Density Bonus Law Confounds Officials By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday June 14, 2005

If would-be developers and neighborhood activists find the inclusionary and density bonuses hard to understand, they’re not alone. 

The bonuses, which award extra height and size to buildings that include housing for lower-income tenants, are proving just as inscrutable to the folks charged with administering the code. 

“The density bonus law is clearly a mess,” said Zoning Adjustments Board member Bob Allen at ZAB’s Thursday night meeting. 

Allen is one of the ZAB members assigned to a subcommittee that is seeking to understand the laws and developing standards for working with them. 

Fellow panelist Dean Metzger said he is currently “trying to computerize the whole zoning code book. “I am still convinced it can be solved with mathematics. It’s difficult and complicated, but not insoluble.” 

But colleague Rick Judd, a land use attorney, said, “I don’t think it will ever be clear to the public until it’s changed.” 

Judd said that the subcommittee’s attempt to apply the city planning department’s mathematical model “didn’t make me feel I understood it any better.” 

“Getting clear answers to one calculation threw off the numbers in another,” said panelist David Blake, who added that it would take another subcommittee meeting for him to be able to report back to the full board about just how he sees the process. 

Meanwhile, at the direction of the City Council and Mayor Tom Bates, the Planning Commission has appointed its own subcommittee to look at the code. The two groups will then work together to come up with recommendations for clarifying the confusing stretches of legalese. 

“You know that as soon as you guys resolve this issue in Berkeley, the state law will change completely,” said ZAB member Chris Tiedemann. 

“It may be only a few meetings before we can come back with a clear explanation of how to apply the code, but that is only the first step,” said Allen. 

“The density bonus law is clearly a mess. If we’re really serious, this is a very long-term effort that will then be taken over by the Planning Commission,” Allen said. “Is it fair? Or is it a quagmire?” 

“First Vietnam, then Iraq, then the Density Bonus,” quipped Blake.