Opinion: The City Council must work to ensure the Harold Way project gets back on track

Residents voted twice to add tall buildings to the downtown. Harold Way is a critical piece of the Downtown Plan as it will bring 300 units of housing near BART and millions to build affordable housing.

As one of three tall downtown buildings, Harold Way is a critical piece of the Downtown Plan — a plan that took years of public process to formulate and was then ratified twice by a large majority of Berkeley voters (64% in 2010 and 74% in 2014) in the two Measure R elections. Through this lengthy process, we the people of Berkeley clearly expressed our will: namely, to allow a significant amount of new homes to be built downtown, including three taller buildings.

Berkeley voters WANT and NEED more homes adjacent to our BART stations. They made this clear through the Measure R elections last decade, and more recently through strong support for homes to be built on the Ashby and North Berkeley BART station parking lots. Just this week, the BART Board of Directors unanimously ratified the MOU with Berkeley to start the process of building those new homes – but no such MOU exists for Downtown, because our community already expects the Downtown Plan to be implemented.

The recent news that the developer is pulling out of the building – supposedly because costs have run too high – is discouraging. Rather than let the project die, City Councilwoman Lori Droste said she is seeking a way to see if the project can be restructured and resurrected. Thank you, Lori, for working to implement the will of the voters of Berkeley. We call on Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the rest of the Berkeley City Council to do the same.

By resuscitating the proposed apartment building at 2211 Harold Way, Droste seeks to ensure that Berkeley does not lose 300 badly needed new homes, $10.5 million in Housing Trust funds, many more millions in community benefits, and a large number of union construction jobs.

We urge Mayor Arreguín and the Berkeley City Council to do what the voters have asked them to do: engage with the Harold Way builders to come up with a project that pencils out. If you allow this development to die, then we believe that your (in)action will not only defy Berkeley voters but will also build an even stronger case for increasing state guidelines on building, in the form of SB50 and future laws that will reduce local autonomy on land use decisions.

Let’s show the state of California and the communities around us that Berkeley continues to lead the way on climate change solutions and on providing the increased housing that most Berkeley voters so desperately want and need.

Berkeley Neighbors for Housing and Climate Action

Alex Sharenko, District 2
Andrew Doran, District 1
Ben Gould, District 4
Betsy Thagard, District 3
Chris Lee-Egan, District 1
Deborah Matthews, District 3
Jeff Hobson, District 2
Jon Lau, District 3
Laurie Capitelli, District 5
Matt Lewis, District 3
Savlan Houser, District 8
Theo Posselt, District 6
Todd Andrew, District 5