Pixar Awaits Approval for West Berkeley Day Care Center

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday February 26, 2008

West Berkeley could soon be home to a child care center for Disney Pixar employees if the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approves a variance for the proposed project Thursday. 

San Rafael-based Wareham Development proposes to convert 9,961 square feet of existing ground floor space at the Saul Zaentz Media Center—formally known as the Fantasy Records Building—at 2600 Tenth St. to serve the needs of up to 100 children whose parents work on-site or at Pixar. 

Wareham needs a variance for the proposed project since the city’s zoning ordinance specifically prohibits child care centers in the Mixed Use /Light Industrial (MULI) district.  

According to a report submitted to the board by zoning staff at the Feb. 14 ZAB meeting, the MULI district’s prohibition of child care centers conflicts with the West Berkeley Plan, which allows day care centers as a conditional use in the Mixed Use/Light Industrial area, and the General Plan, which encourages improvement of the quality of life and private service availability for residents and workers. 

The applicant could have converted office space to a child care center through an administrative use permit but chose not to. 

Zoning staff was not able to explain the discrepancy between the city’s zoning ordinance and the West Berkeley Plan to the board at the last meeting and said they would try to correct this error through zoning amendments the Planning Commission was working on for West Berkeley. 

Drafted in 1999, almost six years after the West Berkeley Plan was written by the city, MULI prohibits movie theaters, medical practitioners, non-art/craft studios and child care centers. 

Wareham recently received a permit from zoning and the City Council to demolish a building at 1050 Parker St., which is located directly across from the proposed project. 

The Tenth Street site currently consists of two structures built in 1974—a two-story building housing recording studios and a seven-story designed for multi-media uses, including screening rooms and mixing studios—which is spread across a total floor area of 117,316 square feet. 

More than 40 businesses and organizations work in the two buildings. 

Around 30 parking spaces in the northwest corner of the property’s parking lot will be converted to 7,500 square feet of outdoor play area in order to comply with state standards, according to the plan. 

Based in Emeryville, Pixar is an Academy Award-winning computer animation studio best known for animated films such as Toy Story, Cars, and Ratatouille.  

“If West Berkeley is to be a center for media and positive economy, then this project will help it,” said Chris Barlow, spokesperson for Wareham Development. “The Saul Zaentz Media Center is a unique building and a unique space. No new buildings will be created. The child care center is a private facility and will not create competition to existing child care facilities.” 

Since the proposed space was formerly used for storage, structural changes would be limited to the interior, with the exception of a door swing change, he said. 

Arlyce Currie from Bananas Child Care, located in West Berkeley, expressed enthusiasm for the project at the meeting. 

“It’s a very rare thing for employees to have child care,” she said. “Pixar employees are having one and a half babies on average a week. There is a lack of infant care and a significant loss of child care centers in Berkeley.” 

Board member Terry Doran commended Pixar for its efforts. 

“It’s a shame that they have to go through a variance process,” he said, and added that the Planning Commission should take a look at the contradictions between the zoning ordinance and the West Berkeley Plan. 

“Forcing Pixar to wait until this is approved by zoning will delay the project.” 

Board chair Rick Judd called the proposed project the “poster child for something that should not need a variance.” 

Zoning staff is scheduled to present the findings for the variance on Thursday.  

In the past, Wareham has developed a part of the former headquarters of Durkee Famous Foods at 800 and 830 Heinz Ave. to a day care center.