Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

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

 

What We're Thinking About

West Berkeley Development, the Elephant in the Room

One can hardly turn around before the subject of development in West Berkeley comes up in one way or the other.  It's the Elephant in the Room that can go in any direction and it appears that the City wants to set maximum height, bulk, and density as the way to go for this area.  BNC urges that the City slow down and take another look at the zoning because we could lose the treasure of West Berkeley forever if care isn't taken.  West Berkeley is an historic neighborhood of residences, artist studios, and small business that is on the verge of an economic explosion as developers eye many opportunities for development on Gilman, San Pablo and along Fourth Street.  The area could easily and quickly be destroyed as it is consumed by tall, bulky cookie-cutter style buildings.

Let's define West Berkeley roughly as the area west of San Pablo Avenue from Albany to Emeryville.  Right now, it is divided in two at University Avenue with the northern portion in Council District 1 (Maio) and the southern portion in Council District 2 (Moore).  BNCs redistricting plan would make West Berkeley whole with its own Council representative.  So far, the Council hasn't shown any interest in such a move (see the update about Redistricting below) on the flimsy pretence that University  Avenue is a traditional dividing line that shouldn't be changed.  This reasoning is curious because it doesn't recognize that when the City Council thinks about and discusses West Berkeley, such as in the West Berkeley Area Plan and in the failed ballot Measure T, it describes West Berkeley as the whole community west of San Pablo Avenue from Albany to Emeryville.  Further, it is clear from a reading of the Plan Bay Area and statements made by such groups as the Greenbelt Alliance, that development along San Pablo is seen as a huge, show-stopping opportunity, a priority area for greater density that will perhaps because of development, transportation, and increased traffic be a far more impressive and demanding dividing line than University Avenue.  San Pablo Avenue cries out for coordinated planning across its entire length.

So, who is responsible for West Berkeley issues on the Council?  Who will protect San Pablo Avenue's abutting residential neighborhoods and small businesses?  Who will protect residents from the development that will bring inevitable rising housing and land costs and from auto and truck emissions coming from increased car and truck traffic on I-80 and San Pablo Avenue - see Outside Agencies Affect Berkeley Neighborhoods for information on a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club?  Who will protect the interests of San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley from decisions made in Emeryville, Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito and Richmond?  Who will protect Aquatic Park from the impacts of overdevelopment around its edges - see The Archstone Building and Other C-W Applications of Concern below?  Who will protect Aquatic Park from the flooding problems that have persisted for years - see the Neighborhood Watch Calendar for an update on Measure M? Who will ensure that West Berkeley's landmarks are preserved - see the next issue of BNC eNEWS, in October, regarding 740 Heinz Ave.?  Maio?  At times.  Moore? At times.  Always maybe, but no one, all or even most of the time.  That needs to change if this remarkable community is to survive as a place of diverse people, incomes, services and activities, one that retains its historic beginnings and character while serving the needs of the future.

The Archstone Building

That big yellow building you see from the freeway is The Archstone on the northwest corner of Third and Addison, at 651 Addison.  Some people thought it was part of Measure T that was defeated by the voters in 2012 so they wondered how it could be under construction now.  The answer is that this project is zoned C-W (Commercial-West Berkeley) so it wasn't part of Measure T.  It first came before the City in the design review process in late 2007, underwent an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) in 2008, received Use Permit approval from the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) on 4/9/2009 on an 8 to 1 vote.  It was appealed to the Council who dismissed the appeal on 6/23/2009 on a motion made by Moore and seconded by Wozniak, without setting it for public hearing.

The original application was for a 4-story, 50 ft high building with 94 residential units, 2 commercial spaces and 102 parking places.  In 2008, Hudson-McDonald was shown as the applicant and the building had changed to 5-stories, 60 ft high, with 94 residential units, 1,100 sq ft for general commercial, 1,484 sq ft for a quick service restaurant, serving beer and wine with sidewalk seating, and 102 parking spaces.  The extra story was allowed as a density bonus because the developer reserved 8 of the 94 units for low-income residents.  It was said around that time that Equity, the Sam Zell owned company that is currently developing the 205 unit Acheson Commons building (where Ace Hardware is located Downtown and which owns several other multi-unit buildings in Berkeley) was negotiating to purchase The Archstone.  Whether this purchase was successful is not known - see the photo of the sign that is hanging on the fence outside of the building right now.

This building abuts the railroad tracks and faces another building directly across the tracks known as Fourth and U.  We've heard plenty of complaints about the noise from the trains, particularly horns, disturbing the residents there.  It would seem that train noise and vibrations between two bulky buildings will be magnified by the buildings themselves, but no one seems very concerned about that, and we predict that problem won't  just go away.

