The Biggest Game in Town is Mayor Tom Bates’ favorite—Deals for Developers.
Former Real Estate Broker and Sacramento politician Bates has the skills and connections to change the skyline and friendly, sunny, small-town feeling of Berkeley.
He is forcing big development on Berkeley, the third-densest city in California north of Los Angeles. Our density is in tall dorms near campus, and compact historical neighborhoods with little bungalows and many children.
Our city was wisely designed as a walkable, sustainable university town but our mayor wants to transform it with high density. How high? The Bates/UC Hotel project was up to 225 feet last week and now has a sister incubating.
Over-densification will destroy Berkeley’s mature trees, and gardens in setbacks and small spaces between homes, where bees and hummingbirds thrive and salamanders sleep under stones. Natural areas are critical for the health of people and our Planet. Consider the cooling greenery, warming sunlight, openable windows, and walkability of Berkeley. These are important reasons why Berkeley uses half the energy of other cities.
Our caring citizens want a Zero Carbon Footprint now, and we could get there quickly if we did not have to spend our lives fighting Mayor Bates’ Deals for Developers.
Soon after election in 2002, Mayor Bates admitted that his top priority was to get Berkeley developed. He therefore would not help us save the Berkeley Adult School. We later discovered that the school was already planned to become another developer opportunity-site.
Bates’ development strategy allows (encourages) University sprawl beyond all its campus boundaries. The mayor has never lobbied for growth limits for UC, or for saving our trees, which remove carbon gasses from the air and make the oxygen we breathe.
Part of Bates’ strategy is to let almost everything in town go, thus decreasing land values. The neglect causes blight, a finding for Redevelopment. This gives the developers the chance to buy land at rock bottom prices.
Letting our town decline causes friends to sell their homes and leave Berkeley, adding hefty property transfer taxes to city coffers, 15 million last year, a much larger amount than city sales tax revenue! So the city makes more turning over property than from protecting it.
Other deals for developers include waiving their taxes and fees; selling city land worth millions like the Oxford Street Parking Lot for a dollar—and easements on Center Street Garage. Meanwhile our mayor knows that lack of parking is killing our shopping and movie theaters downtown and that UC Berkeley is planning its own shops and three movie theaters in a huge Downtown Art Museum.
Bates created the DAPAC, Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee, which is working to greatly expand the university’s holdings in our downtown, both horizontally and vertically! Many members seem to have conflicts of interest. A mysterious Technical Advisory Committee meets with staff, but is unknown to the rest of DAPAC except those in the University Property Subcommittee, CIUP, led by Dorothy Walker, former UC property manager.
Three Tech Advisory members are: Real Estate Broker John Gordon; Jay Keasling of UCB and LBN Labs of GMO and Biodiesel fame, and Deena Belzer, specialist in TOD (transit-oriented development), another Bates specialty.
Recently DAPAC surreptitiously passed a plan to build high-density housing on the Berkeley Way parking lot. Yet they plan to let the university build 1000 parking spaces in the heart of downtown near BART. Although UC has eco-passes for students and staff, DAPAC is allowing UC all this new parking, while they are eliminating our city-owned parking, and forcing residents to shop in other cities.
UC can make over 5 million per year on 1000 parking spaces. We could be making revenue from the Oxford Lot to clean up downtown, restore bike cops and guides, and have a Solar Shoppers Shuttle.
How does Bates get away with this? Under his leadership the city seems to do every trick in the book, fast and furious: “Sunshine” a moving target, “Bates and switch,” multiple meetings simultaneously, short notice, no notice, secret meetings, hot meetings during holidays, council meetings on half the Tuesdays with 30 important items jamming the Consent Calendar. Here’s an example from the Oct. 23 City Council meeting: “Consent Calendar item No. 1 (of 29) Second Reading: “Sale of Center Street Garage Setback Easement to SNK Captec Arpeggio.” This is an easement into the airspace of the city-owned garage, so the 10-story Arpeggio Building can have windows on its west side. The appraised value of the easement was $850,000 (neither reading included copies of the appraisals). This reading was missing the report explaining the rationale for yet another Developer Deal—mayor and council sold the easement to Arpeggio for just $200,000.
Enough already? There’s more to come. These are just a few clues to The Biggest Game in Town.
Merrilee Mitchell is a Berkeley civic watchdog and a former candidate for Berkeley City Council.