UC Berkeley student Andy Katz, perhaps the first student ever appointed to the Zoning Adjustments Board, took a seat on one of the city’s most influential governing bodies Monday.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has assigned more than 30 students to commissions and boards during his five years on the council, gave Katz the nod after 14-year member Gene Poschman retired from the ZAB earlier this month.
“I’ve been trying for my entire time in office to bring diversity to city government,” Worthington said. “And that includes racial diversity, gender diversity and age diversity.”
Katz, 21, is a senior in the university’s political science department. As far as City Clerk Sherry Kelly is aware of, Katz is the first student assigned to ZAB. He has served as a substitute on the ZAB and Housing Advisory Commission.
On campus, Katz is a director on the City Affairs Lobby and Housing Commission of the Associated Students of the University of California.
“I would like to bring to the board a different perspective,” Katz said. “I have concerns about the environmental review process, concerns about neighborhoods and I would like to help bring more affordable housing to Berkeley.”
ZAB Chair Carolyn Weinberger said she is looking forward to Katz’ participation on the board. “Andrew brings diversity to the board and a fresh perspective,” she said. “It will be interesting and helpful.”
ASUC Vice President Josh Fryday said Katz’ appointment is a step in the right direction.
“We’re very excited to have Andy serving on the Zoning Adjustments Board,” said Josh Fryday, vice president of external affairs for the Associated Students of the University of California. “Andy has the passion and the ability to not only serve adequately but with the utmost competence.”
The ASUC submitted a redistricting plan to the city in August whose goal, supporters said, was to increase student participation in government. The City Council declined to consider the option, after the city attorney said the City Charter disallowed the proposed configuration.
The ZAB is considered one of the most important of the city’s boards and commissions because of the broad influence it exerts over issues related to property rights. Some of the ZAB’s responsibilities include overseeing the creation of new housing stock, finding a balance between development and environmental resources and resolving conflicts between residents and business interests.
“ZAB issues can be very complex because that is where the nuts and bolts of development projects are reconciled with the intricacies of the zoning ordinance,” said 10-year ZAB member David Blake. “The best board members will have some experience with architecture, good math skills and the ability to assimilate lots of details into a big picture.”
The ZAB also is known to have the toughest schedule of the city’s 49 commissions and boards. Because of the volume and complexity of proposals the ZAB considers, it regularly meets twice each month, while other boards and commissions meet once a month.
According to a ZAB schedule, the board is currently considering 26 projects and has another 47 in the wings. The projects range from a residential basement conversion to the development of a five-story mixed-use building with 88 residential units and 42 parking spaces.
According to ZAB Chair Carolyn Weinberger, in addition to the two meetings a week there is usually anywhere from five to eight hours of preparation that goes into each meeting. “Between site inspections, analyzing staff reports and checking the Zoning Ordinance, the hours add up,” she said.
After his first meeting as an official ZAB member, Katz said it was clear being a board member would be a great deal of work. “I really enjoy the work and believe my commitment to the ZAB is doable,” he said.
Worthington said currently he has appointed 14 students to boards and commissions. The majority of his student appointments have excelled at their posts, he said, pointing to Devra Bachrach, who was elected by her fellow commissioners to serve as chair of the Energy Commission, Jackie Torres who has earned the respect of the Labor Commission and Marco Barrantes on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
“When I first started appointing students, people gave me a hard time saying that the city would be better served by grown-ups,” said Worthington who is known for requiring hard work from his appointees. “Most of the students I’ve appointed have shown me they can do a very good-to-outstanding job.”