Also, the The Archstone (and presumably 4th and U) has an air filter system.  Residents are told that they cannot open their windows a “significant amount of time” because an open window interferes with the filter system that protects them from the “low-risk” cancer causing particulates from diesel emissions mostly coming from I-80.  It is interesting to note that on 9/16/2013 under the U.S. Protection Environmental Agency requirements, air quality regulators will begin monitoring major roadways in Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose.  Right now, there are more than 30 monitors throughout the 9 Bay Area counties, but none are located close to a busy traffic corridor so that the system overlooks the risks to people who live within 300 feet of such major roads.  The Berkeley monitor will be located near I-80 west of Aquatic Park, at the foot of the Pedestrian Bridge.  The monitor is to track nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and fine particulates that are collectively known to exacerbate asthma, heart disease, and lung problems.  A 2008 study by Alameda County Health Department linked an increased risk of cancer and asthma to diesel particulates, and a September 2013, UC Berkeley study linked chronic air-pollution exposure to death from heart disease.

The allowable 50 ft high building had now morphed into 60 feet, and some are claiming that it actually is 75, maybe 80 feet high!  BNC is trying to find out what the height of the building actually is and how it got to be so high.  The preliminary answer that we've heard is that penthouses are not counted in the height as long as they don't cover a certain percentage of the roof.  It looks as though it could be 80 feet, but BNC will pursue finding out and let people know because other buildings in the area are seeking C-W zoning and we believe that people should  know precisely what is permitted before something is built, not surprised about it afterwards.

If all of this isn't at least a little alarming, the EIR for The Archstone indicated that traffic generated by the building would add to the already bad situation at the intersections of Fourth and Hearst and 6th and University.  The traffic impacts were tagged as significant with no possible mitigation except the widening of these intersections which is against City policy.  An acknowledgement of knowing that there is a significant environmental impact that cannot be mitigated had to be made before the EIR could be approved.

BNC is concerned about the size and location of this project.  We have many unanswered questions which we will seek to understand and pass on to neighborhoods, most particularly because of the pending applications for C-W rezoning.

Other C-W Applications of Concern

In The Archstone Building we've seen an example of what a C-W zoned building can look like, how it fits into its surroundings , how it functions, and the problems that such buildings can bring such as blocking views of the hills.  We understand that such C-W zoned buildings are planned for the two properties that are directly across the street from Aquatic Park.  A row of such buildings would greatly multiply the concerns about the impacts on Aquatic Park and the surrounding area.  An even larger building, Peerless Greens, is being planned for the 2 blocks bounded by Addison/Bancroft/Fifth/Third (railroad tracks).  Measure T would have allowed 75' height on this site, however, Peerless has applied for rezoning to C-W and we've seen a pretty good example of what that will look like.

Further, the proposed rezoning to C-W of properties on Gilman west of San Pablo at the Office Depot site in order to accommodate retail uses and Whole Foods Grocery Store is of great concern.  These concerns rise out of the possible size and height of the buildings (which are not known at this time) but also because of the traffic impacts on Gilman which will affect neighborhoods from many different areas of the City, particularly along San Pablo Avenue, and Gilman and Hopkins to the north.

It is time to begin the process of relooking at West Berkeley's zoning before irreparable harm is done.  BNC would like to hear from neighborhoods throughout Berkeley about this issue.  Send us your thoughts at newsletter@berkeleyneighborhoodscouncil.com and stay tuned for our next issue when we will examine the real life example of what actually happened to the zoning ordinance requirement that arts uses in West Berkeley be protected.

Redistricting Update

A “Town Hall Meeting” to discuss Redistricting was held in the Civic Center Building on Friday, September 20, 2013.  BNC isn't absolutely sure who called the “Town Hall Meeting” but we believe it was Council Member Worthington.  BNC was not invited.  We found out about the meeting from an electronic newsletter sent out by Council Member Wozniak right before the meeting date.  Two members from BNC were able to attend the meeting on such short notice.

Four Council Members attended:  Arreguin, Capitelli, Worthington and Wozniak.  Not all of them stayed throughout the meeting.  The other attendees were mostly students, either those involved with the Berkeley Student District Campaign (BSDC) map or those involved with the alternative map which joined the Foothill Dorm, Stern Hall, I-House and 10 student co-ops that was presented to the Council at the second redistricting public hearing on July 2, 1013.  The BNC map wasn't on the Town Hall Meeting table for discussion.  The meeting mainly seemed to be part of an effort to reach a compromise between the two student groups, and while BNC urged a compromise between students and neighborhoods, it is entirely unclear just how committed anyone is to building that sort of compromise - see the August eNEWS for some of the details about how the BSDC map splits neighborhoods.  Add to this that Council Member Wengraf (who was not at the Town Hall Meeting) voiced her strong concern at the July 2nd Council meeting about any changes that would adjust the northern boundary of District 6 by removing the north side student co-ops, necessitating a westward boundary move in that part of her District.

Stay tuned for further developments.