Public Comment

Commentary: West Berkeley Tax District Benefits Developers

By Sarah Klise
Friday July 27, 2007

Did you know that your neighbors can get together and decide that it is in your best interest to pay a supplemental property tax, all without your input or a fair voting process? Well, welcome to Berkeley. Year: 2007. This is what is happening right now in South/West Berkeley under the interestingly named proposed Community Benefits District (CBD). 

The biggest land owners on this side of town (in order: Bayer, Wareham Corporation and the City of Berkeley, along with developers Denny Abrams, Dennis Cohen, Steven Goldin, Doug Herst and Steven Donaldson) have decided that we need to “beautify and bring order” to our mixed use neighborhood of residences and businesses. They list their priorities as: street cleaning, sidewalk repair, graffiti abatement, homeless/encampment removal, 24-hour security (meaning two men in pickup trucks with walkie talkies? cell phones? guns?), and additional transit services.  

I am a resident in Potter Creek (Heinz Street to Dwight/San Pablo to the train tracks) and went, uninvited, to a meeting of these developers last week. I asked why the corridor of Sixth Street (between University and Dwight)—almost entirely single family homes—was being red-lined out of this district. Their response: it is a residential neighborhood and this doesn’t apply to them. Hmmm. Exactly what we think. This district does not apply to us. Second, why the “weighted” vote? Meaning, if the above developers are for this district, because they own more land, they win. Our votes don’t count. This is a done deal before there is even a single vote cast. So please, let’s not call this a vote, shall we? 

When asked about the allocation of funds, I was told by Marco Li Mandri (who makes a living selling this idea to communities) to read the mission statement. It is all about beautification, safety, cleanliness and mobility. Hey, who is against that? Not me. He said that 75% of the budget was for just that. And the other 25 percent? Well, he said for the running of the CBD office. Ahhh. 

In reading the fine print, after I got home, I see that the much of that 25 percent is for land use issues. Of course. Politics. They want to hire consultants, lawyers, and meet with city officials and rework that pesky document called the West Berkeley Plan to suit the “weighted” voters of the CDB. Them!  

In other fine print we learn that the largest landowner, Bayer, has cut a special deal with the CBD planners. They will not have to pay their equal share of this tax as they will not have to pay the percentages on their taxable building square footage. Why? Because it would cost too much. 

And the City of Berkeley’s stance? Well, they are sitting at the same table. Why not get the people to pay an extra tax? What a dream concept for them. The thing is, City of Berkeley, I already pay you to clean my street, and pick up the occasional dropped mattress, arrange for city buses to pass by, and for the police to come when called and I think you do a commendable job of it. You know this, you get my check twice a year and cash it. And sidewalks? We just bought them 2 years ago, thank you. Graffiti? Never had it in my 15 years here. And, the buses run on time.  

But, you say you want flowers? Call us. Trees, bushes? Call us. We would love to partner up with you and plant flowers and pick up trash on a regular basis. “Welcome to Berkeley” signs would be nice. The first freeway exit to Berkeley, in Potter Creek, at Ashby could look so much better. It is awful. Let’s call the City. I’m sure, together we could come up with many good ideas. 

My only remaining question is this: are you sure you have the right name for your group? Doesn’t “Developer Benefits District” (DBD) have a nicer ring? 


Sarah Klise is a West Berkeley resident.