Public Comment

Commentary: The Legacy of Mark Rhoades

By Stephen Wollmer
Friday August 10, 2007

The departure of Mark Rhoades from his positions in the Planning Department has been met with private sighs of relief from Berkeley residents and even some a public celebration (Café La Paz, 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13). As the City of Berkeley’s zoning officer for the last five years, Mark has used his febrile and fertile imagination to bend and twist the Zoning Ordinance beyond recognition in favor of the developers who fund his department but to the dismay of current residents, who believe that the City should be defending their rights to equal treatment before the law. 

Mark has always claimed that he would help the neighborhoods against outsized projects if only those pesky state laws didn’t tie his hands. But time after time, when given the option to interpret city and state laws to protect current residents, he has consistently ruled in the developer’s favor. I am sure that neighbors of each project in Berkeley’s hall of shame(ful) developments have their own tales to tell of Mark’s “creative” back-scratching for developers and backstabbing of the neighbors.  

As recent victims of decisions by Mark, Neighbors for Livable Way presents our nominations to the long and shameful list of questionable judgments by Mark and his smart growth minions on the project at 1885 MLK: 

• That the “orderly development of the area” required that a 21-foot property line setback to an 1890 Edwardian be reduced to five feet in order to give Hudson-McDonald a few more units. 

• That Hudson-McDonald’s project would be held to the policies and ordinances in place at the end of 2004, but when policies or ordinances were found to be inconvenient they were ignored. 

• Convincing Planning Director Dan Marks to allow Hudson-McDonald to substitute an entirely new project as a “modification” of the deemed complete project, thus avoiding current zoning. 

• Initially arguing that a Trader Joe’s met the state law definition of a “primarily neighborhood-serving” store. 

• That the state density bonus law requirement that applicants show waivers and modifications of development standards are necessary for the economic feasibility of affordable housing units can be stretched to justify a free parking lot for Trader Joe’s. 

I join many other Berkeley residents and business owners in encouraging the city manager and the planning director to think long and hard about Mark’s legacy and to choose his replacement carefully. The city desperately needs a zoning officer and planners who read and implement our ordinances and plans as they are written, and not as simplistic “smart growth” believers think they should be. 


Stephen Wollmer is a Berkeley resident.