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Embattled housing project approved

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 29, 2002

In a neighborhood battle that pitted the small-town values of south Berkeley against the city’s needs for affordable housing, city leaders carried the housing developers to victory. 

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, councilmembers approved development of a 40-unit housing project at 2517 Sacramento St. The project, submitted by the nonprofit Affordable Housing Associates, will provide housing exclusively for seniors at monthly rates as low as $200 as well ground-floor retail space likely to include a small grocery and cafe. 

Approval of the project comes after more than two years of back and forth between neighbors who had urged a smaller, less intrusive project and housing advocates who said the need for more affordable units was desperate. 

The disagreement culminated, in the three weeks preceding council’s decision, in a city-sponsored mediation process that left just one development option amicable to both parties. 

The problem with this option was that it would cost the city $300,000 and eliminate four of the proposed housing units. 

Refusing to make such sacrifices, councilmembers essentially dismissed the appeal of the neighbors who wanted to change the project and approved the same proposal before them earlier this month which they had subsequently ordered out for revision. 

“I don’t think we got what we thought we were going to get [with the mediation],” said Councilmember Polly Armstrong. She called the $5000 mediation expense a “rip- off.” 

Consequently, Armstrong joined councilmembers Maudelle Shirek, Miriam Hawley, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington in winning a 5-2 vote for the project and ending years of neighborhood debate. 


While AHA developers were on hand to applaud council’s decision, neighbors for the project were not present at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Their noticeable absence bucked their two-year trend of heavy involvement at public hearings. Many speculated that the neighbors assumed council would opt for the plan that came out of the mediation process, and consequently, stayed home. 

Councilmember Betty Olds, joining Mayor Shirley Dean in voting against the project, staked out the position of the absent neighbors. 

“Neighborhoods have a right to be heard and have a compromise. This is not a compromise,” Olds said. 

But Councilmember Shirek snubbed Olds’ comments and led a one-track charge for housing. 

“I don’t understand how people can oppose a much-needed, well-designed project,” she said. 

The only change to the project, since it was considered by council earlier this month, is the addition of two to five parking spaces. 

With Tuesday’s go-ahead, construction of the project could begin by the end of this year, said AHA project manager Kevin Zwick. 

The project is slated for completion at the end of 2003, and AHA will begin taking applications from seniors who want to live there in summer 2003, Zwick said.