Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all
Mini-dorms, the Silent (up to now) Issue that Affects Most Residential Areas in Berkeley
When the great economic downturn of 2007 began and development funds were cut off by the banks, some developers found a way to maximize their dollars by purchasing a single family home with three or four bedrooms, adding more bedrooms (as many as 19 in one case) and renting to UC students. The City simply issued over-the-counter building permits, so no one knew what was happening until construction began. When asked why, City Staff responded that Berkeley's Zoning Ordinance does not limit how many bedrooms a housing unit can have.
These Mini-dorms were happening all over, from R-1 in the hills, to R-2 in the flats, to R-3 near the campus. The unfortunate results of a Mini-dorm in a residential neighborhood were increased noise from late night parties, street parking congestion and greater amounts of garbage and trash in front of the Mini-dorm as well as in the neighborhood.
Because of these problems, neighbors vigorously appealed a Mini-dorm project at 2133 Parker Street to the City Council. That project was stopped because so many people attended the council meeting and voiced their strong opinions. The community recognized that Mini-dorm properties were popping up in many neighborhoods and they pushed to have a voice in establishing a process to control Mini-dorms through revisions to the Zoning Ordinance. The results of this advocacy caused the City Council to refer the issue to the Planning Commission, asking the Commission to propose appropriate code changes regarding Mini-dorms.
Neighborhoods, determined to work together, formed the Southside Neighborhood Consortium, consisting of the Clark Kerr Neighbors, The Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association, LeConte Neighborhood Association, Stuart Street Neighbors, Willard Neighborhood Association, The Bateman Neighborhood, and Dwight Hillside Neighborhood Association. The Planning Commission held several meetings focused on Mini-dorms and a public hearing on April 3, 2013.
The Consortium researched the issue of Mini-dorm proliferation in other college towns. Of those cities studied, they determined that San Luis Obispo (SLO), California had the best ordinance to deal with the problems. An ordinance for Berkeley was written based on the SLO ordinance and was presented to the Planning Commission. However, The Planning Department Staff opposed sending this proposed ordinance to the City Council and instead presented their own recommendations to the Commission.
The Consortium reviewed the Staff recommendations and found them lacking in controlling the Mini-dorm problem in these main areas:
More details of all of the city's discussion on the mini-dorm issue can be found on the city's website by going to the Council's July 16, 2013 agenda and reading Item 46.
The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council commends the Clark Kerr Neighbors, the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association, LeConte Neighborhood Association, Stuart Street Neighbors, Willard Neighborhood Association, The Bateman Neighborhood and Dwight Hillside Neighborhood Association for working together on this important issue affecting most residential areas in Berkeley. We also salute the Planning Commission and City Council for their actions regarding the Mini-dorm issue to date. Future BNC eNEWS issues will bring updates regarding Mini-dorms.