Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all
by creating a unified neighborhood voice
for promoting livability and resolving problems

 

Neighborhood News, Round and About

BNC wants to hear about your neighborhood news, so please send your good and bad news with your name and phone number to newsletter@berkeleyneighborhoodscouncil.com.  BNC will publish articles from neighborhoods in your own words, but we ask you to keep each article to around 800 to 900 words.  BNC exists to support neighborhoods, help solve problems and facilitate communication from one neighborhood to another.  One way or the other, we are all in this together.

Café Mokka

On January 28, 2010, the Council upheld a Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) decision to approve construction of a 38-unit (average unit size 966 sq. ft., 2 bedrooms), 5 story mixed-use building with a little over 4,000 sq. ft. of ground floor commercial at the corner of Telegraph and Ashby.  Four stories were allowed, but five stores were approved because 6 units would be reserved for low-income residents.  Besides the increased height, less useable open space and fewer parking spaces (34 for residents, 8 for the commercial uses, and 4 waived) were allowed than would be required.  It is curious that Staff, in granting a permit for this building acknowledged that the new commercial activity would generate new vehicular and pedestrian traffic and activity, but in the same report said that its commercial customers would be those already living and working in the area.

Two and a half years later, Arktegraf, Inc. received, without hearing, an Administrative Use Permit (AUP) to change about one-half of this building's commercial space from general retail to quick food service (a coffee shop), allow extended operating hours (5:30 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week) and waive the already reduced parking space requirement.

More than 50 people from the Bateman, Willard, LeConte and Halcyon Neighborhoods came to the ZAB meeting on June 27, 2013, waiting patiently until late at night to appeal the granting of this AUP and requesting that the matter be set for public hearing.  In addition to this large group, 50 letters and a petition with around 1,800 names had been sent in support of the appeal.  Twenty spoke in favor of the appeal, only 2 spoke for the café.

The neighborhoods spoke about:

  1. Inadequate Notice and Lack of Transparency to grant an AUP changing retail use to quick food service:  Affected neighbors are supposed to be notified before AUPs become final.  BNC testified that 60% of the original mailing notifying people of the proposed use had gone to the then vacant apartments in the building above the cafe.  The mailing list used for neighborhood associations was so out of date that many people told us that they didn't receive the notice.  One such person wrote the Board saying he hadn't lived at that address for years.  Also, the applicant on the original notice wasn't Starbucks.  It took neighbors' time to discover that the true applicant was Starbucks.  BNC offered to help the City improve their notification to neighborhoods groups, but that offer has been ignored.
  2. Parking and Traffic:  There was no disagreement that this area is the most heavily congested traffic area in the City.  The size of this proposed Starbucks would require 7 parking spaces.  Of the 4 spaces they are allocated in the building to this part of the commercial space, all will be reserved and locked for employee use only.  There will be 0 spaces for customer use.  Starbucks assumes that their customers will be pedestrians or park in whatever spaces exist on the street.  There was no mention of what the customers or employees of the other vacant retail space or spaces will do for parking.  Starbucks claimed they were negotiating, but hadn't finalized, reserving 3 spaces for their customers at the Chevron gas station across the very busy and dangerous intersection from the cafe.  However, it was revealed at the meeting that the Chevron station is also seeking to install a quick stop food and coffee shop on their own property.  The neighborhoods strongly contested there was adequate on-street parking available.  No parking analysis has ever been done regarding the built-out impact of the new building - which probably should have been done when the original building was first approved.  There are only 2 metered spaces around the building, the rest are driveways, and yellow and red zones.
  3. Fairness:  It was asked whether Starbucks was being given special treatment.  When Café Mokka, a short distance away on Telegraph Ave, applied for a permit, they had to go through a public hearing and were required to provide off-street customer parking spaces.  The owner of Mrs. Dalloway's, a locally owned bookstore on Collage Ave testified that she had to go through a public hearing before their permit was granted.  A permit for Quizno's was recently denied because they were one space short for customer parking.  Other examples were given, all with the message that the same consideration and process should apply to everyone.
  4. Supporting Small Local Business:  There are 10 existing coffee shops within a 6 block area with 2 more on the horizon (Starbucks and the Chevron gas station).  City land use policy states that one use should not predominate in an area and that the City should encourage and protect small, locally owned businesses like Café Mokka.  Both policies are being ignored.

