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Measures would promote ‘fair trade’ coffee, ban ‘out-of-scale’ buildings

By Devona Walker, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 01, 2002

Some Berkeley residents are hurriedly scouring the commercial districts and neighborhoods and gathering signatures in an attempt to get two separate but perhaps equally controversial initiatives placed on the upcoming November ballot. 

A push by Martha Nicoloff, former president of the North Berkeley Neighborhood Council seeks to preserve Berkeley as a city of “neighborhoods without huge, out-of-scale building projects sticking out of their midst like bulky boulders.” 

The initiative, which has been two years in the making, would essentially outlaw developments larger than four stories within city limits. And Nicoloff says she’s prepared to face those who oppose it. 

“We expect incredible opposition, and we are ready for it,” Nicoloff said. “However, maybe after people have a look at it they will see that we’ve helped out the City Council. We have helped them update their zoning ordinance to be a better match with the general plan they’ve just passed.”  

According to Nicoloff the initiative is designed to stop developers from using undue influence and loopholes to get large projects developed. 

“City Council has neglected to updated the Zoning Regulations needed to plug the loopholes,” Nicoloff said. “The City Council has not acted on these important issues, so it is our right as citizens to petition the voters and get the voters opinion.”  

“Developers are using their influence to go beyond four stories out in the commercial areas and we think it is detrimental to the community — if they go beyond four stories,” she added. 

Though she expects there to be opposition, Nicoloff says the initiative has made its way to the table of the planning commission, and she is hoping the initiative will receive fair analysis. 

“But what is most important to us is to find out what people in the community think first,” she added. 

The second petition drive is likely to cause even more controversy. 

COFFEE/From Page 3 


Berkeley attorney Rick Young wants to restrict the sale of brewed coffee from business vendors in the city to those brewed from coffee beans which are certified as “organic,” “fair trade” or “shade-grown.” 

Organic coffee is defined by beans that are produced under an approach that views the farm as an ecosystem and promotes long-term protection of the farm with an emphasis on recycling, composting, soil health and biological activity, according to Young. 

“Fair trade certified coffee” meets the standards of the TransFair USA, a nonprofit monitoring organization that certifies that participating traders are following fair trade guidelines.  

“Shade grown coffee” is planted in a shaded, forest-like setting created by a canopy of trees. 

According to Young this initiative would cause a reduction in the use of chemicals applied during coffee cultivation. Young also asserts that consumers need to take more responsibility for how their purchases are affecting the environment. 

But at least one councilmember says he does not think this will be a very popular initiative, if it indeed does make it to the November ballot. 

“Coffee in Berkeley is a bit like a religion,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Taking people’s coffee away is far more controversial than us deciding to bomb Afghanistan. I don’t know how many people in Berkeley would support that. 

Another possible obstacle facing the city would be the legality of such legislation, and the cost factor of enforcing it, not to mention backlash from existing coffee vendors. 

In the short-term, requiring coffee vendors to sell specific types of coffee would limit the variety of beans that consumers could purchase. 

But Worthington said he thinks that legally there are some things the city could do to encourage and discourage the sale of certain coffee products. 

“The city already buys fair trade coffee. It’s not clear to me that we couldn’t take some steps to discourage the sale of non-fair trade coffee,” he said. 

Worthington pointed to the city outlawing the use of Styrofoam cups as a possible precedent to such legislation. 

Both petition drives will require 2,000 signatures by June to make it onto the November ballot. 


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