Neighbors for a Livable Berkeley Way has appealed the recent Superior Court decision denying our petition challenging the Berkeley City Council’s approval of the Trader Joe’s project at the corner of University and MLK. Although demolition is underway and construction will begin this summer, we believe that the council ignored and flouted City zoning law, CEQA, and state density bonus law in their eagerness to approve a ‘popular’ project.
We are requesting the appellate court to review and reverse the court’s decision in order to return the city’s permitting process to the straight and narrow letter of the law, to forestall additional ad hoc and capricious planning approvals and to restore citizen’s full protection under law from further ill-advised and detrimental projects in the name of dubious “progress” and sham “affordable housing” projects.
We contend that the city’s zoning ordinance requires equal protection for all property owners adjacent to a commercial development and that a benefit granted to one owner does should not allow removing protections from other owners. We contend that any developer requesting a density bonuses beyond state law’s maximum bonus should be required to demonstrate that the extra units are necessary for affordable housing rather than some “other public purposes” as Planning Department staff contends in their proposed ex post facto revision to the city’s implementation of state density bonus law.
We contend that CEQA is designed as a public process where citizen input is considered and valued rather than a empty ritual with only paid “experts” having a voice. We are requesting that the appeals court find that there was substantial evidence that locating a Trader Joe’s at this location with less than fifty parking spaces may very well result in traffic and parking impacts well in excess of what the traffic study found, and therefore should have required a full environmental impact report rather than a mitigated negative declaration. We will further argue that under CEQA nationwide standards for parking can not be waved away by pointing to the city’s extremely low parking requirements as a threshold of significance. We contend that making up new city policy in response to a development proposal is inherently dangerous and that substantial changes in how the city applies state law should be considered by the Planning Commission and passed into law by the council with full CEQA analysis of the effect on all neighborhoods.
We value the protections offered by city and state law from flawed and corrupt processes in land use planning and our rights to judicial review. We appreciate the support that citizens throughout Berkeley have offered our neighborhood throughout this process and pledge to continue our struggle for a fair and open process where the rule of law prevails. We look forward to making our arguments in the Court of Appeals and welcome Anna DeLeon to our litigation team. For further information about our struggle or to contribute to our legal defense fund please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Wollmer is a neighbor of the Trader Joe’s project.