February 8, 2010
Happy Holidays & New Year - What the WEBAIC steering committee has been up to:
The WEBAIC steering committee hopes everyone had a good New Year and holidays and managed to balance the hectic activity with some rejuvenation. After a short breather, the final decision-making phase of the West Berkeley (rezoning) Project has begun in earnest with planning staff projecting completion in April. Sorry you haven't heard from us for a while, but the WEBAIC steering committee has been meeting regularly and actively addressing the issues by 1.) instituting tours of West Berkeley for planning commissioners and council members, 2.) working with the Arts Commission on getting the updated Arts/Crafts definition passed, 3.) getting the word out on the new West Berkeley Enterprise Zone, 4.) meeting and communicating with other stakeholders, 5.) working with StopWaste.Org, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, to act as an informational conduit to the West Berkeley industrial/artisan community for this organization's important programs and resources, 6.) communicating with staff about issues and scheduling, and 6.) meeting with West Berkeley council members Linda Maio and Darryl Moore for a productive sharing of information and perspective.
Where we stand now in the West Berkeley Project
WEBAIC's West Berkeley Project mission:
WEBAIC's mission in the rezoning process is to maintain a viable land base for industry and arts in West Berkeley while being good neighbors to the residents and other commercial businesses. This viability depends upon maintaining appropriately zoned, affordable space - both largely made possible by existing industrial and arts zoning protections. At this time, staff and the chair and vice chair of the Planning Commission have proposed that ALL industrially protected space in West Berkeley be opened to R & D uses. This is a vast and unnecessary over-reaching, a land grab that threatens the successful industrial and arts economy, its enterprises, jobs, culture, and community. There is a balanced, better way.
The West Berkeley Plan's industrial/arts protection policies - Why:
The West Berkeley Plan envisioned these protections and implemented them in the Zoning Code to fulfill its Core Goal of maintaining a mixed-use economy that balances industry and arts with other economic sectors. The Plan clearly recognizes that minus these protections industry and arts would be forced out over time and West Berkeley would lose the desired balance. Employment statistics demonstrate that this balance has been successfully achieved with industry and arts now providing approximately half of West Berkeley employment, while the various office, professional service, and retail professions provide the other half. This balance realizes the Plan's underlying, stated goals for a mixed-use economy: a diversity of employment, availability of goods and services, reliable City revenue, and economic and ethnic population diversity and equity.
The challenge facing us now is to maintain these industrial/arts protection policies (thus enterprises, jobs, and activities) in the face of forces simply willing to see them disappear or completely antagonistic to them. The mayor publicly stated it would be fine if these jobs went to Oakland or Richmond, somehow assuming this would be the seamless result if these enterprises were zoned and priced out of West Berkeley. In service of this "vision", planning staff have proposed opening up ALL industrially-protected space in West Berkeley to R & D labs. The West Berkeley Plan projects, and WEBAIC believes, this would result in the loss of the industrial and artisan sectors over time, to the great detriment of our City and region. WEBAIC's position is that encouraging the robust location of clean/green tech labs and maintaining the existing industrial and arts economy and culture are not mutually exclusive. Here's how:
WEBAIC has proposed a reasonable rebalancing of land uses to accomodate the main goal the City says it wants to achieve (and that WEBAIC believes is a good idea): more space and easier accessibility to space for clean/green tech R&D production laboratories. This proposal opens up a large amount of new space for these R & D uses while at the same time maintains industrial protections on the large majority of space where industrial/artisan companies, jobs, and studios presently live, minimizing the potential for dislocation. Our proposal does this by: 1.) allowing the application of a Master Use Permit (MUP) that would green-light production R & D labs on a number of large properties the City has targeted as "underutilized", and, 2.) facilitating the already-allowed conversion of 25% of existing industrially protected MULI and MUR zone property for these R & D uses. This proposal would result in approximately 50% of all West Berkeley property being potentially available for R & D uses. Industrially protected space on MUP properties should be opened to production R & D, but except for the 25% of protected space in the MULI and MUR zones now allowed to be converted, industrially protected space outside of MUPs should be maintained for industry and art and NOT be opened up to R & D uses. With this simple proposal we are providing millions of square feet of potential space for production
R & D while maintaining the existing, successful industrial and arts economy and culture - we believe this is a viable compromise where all parties gain, exactly what the West Berkeley Plan envisioned.
Upcoming West Berkeley Project Schedule
1st: The Draft Environmental Impact Report on the West Berkeley Project:
The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) on the West Berkeley Project was just released. There is now a 45 day period to submit written comments with public comments taken at the March 24th Planning Commission meeting. This DEIR is critically important on several levels. In order to approve whatever ultimate zoning changes staff will propose, the City (through the EIR by a EIR consultant hired by the City) must determine either that the proposed changes will have no significant environmental impacts or that those impacts can be "mitigated" to become "less than significant." Alternatively, if the EIR finds the proposed changes will result in "significant environmental impacts" that can't be "mitigated, the City either has to deny the Project (the WB Project) or it can allow it to go forward anyway by writing a "statement of overriding consideration", basically stating the benefits of the Project are of such value that they're worth the negative environmental consequences.
The DEIR Initial Study released in September claimed that 1.) even though the West Berkeley Plan created industrial protections as the central mechanism to achieve it's core Goals, removal of these protections on a large amount of protected West Berkeley space wouldn't violate the Plan and therefore didn't need to be studied for their potential negative impacts on Land Use, and 2.), a near doubling the development (building) standards to 90 foot heights and a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 3.5 would have no negative impact on the Visual Character or Aesthetics of the area, and therefore also didn't need to be studied for their potential negative impacts.
