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Suing the city

Howie Muir Berkeley
Friday September 06, 2002

To the Editor: 

Your Sept 1. article “More trouble over housing,” might equally have been headlined “Citizens sue over city's violation of environmental laws.” Our lawsuit is primarily about the city's failure to abide by our state's strong environmental laws, principally the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). California courts have emphasized that the public holds a “privileged position” in the CEQA process “based on a belief that citizens can make important contributions to environmental protection and on notions of democratic decision making.” I regret that in a moment of frustration I should have suggested any link between the city and developers, for that is not the problem. 

As a matter of record, neighbors, supported by a petition signed by 400 residents, have consistently and repeatedly made clear to the developers that we had no objection to an appropriately scaled project with no more than three stories, in conformance with the West Berkeley Plan. Moreover, we challenged the developers to dramatically increase the amount of affordable housing, even to as high as 100 percent. The developers declined to accept this challenge of lower height but greater affordability. 

After the application's withdrawal last summer, and in expectation of its renewal, neighbors repeatedly asked both the developers and, in a special meeting, Mayor Dean, to send this matter to a qualified professional mediator. This request was made most recently in our appeal to City Council. With the city's July denial of a public hearing of the neighborhood's appeal, it rejected our request for mediation as well. Neighbors were left with no recourse but legal action. A score of inconsistencies with zoning ordinance, multiple conflicts with the area and general plans, 12 potentially significant and five significant environmental impacts, all inadequately considered. Any one of those impacts would trigger a full environmental impact report, and it is unavoidable that one should be performed for this project. 

We preferred citizen participation through dialogue and mediation, but the city left us with no alternative but the courts.  


Howie Muir,