Surprise! declared one of our major daily newspapers recently — the most important thing on the minds of people had been housing, but it’s been replaced by worries about The Drought. Well, BNC is not so sure about that, but we do think a better statement is that these two issues, right now, are coupled in the minds of Berkeley residents, and that’s what we’ve been thinking about as we go from one meeting to the next during the record-breaking heat from late July through August.
We’ve said it before and we say it again, BNC wants polite and positive civic engagement regarding what Berkeley will look like and how it will function in the not too distant future, as long as such an engagement includes a strong neighborhood and environmental voice!
As you all know, at times, BNC has joined with other groups in opposing various projects. In no way do we regret that. However, some proponents of these projects have stooped to characterizing our legitimate concerns as being:
- NIMBYS, also referred to as complaints from “the usual suspects.” Privileged people who moved into Berkeley when housing prices were affordable, and who now want to deny others that same opportunity, or
- “Old with grey hair” ignoring the need to make room for younger people who want to live in a “vibrant urban area,” or
- Opposed to “luxury” development that will bring beautiful buildings to Berkeley, drive out the homeless and attract businesses.
A common theme among some of the younger advocates of intense development has been a bitterness over the reality that they can’t afford to live in Berkeley. They say that they have fallen in love with the City after living here for a year or two, so they want to drive the cost of renting down by building lots of high rise apartments. They don’t seem to realize that massive building in San Francisco has resulted in exactly the opposite — rental costs skyrocketing, or that “lots of high rises” here would forever destroy what they loved about Berkeley in the first place.
As for the people concerned about the homeless and attracting shoppers, they don’t seem to realize that the problem of homelessness is tied, at least in part, to the lack of affordable housing that our City is not addressing (witness again the reality of what has occurred in San Francisco). And the most successful retail businesses in Berkeley are located in neighborhood, human-scale environments — Fourth Street, Solano, and the Elmwood.
It hasn’t been easy listening to these charges, but we have gone to meeting after meeting pointing out significant flaws in the reports, particularly those that have to do with our City adhering to its own rules. Some of the flagrant violations are a: lack of notice to people affected by a development, flawed data, and the consequences of current actions that are stripping Berkeley from its once lofty environmental leadership position.
Yes, while we support growth and a vibrant urban area, we also want strong neighborhoods, and environmentally responsible development that supports our Climate Action Plan. We have yet to find any planner, anywhere, who disputes that strong neighborhoods make strong cities and that ripping apart neighborhoods results in destroyed cities. Most of all, we want to tell everyone that BNC IS NOT GOING AWAY, and we need you as partners in this effort. Become a partner by coming to our General Meetings to help guide our efforts, showing up at meetings, writing letters to members of commissions and City Council, and informing your neighbors. If Berkeley is to be a livable, safe and sustainable City for families, young and old, we must come together and be heard.
Past and Future Forums
On April 8, 2015, BNC hosted the first in a series of Forums which sought to help us all understand the pressures and policies that have gotten us to where we are today — increasing gentrification, traffic congestion and development that ignores our neighborhoods. Our plan was to follow this first forum with a series of single-topic discussions on such topics as The University, Affordable Housing, The Downtown, The Ashby-Adeline Corridor, Open Space, Density, and Air Quality in West Berkeley.
We asked the League of Women Voters to co-sponsor that first forum with us. At first, they were interested but withdrew over the screening of the documentary film, The Vanishing City. The League felt that the film was a too emotional “call to action” and they didn’t like the emphasis on “gentrification.” While focusing on New York City, the film is in fact a call to action by people nationwide who are being forced out of their homes by the pressures of development. We wanted our community to understand there are people joining together to find positive solutions. These include achieving growth while at the same time respecting neighborhoods and the character of a city whether it be New York, Denver, Phoenix or Berkeley. The message is that good planning will avoid having an “either or” situation.
On April 8th, BNC showed the film to a standing room only crowd of well over 100 individuals. We learned that over 80% of the new housing units being built in Berkeley are for high income, while around 3% are for low income. We heard from Stephen Murphy, President of the Planning Commission who, after hearing comments from the audience stated that he would request the reactivation of a subcommittee that sets priorities for the Commission’s work plan. (BNC has been overwhelmed by the press of meetings, so you will have to wait until the next issue to hear more about this subcommittee and what happened with Mr. Murphy’s promise.)
