Berkeley Neighborhoods Council


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


Featured Neighborhood:  The Adeline Neighborhood

Adeline & Russell Street - Rendering.  Source:  City of Berkeley Planning Department

First, a Note from BNC:  In this Section, BNC features a neighborhood for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the lessons learned about what happened in one neighborhood can help other neighborhoods.  Most neighbors (and we don't like to say it, but at times this also includes appointed and elected officials) do not understand the complexities of our Zoning Ordinance and State Laws such as the Housing Accountability Act.  This is particularly the case when such matters as “Density Bonus” and “Concessions” are involved and decisions are made as to how they are determined and applied, and when they are Discretionary on the part of the City.  This is where the issue of “Detriment” enters the decision making process.  In a response to a proposed development, it is important for everyone to fully understand all the details, and if there are valid concerns, to organize and persist.  This is vital as it concerns not only the outcome of a specific development, but how together we can work to fix what is broken in the process, and when election time comes around, for each of us to consider what our own representative stands for.

On May 2, 2017, the City Council approved a controversial project at 2902 Adeline, and on May 9, 2017 the Friends of Adeline sent out an e-mail that began with the following paragraph:

“Thanks to the efforts of hundreds of people, we successfully pushed the developer of 2902 Adeline to double the amount of low-income housing and provide resources to support anti-displacement activities in the community.  This is a true community victory!

Realtex Apartments, LLC, 2342 Shattuck Avenue, describing themselves as developers and managers of mixed-use buildings along transit corridors have a website with renderings that imply three completed projects in San Francisco, and one completed in Berkeley at 1698 University Avenue which we understand has been permitted, but the plans were modified in 2014, but the building has not yet been constructed.  They are also the applicant for the development of ”The Village“ at 2556 Telegraph Avenue which is currently in the permitting process, and they submitted are the applicant for the project at 2902 Adeline.

In this new application, they proposed combining two lots at 2902 and 2908 Adeline, zoned C-SA, and an abutting lot at 1946 Russell, zoned R-4, and developing this new space into a 6-story mixed use building with commercial on the ground floor (including 4 live/work units) and 50 residential units above.  The 50 residential units would rent at market rates, except for 2 units which would be provided for very-low income households and a ”commitment to provide 2 additional units on site available to low income households.“ Proposing to set aside units for very-low income qualified the developer for a 35% density bonus which added one floor onto the commercial part of the building making that portion compliant with the C-SA district maximum floor area ratio (FAR) of 4.  However, the developer also wanted to add one story in the residential portion and 2 more stories above the 4 to the commercial part bringing the height of the project to 6 stories.  A 6-story building would then result in an FAR of 4.5 on the commercial portion and granting that would result in what the City terms a ”concession.“ The City may deny such a concession, if it doesn't result in ”identifiable and actual cost reductions to provide affordable housing.“

To construct this proposed project, Realtex was seeking demolition of:  one existing, vacant 2-story single family home;  a mixed-use commercial structure currently occupied by AW Pottery on the ground floor with 2 residential units above;  and a display area used by the pottery company.  City staff determined that none of the existing residential units were in the City's Rent Stabilization Program.

In response, neighbors and others organized out of concern that this proposed project would bring significant detriments to their community and accelerate the existing displacement crisis of residents who are currently at risk of displacement.  Citing a report by the city, Berkeley has lost 37 percent of our African American community from 2000-2015.  They demanded ”development that will reverse these trends, not exploit them for profit“ and worked closely with the East Bay Community Law Center's Community Economic Justice Clinic and with their District 3 Council Member, Ben Bartlett to negotiate a more acceptable project.

The 6-story height was a major concern of the Friends.  From their study of the ordinances they were well-aware that the extra two stories was a matter that the City had the power to grant or deny.  They attended meetings of the Design Review Committee, and won a recommendation that the height should be reduced, and the Friends group indicated its willingness to agree to a 5-story height.  However, when the matter came back to the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) on October 27, 2016, the project, with its 6-story height, was approved in spite of the strong community opposition.  (The Council Member appointing the ZAB member is shown in parens.)

Voting for approval:  Gladstein (Droste), Kahn(Wengraf), (Morris (Moore), Pinkston (Bates), Vincent (Maio), Williams (Capitelli)

Voting against approval:  O'Keefe (Anderson), Tregub (Arreguin)

Abstaining:  Clark (Worthington)

After the ZAB decision, as one member of the Friends put it quite accurately -- once ZAB approved the 6-story building, it would be very hard for Council to back down without looking like it was anti-development.

The Friends decided to forge ahead, and an appeal was filed on November 3, 2016.  As expected, City staff recommended that Council uphold ZAB's decision and dismiss the appeal.  In making their recommendation they cited the need for housing and as justification of the additional height mentioned the nearby Harriet Tubman Terrace building.

Between Council meetings held on March 7 and April 25, 2017 when the matter was discussed, they spent hours setting up and attending meetings with every Council Member and the Mayor, Planning Department staff, the City Attorney and two trips to the Rent Stabilization Board (because of the displacement of existing tenants).  On April 25, 2017, Council considered a motion to send back to ZAB a 5-story project with 44 market rate units and 6 below market rate.  The motion failed.

Voting Yes:  Council Members Davila, Hahn, Harrison and Mayor Arreguin

Voting No:  Council Members Bartlett, Droste and Maio

Abstaining:  Council Members Wengraf and Worthington

A second motion was made to approve a 6-story building with 4 units for very low income, 4 for low income and 2 for moderate income households, a $136,000 payment to the Housing Trust Fund and required monthly meetings with Harriet Tubman Terrace residents regarding construction issues.  This motion also failed.

Voting Yes:  Council Members Bartlett, Droste and Worthington

Voting No:  Council Members Davila and Hahn

Abstaining:  Council Members Harrison, Maio, Wengraf and Mayor Arreguin

The matter was then held over to the Council Meeting of May 4, 2017.  The Friends made a last-ditch effort to get the City Attorney to indicate that Realtex had not proven that the displaced tenants were not low income.  This determination would have eliminated the Density Bonus and brought the height down.  However, the Attorney ruled that the landlord stating that they had verified the tenant's income was sufficient proof.  A motion was made to approve the project as presented (6-stories) except that it would include:

  • 4 units for low-income households
  • 4 units for very low-income households with 2 of these reserved for Section 8 for the life of the project and 2 for Shelter+Care vouchers
  • 1 unit for a moderate income household.
  • The low-income and very low-income units would consist of 3 two-bedroom units and 5 one-bedroom units.
  • The developer would pay $68,000 in lieu fees
  • In a separate agreement there would be a $100,000 payment from the applicant to the East Bay Community Law Center, such payment to be executed, but which is not a condition of approval.
  • Monthly meetings with the residents of Harriet Tubman Terrace during construction of the project to resolve any health or noise issues that may arise.

Voting Yes:  Council Members Bartlett, Droste, Hahn, Harrison, Maio, Wengraf and Worthington, and Mayor Arreguin

Voting No:  None

Abstaining:  Council Member Davila

While the Friends of Adeline state that they believe this was a significant step in the right direction, and that they made the best agreement they could, they add ”we can and we must do better.“ Their stated goal is to ensure that their families and children can afford to live here, and

We need to stem the tide of displacement of low-income renters and African Americans from South Berkeley through tenant purchasing of buildings, universal legal representation for renters, and assistance for African American families to keep their homes and land.  Most importantly, we need a more transparent process for residents to continue to have a voice and power in the process.“

BNC's prediction is that this development-savvy group will stay together and be an important voice to be reckoned with regarding further development in the Adeline Corridor.