The Planning Commission caved to a posse of developers Wednesday evening: They left the meeting jubilantly. The commission voted to make no recommendation to the city council on the subcommittee’s recommendations on density bonus. The most important stakeholders in this issue, the homeowners and tenants whose homes are directly affected, were not notified that the issue was coming up. The one citizen who spoke against the developers and in favor of the recommendations said she was there only because she always comes to these meetings. She characterized the developments that have proliferated in Berkeley as providing substandard housing, impinging on neighbors’ light and air, and being ugly; “looks like a prison,” she said of one building.
The commission seemed to head in the right direction, to implement the recommendations with a “sunset” clause, to revisit the issue after the fate of Proposition 90 is known. Then someone worried about the developers’ projects, which would be put on hold for a few months, one developer shouted “Moratorium” and that was the end of it. If the developers weren’t making money, there wouldn’t be so many of them.
If the people who oppose the densification of Berkeley as well as its unfettered growth UP had been notified of this “public” hearing, they might have been there. There was a lone, articulate voice. I was there, with my husband, to support the second action item, the recommendations for amendments to major residential additions: another issue where the interests of property owners, many who have lived in Berkeley for many years and appreciate its texture, seem vulnerable to the interests of those who would allow unlimited, unregulated growth. One self-identified architect announced that Berkeley must grow up, because it has nowhere else to go. Do Palo Alto, Mill Valley, even San Francisco subscribe to this notion? Why does Berkeley HAVE to grow? Another homeowner argued that he and all the people he knows at Totland should be allowed to expand their two bedroom, one bath bungalows in any direction they want, because today’s families need more space. I know where they can find it, in San Ramon and similar communities. Some of us treasure our little craftsman bungalows and work to preserve them, from the ravages of time and poorly-intentioned remodelling, as well as from the encroachment of “stucco warts” and view, light, and air blocking additions. On our block, I can point to two well designed, architecturally pleasing second story additions, and two box-on-top-of a box second story additions with no architectural merit. One of these, next door to our house, blocked our views and the more stunning views of at least two other neighbors. Those people wanted to build up, because they wanted the view, while stealing views from other people. As another speaker on this item pointed out, this sets neighbor against neighbor and damages the fabric of our community.
Joan Strand is a Berkeley resident.