As Prop. 90 Looms, Density Bonus Subcommittee Must Act Fast

Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday September 05, 2006

Berkeley’s Density Bonus Subcommittee met with city staff last week for the first time since being informed two weeks ago that all the work it had done on development standards for a year would be useless unless put in place before the Nov. 8 elections. 

The reason for the threat was that the election includes a vote on statewide Proposition 90, which if it passes might severely restrict cities in their ability to change zoning. 

Members of the subcommittee said they were alarmed to learn that their work might be invalidated. Berkeley planning staff and subcommittee members worked out a set of compromises on the issues at Wednesday’s meeting and a new report of the subcommittee will be presented for possible adoption at a special meeting on Sept. 6.  

City staff, including Planning Director Dan Marks and Planning Manager Mark Rhoades, presented the joint subcommittee with changes to what the committee had been working on, which staff wanted to recommend to the City Council. 

The joint subcommittee, comprised of members from the Joint Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board and Housing Advisory Commission, differed with staff on many issues, including on what should be done about development along San Pablo Avenue. 

City staff agreed with standard planning guidelines, which suggest that San Pablo, being a wide street, would benefit from having high-density housing.  

The joint subcommittee argued that building high-density four-story buildings in an underdeveloped area of the city like San Pablo, which predominantly houses single-story buildings, would not be in keeping with the neighborhood’s character. Therefore, they said, they would prefer a slower, less drastic rise in density there. 

The joint subcommittee also recommended that in the San Pablo Avenue commercial district, the construction of a fourth story should require a use permit. Not all the staff members agreed that such a permit should be required.  

In the end it was decided that the issue would be presented to the City Council for a decision.