Misinformation that circulated over the last few weeks has whipped up a frenzy of worry for people who live near the North Berkeley BART station that a high-rise, high-rent apartment tower was proposed for the parking lot.
The rumors are not true. There is no current plan or proposal for housing construction at North Berkeley BART, according to City Councilwoman Linda Maio, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and BART spokesman Chris Filippi.
There is a public meeting scheduled Thursday for neighbors to discuss whether the location is suitable for development, however. The meeting is solely for informational purposes and to get community feedback, the officials said. The meeting is scheduled at the Berkeley Adult School multipurpose room from 7 to 9 p.m. (While the school is at 1701 San Pablo Ave., the entrance to the room is at the intersection of Curtis and Francisco streets.)
Filippi confirmed in an email Tuesday that the transit agency has no project or development concept proposed for the parking lot. Arreguín issued a similar statement in a recent newsletter to the community.
Maio said she called for the meeting weeks ago because she knew there was a great interest in what she described as an affordable housing crisis in Berkeley and possible plans to build on the BART parking lot. One of the reasons she decided to call a meeting was to head off any worries about imminent development on the lot, she said.
“I was trying to avoid having everyone go crazy. That didn’t work out,” she said.
Maio and a group of volunteers went door-to-door, visiting people who lived within a block of the station to let them know that if anything went forward regarding the parking lot they would be contacted, she said. She then scheduled the meeting to further inform the public.
The meeting will begin with a presentation from Maio and the mayor addressing issues including escalating housing prices, the councilwoman said. Next, BART Director Rebecca Saltzman will make a presentation with visuals about BART’s general guidelines for development.
A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. Representatives of AC Transit will also be on hand to answer questions, said Maio.
The misinformation appears to have stemmed from a Feb. 20 tweet sent by East Bay for Everyone, a pro-housing organization. The tweet included a scale model of North Berkeley BART with four blocks representing buildings. One building was labeled, “300 units, 31 stories.”
Come celebrate our second birthday at Spats tonight and you can see this amazing scale model of North Berkely Bart! pic.twitter.com/cwM66kPE07
— East Bay for Everyone (@eb4everyone) February 21, 2018
Greg Magofna of East Bay for Everyone said his organization received a storm of responses to the tweet. Magofna said the scale model was intended as an amusement for the group to play with during its second-anniversary party.
In the Twitter feed, Magofna responded to questions, “This is NOT a proposal.”
The photograph was reproduced on a flyer circulated by a group that identified itself as Friends of North Berkeley BART. The photograph was captioned, “BART, the Mayor and our Councilmember will present on the suitability of North Berkeley BART for housing. The proposed project: four buildings, including a high-rise high-rent apartment tower.”
The Daily Planet also reproduced the image and stated, “This shows the scale model of what YIMBYs would like to build in Berkeley. Yes, that’s a 31-story building.”
But the scale model is a fake. In a recent newsletter, Arreguín said, “While a community group has circulated a rendering, it is their conceptual plan and is not being put forward by the city of Berkeley, BART or any housing developer.” A representative of the mayor confirmed that Arreguín was referring to the East Bay for Everyone tweet.
Concern about what would happen at the BART parking lot was further exacerbated when Assemblymen David Chiu of San Francisco and Timothy Grayson of Concord introduced a bill, AB 2923, that would require the BART board to adopt new transit-oriented development guidelines establishing minimum local zoning requirements for BART parcels larger than a quarter-acre and located within a half-mile of a BART station.
The bill, which is pending, would also require the BART board, when local zoning is inconsistent with the transit-oriented guidelines after a two-year period, to approve local zoning standards for any BART-owned land within a half-mile of a BART station.
Another bill, SB 827, would eliminate restrictions, with some limitations, on the number of houses that can be built within a half-mile of BART and within a quarter-mile of major bus routes, including Muni and AC Transit. The bill would also block cities from mandating parking requirements.
Arreguín had initially expressed strong opposition to SB 827 but softened his stance after displacement protections were introduced. In a recent editorial published in the Chronicle, Arreguín said that while it’s important to incentivize cities to build more housing, it must be done in a way that doesn’t further divide people economically or force low-income people to commute longer and longer distances.
In the editorial, the mayor expressed concerns about displacement and suggested that one way to strengthen eviction protections would be to mirror Berkeley’s strong demolition policy. This policy requires relocation assistance to tenants until the new building is built and explicitly prohibits eviction from properties where there has been an Ellis Act eviction in the last five years.
The two bills have given rise to concerns within Berkeley communities about the possibility of local zoning laws being overridden.
Kristin Leimkuhler, a neighbor of the North Berkeley BART station, said she knows there is no specific proposal for the parking lot but she worries about the lack of local control.
“I have been learning more and more about how this new Senate bill is going to take control out of our local approval process,” Leimkuhler said. Currently, local zoning laws and Zoning Adjustments Board procedures allow the community to make its wishes known. The new laws may strip that ability to interact.
“This is a huge unknown coming at us extremely quickly and we’re not prepared,” said Leimkuhler, who planned to attend Thursday’s meeting. She estimated that around 200 people might show up.