On April 7, 2015, the Council considered a Consent Calendar item submitted by the Director of Planning, Eric Angstadt, regarding approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Berkeley to participate in the East Bay Corridors Initiative. This Initiative comes from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The MOU commits Berkeley to work with Oakland, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules and Contra Costa County to achieve the level of local development goals along the San Pablo Corridor. BNC asked at that Council meeting to hold all meetings of the East Bay Corridors Initiative group under provisions of the Brown Act, i.e., noticed in advance and open to the public. Director Angstadt opposed this request stating these were staff meetings. The Council unanimously approved the MOU without the condition of open, public meetings.
|Voting Yes:||Council Members Anderson, Arreguin, Capitelli, Droste, Maio, Wengraf, Worthington, and Mayor Bates|
|Absent:||Council Member Moore|
(See the Section in this issue, Outside Agencies that Affect Berkeley, for more information about the East Bay Corridors Initiative).
This was one of the reasons that our second Forum was focused on the question of what is happening along San Pablo Avenue — a thoroughfare that is bordered by some of the City’s most diverse, walkable, and affordable neighborhoods.
The Forum was held May 19, 2015 at Finn Hall, 1819 Tenth Street. San Pablo Avenue is one of six Priority Development Areas (PDAs) designated by the city of Berkeley to accommodate projected future growth in ABAG’s regional plan known as Plan Bay Area. BNC notes that San Pablo Avenue is a critical area important to all neighborhoods in three different ways:
- Traffic congestion: particularly at the Ashby, University, Gilman, and Marin intersections and that San Pablo functions as an alternative to the I-80 freeway,
- Neighborhood Impacts: Single-family neighborhoods are adjacent to the zoning that allows commercial, institutional and multi-family uses,
- Emerging Development Standards: As these are developed by staff they will have an impact on those residential neighborhoods that are directly next to commercial areas. These new standards could then be applied to Solano and College Avenues, or the reverse, what happens in other PDAs, such as Telegraph Avenue, could be applied to San Pablo Avenue.
Again, the Forum drew a standing-room only crowd. And again, residents of the area expressed concerns about the level of development on San Pablo Avenue and its impact on adjacent single-family neighborhoods, the quality of development, and the height and mass of development such as the construction now occurring at the Ashby Arts Building (corner of Ashby and San Pablo) and other projects that will be coming up. Air quality impacts not only homes in West Berkeley but also effects homes in a widespread area to the east, and, there is just no way to say it in a nice way — the deep sense that the City just doesn’t care about their neighborhoods, in spite of what they say — actions speak louder than words…
Carol Johnson, Land Use Planning Manager, took part in the discussion and she seemed to be listening. BNC is encouraged by her presence, but we will wait and see.
BNC will keep you advised, but we strongly suggest that every neighborhood keep a close eye on these issues. To help everyone in understanding what is happening in our City and to give you a voice :
BNC ANNOUNCES OUR THIRD FORUM
September 16, 2015
7:00pm — 10:00pm
South Branch Senior Center
2939 Ellis Street
This Forum will feature presentations on:
- Adeline Corridor Improvements and Development
- Telegraph Avenue Development
- Air Quality in West Berkeley and Beyond
- Affordable Housing
Please, Save the Date and Plan to Attend. More information will be sent out as we get closer to the date.
Last April, the City Manager reported that in February 2014, the City committed to reduce its own water consumption by 10% and since that time, municipal water consumption fell by approximately 26% compared to the same periods in 2012 and 2013.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that most of the City’s water consumption, is related to our parks. City staff re-seeded sports fields at Grove, Ohlone, Codornices and San Pablo Parks, but the City’s report warns us that:
This was done earlier than would have otherwise been needed due to stressed lawn that was more susceptible to damage. Moreover, each field must be watered regularly to ensure the seeding is successful, so water consumption at these sites is anticipated to increase during this period.
The City’s Department of Public Works seems to be working hard on this and BNC thanks them for their efforts during such tough times.
Both households and City have the same goal of a 20% water usage reduction compared to 2013 levels. According to EBMUD records for Berkeley: 58% of the total water usage in Berkeley is for residential — 35% single family and 23% multifamily.
