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Neighborhood preservation, affordable housing in plan

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff
Friday December 21, 2001

Housing, land-use and transportation policies for the next 20 years were adopted by the City Council in a 5-4 vote Tuesday. The council will consider the remaining six sections of the Draft General Plan early next year. 

The Planning Commission, which toiled for two years and through 55 public meetings to develop the draft plan, had to be resourceful in developing the housing and land use polices for the simple fact that there is no available space left to build on in Berkeley, according to Senior Planner Andrew Thomas. 

To achieve the plan’s goal of creating 6,400 units of affordable housing within 20 years, Thomas said the commission had to identify areas of the city appropriate for infill development, such as in the downtown area and along transit corridors.  

“What the Planning Commission did was not really change any of the policies in the previous 1977 plan but they did focus and clarify city policy to say that this is the type of housing we want built and this is where we want to build it,” he said.  

The vote to approve the plan was split across traditional party lines with progressives, Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek, councilmembers Linda Maio, Dona Spring, Margaret Breland, and Kriss Worthington voting in favor of the plan, and the four moderates, Mayor Shirley Dean, and councilmembers Polly Armstrong, Betty Olds, and Miriam Hawley voting in opposition.  

What follows are some of the policies the City Council approved in the housing and land use elements of the General Plan. 


Affordable housing 

The housing section of the General Plan contains 52 policies aimed at maintaining or developing decent, affordable and housing, accessible to people with disabilities, located in pleasant neighborhoods.  

It includes a number of policies directed at addressing a shortage of affordable housing by increasing the current stock from 1,600 units to 8,000 units over 20 years. 

The plan doesn’t propose specifics for achieving this goal, which is ambitious considering financial limitations and the fact that Berkeley is almost completely built out. Rather the plan suggests the city acquire the 6,400 affordable units in two ways: 

One is the development of new housing in the downtown area and along major transit corridors such as University and San Pablo avenues. Those areas have been targeted because of they are zoned for taller buildings – three to seven stories, including bonuses for inclusion of affordable housing. In addition easy access to public transportation could permit the development of more residential units and fewer parking spaces. 

Another housing policy calls for the prioritization of city resources to assist in the purchase of existing housing by nonprofits committed to maintaining high housing standards and affordable rents. 

The housing section supports a host of services to help Berkeley’s estimated 1,000 to 3,000 homeless people by encouraging the development of permanent and transitional housing. 

The plan emphasizes housing and shelter programs for the disabled, victims of domestic violence and individuals with HIV/AIDS. 

It also calls for city support to repeal the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which blunted the city’s rent control laws by allowing the rent on vacant apartments to rise to what the market will bear. 


Land use 

The General Plan’s land use section provides city planners with guidelines for the physical development of the city. The land-use policies are closely linked to several other sections in the plan, but most closely to housing and transportation. For example, land-use polices encourage higher density housing along transportation corridors.  

As in other elements of the Draft General Plan, there are no specific uses designated for any particular parcel of land. Specific uses are spelled out in the city’s zoning laws.  

The objectives of the land use element is to preserve the character of Berkeley by maintaining the residential, commercial and industrial areas of the city. The land-use policies also seek to “minimize the impacts and maximize the benefits of the University of California on the citizens of Berkeley.” 

Through land-use decisions, the plan attempts to preserve the city’s residential districts, which cover 3,540 acres or 48 percent of the city. 

One policy specifically calls for new developments to be of similar scale and design of the homes and businesses in the surrounding areas. It also suggests that proposed projects be carefully reviewed for negative impacts such as shadows and increased traffic prior to approval.  

In addition, the plan calls for community services such as parks, schools, child care facilities and religious institutions that are accessible to residential districts. 


Since the adoption of The Downtown Plan in 1990, the area is well into the process of being revitalized. A host of new businesses including theaters and restaurants and the Central Library have either opened or are scheduled to open in the coming months.  

The downtown area is officially bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. and Berkeley ways, University and Durant avenues and Oxford Street. It is considered to be the city’s primary civic, office and entertainment center as well as the dominant retail area. 

While the downtown is significantly built up, it has been designated as a preferred location for developing affordable housing by offering developers density bonuses for providing affordable housing. For example, the plan suggests that developers who include certain levels of affordable housing in their projects be allowed to add up to two floors to building heights. So in the core of the downtown, developers would be able build as high as seven stories and as high as five stories in downtown areas that surround the core. 

The plan also suggests that affordable housing developed in the downtown be excluded from current parking requirements because of the easy access to BART and buses. 

Moreover, the plan includes density bonuses for developers to lease commercial space to nonprofit fine arts and performing arts organizations such as theaters, artist studios and musical venues. The exact amount of bonus space developers will be allowed will be determined by zoning laws. 

The Planning Commission removed a policy from the 1977 Master Plan that gave developers a bonus for creating retail space. 

The plan suggests the city continue to explore options for the partial closure of Center and Addison streets and Allston Way to automobiles and promote a pedestrian-friendly promenade that could be beneficial to merchants. 

The plan also encourages opening up Strawberry Creek through the downtown area. 

Industrial areas 

The land use element seeks to maintain the city’s industrial vitality, which exists mostly in west Berkeley and represents the third largest economic sector in the city. The location has traditionally been attractive to industry because of easy access to the freeway and rail lines. 

In the 1970s west Berkeley was primarily industrial but in recent years there has been some transition to light manufacturing and commercial uses. This has had both positive and negative effects on the area. On the positive side, two successful retail areas, one on Seventh Street at Ashby Avenue and another at Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue have emerged as some of the most profitable in Berkeley.  

On the negative side a reduction of industry in the area has resulted in fewer blue collar jobs. 

The plan suggests several policies that seek to maintain existing industrial uses. One asks that all business and organizations that propose non-industrial uses in west Berkeley be informed that they will be expected to adjust to industrial noise levels such as traffic and large machinery. 

Also it is suggested that the expansion of the Fourth Street commercial area be limited and retail business not be allowed in the mixed-use, light industrial district. 


UC Berkeley 

Since its earliest days, UC Berkeley has been a major factor in the physical, social and economic development of the city. It is expected to expand in coming years, enrolling an additional 4,000 students.  

Currently, approximately 18,000 university students live in Berkeley and the university provides beds for only about 1,000 of them. Because of the imbalance, the land-use element strongly discourages the university from increasing student enrollment and suggests that it maximize student housing both in Berkeley and along transit corridors in other nearby cities. 

Thomas said that the best feature about the General Plan is that if any of the policies are discovered to be lacking or too restrictive they can be amended up to four times a year. 

“None of this is written in stone,” he said.