Page One

LWV distorted facts to prove a point

Rob Wrenn
Monday April 01, 2002

To the Editor: 


In their open letter (Daily Planet, 3/30-31), Nancy Bickel and other officers of the League of Women Voters claim that the City Council voted to rezone the 1100 block of Hearst Street from R-3 to R-2A because they were “moved by objections to a proposed apartment building”. 

There is no evidence to support this contention. In fact, the Council voted, with only one “no” vote, to rezone after receiving a unanimous recommendation from the Planning Commission. This recommendation had nothing to do with any proposed apartment building. 

It is a matter of public record that the Planning Commission based its recommendation on the following: First, the R-3 zoning was anomalous. The 1100 block of Hearst was the only residentially-zoned block north of Hearst and west of Martin Luther King Way to be zoned R-3. Dozens of other essentially similar blocks in the area were zoned for less density than permitted by R-3 zoning. 

Secondly, R-2A zoning is a better fit for the 1100 block than R-3. It allows additional housing development without permitting development that would be out of scale with the neighborhood. Staff analysis showed that the block, which currently includes 45 housing units, could hold 67.5 units with R-2A development standards. Thus, R-2A zoning permits additional units should property owners be interested in adding additional housing units on their properties. Testimony at public hearings made clear that additional units consistent with R-2A zoning standards had in fact been added in recent decades. It was also clear that residents of these blocks had been supportive of appropriately-scaled new housing development. 

Third, and contrary to the assertion made in the League leaders' letter, rezoning is entirely consistent with policies in the recently adopted General Plan land use, housing and transportation elements. The General Plan encourages infill housing development in the Downtown, in the Southside close to the UC campus, and on transit/commercial corridors such as University, South Shattuck and San Pablo. The General Plan does not contemplate or advocate substantial increases in density in residentially-zoned areas.  

The reason for this is not hard to understand. Berkeley is a built-out city and there are only relatively few vacant, undeveloped lots in residential areas. By contrast, there are many more suitable opportunity sites for housing in commercially-zoned areas. These are precisely the areas where new housing is currently being built. There was a net gain of 1140 housing units in Berkeley between 1990 and 2000 and there are numerous projects totalling hundreds of units in various stages of the development process now. Most of these are happening in precisely the kind of locations called for in the General Plan. 

What is most objectionable in their letter is their use of the term “nay-sayers” to describe the many citizens who have taken the time to attend Planning Commission and City Council meetings. The residents of the 1100 Hearst area and the many residents from all over the city who attended the dozens of General Plan public meetings are to be commended for taking time from their families to participate in civic affairs. Residents have a right to voice their opinion about things that have an impact on them and on their families and neighborhoods. 

More housing, especially affordable housing, is needed in Berkeley. There are many appropriate locations for this housing. Hopefully, the League will actively support the City Council's recent decisions in favor of affordable housing development on the City's Oxford parking lot downtown and on the Ashby BART station air rights. Both these projects directly address the League's concern that more housing is needed for people who work here but can't afford to live here. 


Rob Wrenn, member, Berkeley Planning Commission