In 2009, indoor water use for single family homes was 62%, and apartment/condo dwellers used 84% of their water indoors. In a comparison of each year between 2000 — 2010, community-wide water usage has been going down steadily. Since 2011, however, it’s been steadily going up each year, but not by much, maybe reflecting the small percentage gains in population. EBMUD is currently urging residents to limit water usage to 35 gallons per person per day for indoor use and has implemented as of July 1, a temporary Stage 4 drought “crisis” surcharge of up to 25% to pay for the costs of purchasing extra water supplies, additional conservation services and enforcement of water use restriction.
Newspapers are full of what is often termed “pain-free” ways to achieve this goal. BNC doesn’t want to repeat what is so readily available, but we did find some data that you might find interesting:
- An eight-minute shower uses 17.2 gallons of water. A five-minute shower uses 10.75 gallons. A savings of 6.45 gallons per shower at a cost of three-minutes.
- Waiting for water to warm up for your shower may waste up to 5 gallons of water. Let the water run into a bucket and use that for your plants or for flushing your toilet.
- Don’t let the water run when brushing your teeth or washing your face, hands or dishes. That can be a 20-gallon savings each day.
- When you wash your hands, try wetting one hand briefly, turn off the water, put soap into the wet hand then scrub both hands together, and rinse. This is a version of what was called a “Navy Shower” used by sailors while at sea. It takes a while to get the rhythm right, but it can be done successfully and does save water. And you can always try the “Navy Shower” during your three minute shower time for a full body cleanse!
We’ve heard there was some interest in Sacramento to require that individual water meters be installed in each unit of multi-unit housing. Right now individual water meters are required only for new construction of 3 units or less, but requirements for multi-unit buildings of more than 3 units seems to have stalled.
BNC thinks that requiring individual water meters on every new residential or commercial/office unit is a “must do” idea because it would allow each household or business to participate in the effort to conserve water particularly since it is now predicted that droughts will be a long-time problem, if not a permanent one in California. How else is one to know and participate in a fair share of mandatory conservation efforts if the apartment next to you takes 10-minute showers while you faithfully put up with three to five-minute ones? We couldn’t find anything that says that cities couldn’t approve a requirement for individual water metering, although we might have to get State approval for such a measure in the same way we need to get their approval for tightening our local building code.
Scientists are now busy predicting that because of the warm water we are currently experiencing on the west coast, an El Nino event is in our future this winter. The problem is when they mention that, they quickly add that it doesn’t necessarily mean rain.
BNC is asking our readers to do two things:
- share water-saving tips with us, and
- let us know whether you support extending the individual water meter requirement to new construction of 4 or more units. If we get a number of responses, we will let our representatives in Sacramento know.
Water and New Development
The issue of water has come up in the review of the permits required for the 18-story, 302 dwelling units over ground floor commercial proposed project at 2211 Harold Way. The developer says the proposed project at 2211 Harold Way will increase population by only 516 people, so water is not that much of a concern because the project will have water-saving appliances and drought-tolerant plants.
BNC thinks water-saving appliances and drought-tolerant plants are essential, but the proposal for water conservation doesn’t go far enough. Since there will be 394 bedrooms in the proposed building, the projected 516 population increase for 2211 Harold Way is way too low. Using State data of 2.1 persons per bedroom, that equals 827 people or about a 62% increase over the developer’s numbers. (These numbers could be even larger depending upon how many units are occupied by groups of students.) 516 people using 35 gallons per day will use 18,060 gallons and 6,591,900 gallons per year. 827 people using 35 gallons per day will use 28,945 gallons, or 10,564,925 gallons per year — quite a difference. Remember, that’s IF they all practice water conservation — but all of what they use will be unmetered! This does not include the water that will be used by the 10,877 square feet of new restaurant and retail space.
Additionally, the Environmental Impact Report states that during site preparation and grading the construction crew will water two times daily to a depth of one inch, using 4.4 acre feet of water for dust control for about 30 days. An acre foot = one foot of water on an area 66 feet wide and 660 feet long, or approximately 893 gallons of water. This amount of water on the lot size of 34,800 square feet for the proposed project equals about 1,301,520 gallons or about 4,000 acre feet of water.
These numbers are not inconsequential, and will have to be adjusted upward as we consider the wide range of development that is currently being proposed throughout the whole city. So, stay tuned for more news!