Berkeley seeks residents’ help to simplify zoning documents

Berkeley’s zoning rules are complicated and daunting to the average reader. The city wants to make it easier to understand the laws.

Old City Hall. Photo by Melati Citrawireja

To the average reader, skimming a city land-use ordinance can feel like trying to read ancient Greek. That’s why Berkeley officials are asking residents for their help simplifying the language of the city’s zoning ordinance, according to a press release from the city.

The survey asks respondents to rate how easily they understand the zoning ordinance, how well the zoning ordinance is organized and how quickly they can find important information.

“As it stands now, only the most seasoned experts can be sure they are correctly interpreting the current Zoning Ordinance,” said Jordan Klein, interim director of the Department of Planning and Development, in an email. “It works to the disadvantage of small property owners trying to do projects themselves.”

The zoning ordinance revision project won’t change Berkeley’s zoning laws; it’ll just make them easier to understand. The project is one of Berkeley’s strategic plan initiatives to increase access and transparency in local government, the release says. The planning department itself has been working to simplify and streamline its processes since 2017.


As it stands, the zoning ordinance is “overly complicated and poorly organized, and uses language that is outdated, too technical or confusing for everyday people,” Klein said. His office receives daily questions that “run the gamut from how tall a fence can be to whether a new multi-family housing development is permitted on a vacant lot,” he added, and recently many residents have asked about accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

The survey closes Sept. 30. The city will hold online office hours to discuss the project on Sept. 23 and 29, the release says.

After the survey ends, the city will schedule a public hearing and send the revised document to the City Council for approval. That could be as soon as Nov. 4, but it depends on what kind of feedback the office receives, Klein said.

Eden Teller is a contributing reporter for Berkeleyside. Email: eden@berkeleyside.com.