WEBAIC submitted detailed comments (see webaic.org) disputing both claims. It appears our comments resulted in the City and consultant determining that the DEIR did have to study potential negative impacts of removing industrial protections and the combination of comments by MUR residents and WEBAIC convinced the City that potential negative effects of the proposed building standards on Aesthetics also need to be studied. We're currently in the process of analyzing this 600 page document (with 1500 page technical analysis) and will report what we find as soon as possible. If you don't hear from us soon send the dogs. Once DEIR comments are received the EIR consultant will respond to them in writing in the final EIR, which will be approved or not at a public hearing before the Planning Commission. Their decision can be certified by the City Council or appealed and that appeal heard by the Council, which has final say.
2nd: WB Project Upcoming Schedule- 1st Wave Issues, FAR, Master Use Permits, Uses, Industrial Protections:
Staff is projecting they'll bring zoning language on the first wave issues of Childcare, Mini (self)-storage, and Minimum Lot Size as well as Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and number of stories allowed within the height limit to the Planning Commission for approval in March, possibly on the 24th. Next up should be the central WEBAIC issues of Permitted Uses and Industrial Protections projected to be addressed at the Planning Commission possibly in late March, certainly in April.
It's unclear whether there will be further stakeholder meetings with City staff. Unfortunately, the last public joint stakeholder meeting before the Planning Commission, though well intentioned, did not fulfill the original goals WEBAIC hoped it would: to have a meaningful, free-flowing discussion between all stakeholders, staff, and commissioners. The meeting was structured such that stakeholders weren't permitted to interact with each other, but only with the commissioners in a structured manner that discouraged creative dialogue and problem solving. Staff initially promised a public workshop on the Project, but they may consider that they fulfilled this pledge with the last meeting, even though it didn't have the informal give and take a workshop is designed to provide.
Please continue to weigh in - Together we've accomplished quite a bit so far:
Going forward it's important to remember that your involvement does make a difference, as evidenced by our accomplishments so far. These achievements reflect existing staff/Commission documents (that of course can change).
WEBAIC’s Accomplishments in the West Berkeley Project
1.) Convinced PC and staff to conduct the WB Project with at least a minimally representative process. (They didn't want one).
2.) Pushed the Master Use Permit (MUP) threshold (and industrial protection removal) from no minimum size
(covering all of West Berkeley) to 1, 2, 3, and finally to 4 acres where it stands today.
3.) Pushed the MUP numerical application from the staff-proposed 10 permits in 5 years to 6 permits in 8 years.
4.) Maintained existing industrial protections (but allowing R & D production laboratories requiring an industrial
space component) on MUP sites in the face of stiff staff opposition.
5.) Got staff to remove language that would have allowed industrial MUP sites to become office parks.
6.) Got R & D that can be conducted in a purely office environment separated out from "industrial" R & D category so that these R & D offices uses won't be occupying protected industrial space.
7.) Got arts and crafts to be considered an allowable use in warehouse & manufacturing space after 14 years of effort.
8.) Got the WEBAIC/Norheim & Yost demising (subdivision) proposal passed by the Planning Commission instead of staff proposal. This easily allows small to medium sized spaces to be created out of larger spaces.
9.) Got staff to back off their proposal for FULL parking waivers on MUP sites.
10.) Successfully removed the MULI Zone south of Ashby from large car dealership applicability, taking that dangerous target off the backs of Urban Ore, Ashby Lumber, and many industrial and artisan businesses.
11.) Created some movement (only some-much further to go) on staff's proposals for 90 ft heights (now 75ft) and Floor Area Ratios of 4 (now 3.5).
There's more, but you get the idea - your efforts have produced concrete, positive results for yourself and our community.
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Berkeley has ONE newspaper that is locally owned and covers the issues we're working so hard on (along with many others) in depth. Without this organ of information and free speech the actions of the City and so much else in our town would essentially be taking place in the dark. A local newspaper like this is essential for the widespread, effective, dissemination of information to the populace, and therefore is essential to the functioning democracy that Berkeley deserves. Narrow forces that only care about their particular issue are strenuously attempting to shut the Planet down without any regard for damage this would do to our community. Whatever your feelings about the paper, pro or con, it provides an unequaled and likely irreplaceable voice and opportunity for all sides of the issues we are so deeply involved in to be aired. The loss of this institution, especially at this critical time in the West Berkeley Project, would not only be a blow against democracy, but a strike against our ability to make our common sense case in the public forum, therefore seriously hurting our chances at success in this process. Buy a subscription, put money in their box, read the paper, pass it around, attend their benefits. Please support the Berkeley Daily Planet.
Without making any effort to contact WEBAIC to get our positions or his facts correct, an Express reporter with an agenda and total lack of journalistic standards did a hit piece on WEBAIC's and our residential neighbor's efforts to maintain a workable and livable West Berkeley. The Express published WEBAIC's response and several letters from neighborhood/WEBAIC supporters lambasting this fallacious opinion piece masquerading as a news article. Our response can be found on our website at: webaic.org.
West Berkeley Works!
WEBAIC • email@example.com • 510-549-0190
Helps the public understand West Berkeley industries' contributions to the community;
Helps businesses maintain and increase their contributions to Berkeley's economy and cultural richness, including how to adopt sustainable practices;
Serves as a liaison between WeBAIC's members, the community, and local government;
Promotes the development of sustainable industries as envisioned in the West Berkeley Plan.