, and the third showdown between Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín over this subject.”
Not only is this the third contest in six years between these two mayoral candidates, the Jesse Arreguín-Sophie Hahn partnership is at it again with yet one more obstructionist proposal which they authored together on November’s City Council calendar but tabled until after the election, with something they call the Berkeley Deep Green Building Initiative. Win or lose their own elections, their feet are still in the door to block housing, yet again.
Mayoral candidate Ben Gould calls Deep Green, “A laundry list of ideas that look and sound green, but have little actual benefit for the environment. Instead, these policies would make new housing more expensive and help landowners profit off of keeping land undeveloped – a housing obstructionist’s dream.”
What’s so progressive about voting against housing? We have all seen traffic increase while rent and housing costs spiral out of control and empty storefronts checkerboard our commercial districts. Housing costs are a direct result of supply and demand. Let’s connect the dots, and use our Downtown Plan to build housing along transit corridors, foster economic development, support our infrastructure and city services, and collect fees for the Housing Trust Fund to build affordable housing for our teachers and city workers.
Vote to build housing and the sustainable green downtown that over a decade of dialogue has defined. True progressives vote to build the housing that our city so desperately needs, in order that Berkeley can sustain the diverse population and rich cultural and social life we all treasure.
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