Public Comment

Letter: West Berkeley Community Benefits District

Friday August 10, 2007

Editors, Daily Planet: 

An otherwise fine article by Judith Scherr on the proposed West Berkeley Community Benefits District (CBD) unfortunately misstated what many believe is a central point of the CBD formation. BID’s and CBD’s typically concern themselves with beautification, security, and cleanliness. The planned West Berkeley district proposes something very unusual, to act as a lobbying entity on economic development, land use, and zoning. Since the proposed district has been created and controlled by the largest developers, property owners, and commercial brokers in West Berkeley, allowing their use of assessed CBD funds for these purposes is highly problematic. In meetings and now in the Planet article Marco LiMandri (New City America consultant) and Michael Goldin state that these lobbying functions are “not part of this (plan).” Article author Judith Scheer goes on to say that: “The budget proposal confirms there are no funds set aside for rezoning efforts.”  

What Scherr missed and for some reason the CBD’s authors seem determined to hide is the clearly stated Item No. 111 from their (latest) July 15 Fourth Draft Budget Breakdown for the West Berkeley Community Benefit District: “Overall District Management—$60,000 for first year” “District administrator (to)…work with the city on…“economic development strategies. Outreach to political reps, city officials. Attend public hearings. Hiring professionals (to) advise on land use issues, input on West Berkeley Plan.”  

Since the West Berkeley Plan is the zoning document for West Berkeley it’s clear that, despite protestations, lobbying for the largest developers and property owners on zoning and development issues is a high priority of the CBD steering committee. If they want people to actually believe what they’re saying on this issue, their actions should reflect their words. This would be accomplished by removing the item from the budget.  

In the article, Mr Goldin, WBBA member and architect of the CBD, defends the participatory nature of the process by quoting the CBD’s survey letter: “ We welcome any affected property owner in the study area to be involved in this CBD formation process.” The simple fact is that planning meetings for the proposed CBD have been taking place for nearly a year now to which only the very largest property owners (Wareham, Bayer, Goldin, etc.) have been invited. When several affected neighbors requested by phone and e-mail to New City America consultant Marco LiMandri that they be notified of upcoming meetings, these requests were ignored as were other requests for informational phone calls to be returned. So much for the open process “welcome.” At every possible step the regulatory and day-to-day initiation of the CBD has been governed by West Berkeley’s largest corporations and landowners.  

That the largest moneyed interests determine the policies of our national government is an unfortunate fact, but at what point did this same sad standard of democracy become acceptable in Berkeley? 

Judy Dater 

Margret Elliott 

Catherine Jones 

M. Sarah Klise 

David Snipper 

G. Barry Wagner