Mayor Tome Bates

The main issue on the agenda of tonight’s City Council meeting will be the fate of the Downtown Area Plan (DAP). Passed by the council last July in a 7-2 vote, the plan allowed for some taller buildings in the downtown core, but met resistance from both opponents of greater density and those advocating stronger provisions for affordable housing. Opponents gathered enough signatures to force the council to either rescind the plan or to place it on the June ballot for a citywide vote.

Tonight’s council agenda includes a vote on whether to rescind the plan. Since the resolution to rescind is sponsored by Mayor Tom Bates (shown above) and councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Laurie Capitelli — all supporters of the DAP last year — that resolution is assured passage. To replace the old scheme, mayor Bates proposed a new plan last week, which will also be voted on this evening. The mayor’s new plan can be seen on the City Council site.

The proposed new plan allows for three buildings of up to 160 feet in the downtown core and three of 140 feet. The old DAP allowed two buildings of up to 180 feet (and one could be 225 feet if it was a hotel). The old DAP further allowed four buildings of 120 feet and four of 100 feet in the core and outer core. The new proposal allows, in addition to the six tall core buildings, two of 120 feet in the outer core.

Public benefits, such as affordable housing and environmental requirements, are provided in the new proposal by the mayor’s fast-track planning process, which is dubbed the Voluntary Green Pathway. If developers don’t opt for the Green Pathway, their projects are subject to the standard development process.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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  1. It’s always useful to remember that we are the people’s REPUBLIC of Berkeley, not the people’s democracy. Except for ballot measures, nothing is decided by a direct vote of the people — and especially not by a majority vote of those who happen to show up at particular commission or council meetings late on a weekday evening. We have a representative form of indirect democracy, where elected and appointed officeholders are supposed to make up their own minds after soliciting and receiving as much information as they can from more than just the public-comment period.

    We can confidently predict, however, that those on the losing side of a decision will accuse the deciding body of being “unresponsive” to the parade of public-commenters who showed up and mainly spoke to one side of an issue. In fact the body simply decided, based on the totality of information available to them, to decide the other way. That’s certainly frustrating if your group is consistently on the losing side, but we provide a remedy for that: vote the bums out. And if you can’t do so, maybe that’s a sign that most of the citizenry simply don’t agree with you.

    And if that’s the case, doing the same thing over and over again at “democratic” public meetings but expecting a different result is the path to personal pain and civic neurosis, not to positive contribution. Learning to live with life in a republic, not a democracy, would be a more helpful idea.

  2. Eric, I’d welcome a (slow but not zero) paced off-blog chat. There are a bunch of interesting topics there. You said a bunch of stuff I disagree with but that’s half of what can make an off-blog chat fun and rewarding all around, right? Sure, I’m game. (uh… “lord” plus the usual at-sign + “emf” (dot) “net”.

  3. I’m not really sure what to make of the hippie issue and your references to The Graduate.

    On the other hand, I can say with confidence that your understanding of a tyranny of the majority is fundamentally wrong. Changing zoning, raising height limits, and encouraging green, mixed use development do not constitute oppression for you or anyone else in Berkeley; in the same way that zoning code does not represent oppression of, or tyranny upon builders. Just in case you’re inclined to also misunderstand oppression:

    Oppression – To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority

    Enacting a downtown area plan by a majority of a democratically elected council–an 8:1 majority in this case–does not represent a severe and unjust use of authority, and does not represent any sort of tyranny.

    If you think a net loss of housing between the 70’s and the early 2000’s, and sky-high rents constitute “much of what is good about Berkeley,” then I agree that NIMBYs are responsible. Otherwise, I would credit the University’s presence, entrepreneurs/local businesses (both UC associated and otherwise), and a general sense of localism and progressivism for what is good about Berkeley.

    If you care to actually discuss issues, I’m happy to debate you–perhaps in private so as not to clutter this message board. But if you insist on throwing out more distracting and irrelevant concepts, it’s not really a worthwhile discussion and I’m afraid I’ll just have to let you have the last word.

  4. Eric,

    The other group who are a real problem are the hobos. They think they f-ing own the place, what with their unpaid rail travel and their folk music. What I really hate, though, is the hippies who seem to feel entitled to flaunt around their bad dress habits and long hair wherever and whenever they want without the slightest bit of deference to long established standards of common decency. Except that, to be accurate, I should really acknowledge that behind the hippies – the power the drives them – is a pernicious underground of outside agitators. I don’t like them outside agitators. You’re not one them them “outside agitators”, are you? I don’t like that.

    More seriously: the opposite of NIMBY is tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the majority is not democracy. God bless our brave NIMBYs. Much that is good about Berkeley is the direct result of their insolent obstructionism.

  5. @Thomas Lord:
    If anyone in the city is guilty of the “pretense that they are legitimate democratic representatives of the people of Berkeley,” it’s the screaming, extreme minority of obstructionist NIMBYs who attend public hearings like junkies seek fixes. Maybe they think true democracy can only be done by consensus, or maybe they think true democracy is done by deceptive, verbally abusive, paid signature-gatherers. (I’d bet on the latter.) But in the end, I think the only process they’ll regard as truly democratic is one that results in their preferred outcome.

  6. It’s refreshing to read a just-the-facts news story on a Berkeley planning issue. Our more familiar news outlet would probably have headlined “Controversy Rages Over New Downtown Developer Land Grab,” then spent multiple paragraphs on outraged objections before ever mentioning what the proposal means to accomplish.

    That said, the story could have spent more time on the key affordable housing issue. The main council objectors to the now-rescinded downtown plan, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington, did indeed advocate for more affordable housing, but their plan only proposed raising the nominal percentage of affordable housing to 25% on the grounds that “density bonus” requirements undercut existing standards. And they had no proposal that would actually require any affordable rental housing, since an adverse court decision elsewhere in the state had banned that as an illegal form of rent control. Mayor Bates’ proposal was an innovative response in the form of a tradeoff: create a VOLUNTARY process by which developers would be required to provide both 20% affordable housing (with no density bonuses) and a required package of green building and energy benefits, in exchange for more certainty in the permitting process and a faster timeline than the city’s typical multi-year NIMBY-fest has exacted.

    We’ll surely continue arguing over the numbers and heights of our tall buildings until the plan is finalized for the ballot, but the basic framework should hold. The point is not to “make it harder to object” to a specific building but simply to decide clearly in advance what all permitted downtown buildings should be allowed to do and what they must contribute to the city, so we need not argue over every parameter of every future project. We will know in advance what kinds of buildings can be approved without a fight.

    That’s the mark of a good plan: clarity on policy makes for efficiency on process. If this only helps to decrease our traditional “building-to-building urban warfare” it will do us all a world of good.

  7. So, just to be clear, the withdrawal of the old plan and submission of the new one are a parliamentary maneuver to end-around the inevitable defeat of the old plan at the ballot box. Side effects of this maneuver are to (a) try to exhaust the opposition’s capacity to gather signatures against; (b) punish the opposition with a “fast track” process to make it harder to object during zoning/construction approval processes. In other words, the sponsors are essentially colluding to bury any pretense that they are legitimate democratic representatives of the people of Berkeley. Sounds about right.