Page One

West Berkeley Tax District Off Table, City Staff Says

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday October 16, 2007

After protests from West Berkeley residents and small business owners, the West Berkeley Community Benefits District (WBCBD) may be off the table.  

A city-run meeting tonight (Tuesday) will focus on the WBCBD, a tax assessment district, or possibly other iterations of the plan that has been under discussion by the West Berkeley Business Alliance for more than a year. 

The meeting, slated to run from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. or later, is at Rosa Parks Elementary School, at Allston Way and Eighth Street.  

While a postcard sent to some West Berkeley residents and businesses by Southwest Berkeley Council-member Darryl Moore’s office said “the West Berkeley Business Alliance (WBBA) has withdrawn its recent proposal to create a Community Benefits District,” WBBA consultant Marco LiMandri of San Diego-based New City America refused to confirm this.  

“Go to the meeting tomorrow night and you’ll find out,” LiMandri told the Planet in a brief phone interview Monday.  

Michael Goldin, chair of the WBBA steering committee, did not return Daily Planet calls. 

The tax assessment district, as conceived by the WBBA, would stretch roughly from University Avenue to the Oakland border and from San Pablo Avenue to the bay, encompassing all property owners within it. The property owners would pay an assessment according to their size, with some relief for Bayer and the largest property owners in the area.  

Similarly, the decision about whether to create the district would be weighted according to property size, with large landholders such as Bayer and San Rafael-based Wareham Development having the lion’s share of the decision-making power. Homeowners would have had a collective 2 percent of decision-making power. 

West Berkeley Concerned Neighbors (WBCN), which has held meetings with up to 100 attendees, formed in August to counter what they say is a plan where residents and small business voices would be overwhelmed by large commercial interests if a community benefits district were created. 

Sarah Klise of WBCN told the Planet on Monday that she had been trying for three weeks to get the community formally represented at the city-sponsored meeting. She said that around 11 a.m. Monday she reached Acting Economic Development Director Michael Caplan, who told her she would be given five minutes on the program. The West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies and the WBBA will also have speakers. 

In addition to speakers from the various city departments including police, Health and Human Services, public works and economic development, the program will consist of people representing the other Business Improvement Districts in the city.  

The general public will be alloted two different time periods to comment. 

Mayor Tom Bates’ Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries said in an e-mail to the Planet that the mayor is not planning to attend. 

Asked about the proposed district on Monday, Caplan told the Planet: “They basically shelved the idea.”  

Caplan distanced himself from the decision-making. “It’s not my proposal,” he said. “It’s [the WBBA] proposal.” 

The WBBA has contracted with LiMandri for $60,000, which includes a $10,000 grant from the city. Community members have complained that the WBBA planning meetings, which have gone on for more than a year, have excluded them. City staff and Moore and his staff have been invited to meetings. 

During a break from jury duty on Monday, Moore told the Daily Planet that he prefers that residents are not part of a future West Berkeley district. Moore described tonight’s meeting as a way to collectively look at options. “We’re learning as we go along,” he said, predicting that the West Berkeley district will eventually look like one of the other existing business improvement districts in the city, based either on property ownership or on business ownership. 

Caplan said the WBBA is not going to give up on its concerns, pointing to homelessness, graffiti and crime. These are the issues that will be discussed at the meeting, he said. 

But that’s not what the community is most concerned about, according to Klise. In early iterations of the Community Benefits District plan, the WBBA had indicated that some of the funds collected would be directed toward looking at revising West Berkeley zoning. The neighbors reacted with concerns for gentrification and five-story buildings sprouting next to their single-family homes. 

But Caplan said that discussion would not be held tonight. “They’re not dealing with land use [at the meeting],” he said, arguing that this would take “a whole other meeting … There’s no land-use conspiracy—at least from the staff point of view.” 

Klise said she thinks it is important for community people to show up in large numbers at the meeting tonight. 

“We do live in Berkeley,” she said. “It doesn’t look good for 10 of the largest developers to be all calling the shots versus 200-300 [community] people.”