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West Berkeley Zoning Battle Generates Heat

By Richard Brenneman
Friday March 28, 2008

The ongoing battle over the future of West Berkeley won’t be a quick campaign, city planning staffers promised Wednesday. 

That may be good news for a diverse assortment of stakeholders, ranging from woodworker John Curl to real estate broker Don Yost and recycler Mary Lou Van Deventer. 

While the city’s plan for “increased flexibility” in West Berkeley zoning seemed headed for a fast-track approval, planner Alex Amoroso said that any changes to the zoning codes created to support the West Berkeley Plan will be made only after extensive consultation with stakeholders. 

No one on the city staff seemed ready for Planning Commissioner Helen Burke’s proposal to hold a public workshop, but the city’s Land Use Manager Debra Sanderson said she has been consulting with stakeholders in one-on-one meetings and in small groups. 

The push for zoning changes comes at a time when Mayor Tom Bates has allied with mayors of other East Bay cities to form a Green Technology Corridor of cities eager to capture the entrepreneurial fallout from synthetic fuel research and other endeavors at UC Berkeley and its affiliated Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

During the recent Berkeley Energy Symposium, investment fund mogul John Doerr—a colleague of Al Gore’s and Colin Powell’s in the green tech funding business—spoke of trillions of dollars to be made from “green” technologies. 

Doer is a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), which recently recruited both Gore and Powell. 

But does the lure of promised riches from high-tech green threaten another, more basic form of green, the one the mayor so recently praised when the city released its green-collar jobs report? 

That document, prepared by San Francisco State professor Raquel Pinderhughes, praised the kinds of jobs offered by green businesses like the recycling efforts of Van Deventer’s Urban Ore, bike repair shops, public transit and print shops that use organic inks and recycled papers. 

Those jobs offer the best chance for minorities, people with limited education and people with past brushes with the law to find jobs that pay enough in wages and benefits to support a family. 

The high-tech jobs, by contrast, draw from a much narrower and better educated work force. 

“I encourage you to take a deep breath, pause and allow stakeholders to comment,” said Yost. “The issues are very complex, and they all deserve to be heard.” 

Some changes are straightforward and could be quickly accomplished with little disagreement, said Curl, “but other issues are more complex and will take a long time to vet thoroughly.”  

The first step toward progress on solutions, he said, would be to separate out the simpler issues where there is broad agreement among stakeholders. 

Curl and Van Deventer are members of WEBAIC, the West Berkeley Alliance of Artists and Industrial Companies. Curl, WEBAIC staff member Rick Auerbach and others met with Yost to prepare their own alternatives to the suggested changes formulated by Principal Planner Allan Gatzke. 

Larry Hayes, however, said action was needed soon because two properties his company owns were built atop dividing lines separating the MULI (manufacturing and light industrial) and C-W (commercial and warehouse) zones. Because fire regulations call for firewalls between the two uses, and zoning codes prescribe and proscribe different uses in the two zones, leasing the buildings becomes difficult, with one property remaining vacant for six years. 

Bernard Marszalek, marketing manager for West Berkeley’s Inkworks print shop collective, said that two issues covered in the commission’s West Berkeley tour earlier this month—large sites and zoning problems—were distinct concerns and shouldn’t be conflated. 

A WEBAIC activist, Marszalek said he wasn’t opposed to development but that growth should occur within the context of the West Berkeley Plan. 

On behalf of the Sierra Club, Zoning Adjustments Board member and city housing commissioner Jesse Arreguin read a letter from Kent Lewandowski, the club’s Northern Alameda County group chair, who offered an endorsement of the plan’s support of recycling businesses critical to help the city reach its zero waste goals. 

Losing recycling businesses and green- collar jobs would force the companies to the Central Valley, resulting in the loss of green-collar jobs for the city and increased traffic congestion, Lewan-dowski said. 

George Williams, a former San Francisco planning official who was sitting in for absent commissioner David Stoloff, said he wanted to see more concrete proposals from the staff, including examples of policies on industrial retention from other cities. 

“San Francisco and Oakland are struggling with this,” he said, urging the staff to give the commissioners definitions of manufacturing used in other jurisdictions. 

Commissioner Patti Dacey said that while she appreciated that Sanderson and others on the city staff were meeting with stakeholders, it was also important for commissioners to have access to them. 

Commissioner Larry Gurley said that meetings between stakeholders and the commission would be premature before the stakeholders themselves got together and reached a consensus on key issues. 


For more background on the issues, see the city’s web page on the subject at WEBAIC has its own web pages at, and the Green Collar Jobs report is available online at pageid=26&contentid=350.