The ZAB vote was close.  Five of the Board voted to dismiss the appeal and grant the permit stating that competition is good and that Berkeley already has too many vacant store fronts, even though we keep building more:  Allen; Donaldson; Massih; Stoloff; and Williams.  Four voted in support of the neighborhoods:  McDonald; O'Keefe; Pinto; and Tregub.  This decision has been appealed to the City Council and the issue will appear on the Council agenda of October 29, 2013.

Amendments to the Demolition and Dwelling Unit Controls Ordinance

Existing demolition regulations are derived from the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.  In general, they provide that to demolish a residential building, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) must find that the existing building was not repairable and that a replacement project had been approved with an equal or greater number of units.  New amendments are being proposed that in addition to a replacement project having been approved, that the demolition of a 2-unit or larger building constructed before 1980 (read rent controlled) can be approved either because the existing building is not repairable, or that it can be replaced by a project that is, but not limited to, a childcare facility or affordable housing project, for the greater good of the community, plus provisions to maintain the rents of sitting tenants in the building that is being demolished because rents in the new building can be expected to be much higher. 

Several Council meetings have been held on this subject, the most recent being July 2, 2013.  The amendments were presented by Planning Director Angstadt, who repeatedly told the Council that they would make it “easier to replace old, smaller buildings with new, larger ones.”

Some members of the Council expressed confusion about the consequences of amendments, particularly to sitting low-income tenants.  Apparently, Council Members weren't the only ones confused.  On April 3, 2013, the Planning Commission voted to send the following astounding motion to the Council.  The motion, in their exact words was to:

“request that planning staff collaborate with members of the Rent Control Board outside the Planning Commission meeting to develop a single set of demolition ordinance language revisions to present to City Council with Planning Commission support, but no vote (an unusual procedure, but proposed for the purpose of expediting Council's referral).”  (Emphasis added)

BNC has three concerns:

  1. Protecting low-income tenants in a building slated for demolition is a laudable one and we hope that acceptable language can be found.  However, we are also concerned about protecting tenants, in general, since our neighborhoods are composed of individuals and families where these older buildings have been providing comfortable and affordable housing.
  2. There is no analysis of the impacts on how the replacement of older buildings with larger, new buildings would interact with adjacent single family and smaller multi-family buildings and their yards.
  3. Conducting the public's business in public:  The Planning Commission motion to approve language, no matter that it was for a laudable goal, to be developed outside of the public view is simply wrong.

On July 2, 2013, BNC along with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Rent Stabilization Board, and Sierra Club all wrote to the Council asking for a deferral of action on these amendments.  The Council responded by referring the proposed amendments back to the Planning Commission and the Housing Advisory Commission for further consideration.

There are other projects that are troubling which have recently been brought to the attention of BNC.  These projects are located at:

  • 2701 Shattuck:
    This project consists of 70 micro-units (265 and 340 square feet including a bathroom), with an up-scale restaurant with sidewalk cafe on first floor.  There are no setbacks, no green space except on the roof and a podium deck that sits above and overlooks adjacent yards.  This project is currently going through Design Review, but the developer has said he will not lower either the number of units or the height.  Neighbors are concerned that the density of this building makes it more appropriate to the Downtown core, rather than immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood.
  • Corner of Fulton and Dwight Way:
    Approximately 77, 966 square feet 4 bedroom units on a 20,000 sq. ft. lot.  It is described as appearing to be a series of shipping containers stacked around an indoor space, with parking “to be determined.”  It has gone through 4 Design Review sessions.  A concerned neighbor has already spent $10,000 on legal fees with little real change.  The neighborhood is concerned about shadowing, design, density, and parking.

BNC welcomes comments on all of these and other issues.  Please let us know, and come to our BNC meetings.