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Council Upholds Zoning Board’s Bayer Decision

By Judith Scherr
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 09:35:00 AM

With deceased Councilmember Dona Spring’s spot on the council dais overflowing with flowers and a poster with a photograph and inscription, “Speak truth to power,” the council carried on its regular business of the day, after accolades to Spring from councilmembers and the public. 


921 Parker 

The council upheld the decision of the zoning board 7-0-1, with Councilmember Kriss Worthing-ton abstaining, giving the Bayer corporation the green light to occupy 921 Parker St. with offices, even though the property is located in a district zoned for light industrial use.  

Appellant Zelda Bronstein argued that the city’s ruling, based on the fact that Bayer was renting and did not own the Parker Street property and that it would be re-converted to light industrial use after Bayer vacated the property in 10 years, was not an adequate legal reason for sidestepping the West Berkeley Plan aimed at keeping the area’s mix of residences and light industry.  

Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan argued that approval of the temporary conversion to office space was at the zoning board’s “discretion.” Debra Sanderson, land-use planning manager for the city, said the 921 Parker site was unique in that it was close enough to the main Bayer site to have a “door connecting to the [Bayer] property.” 


LPO on the ballot 

For more than 20 years Berkeley has had a Landmarks Preservation Ordinance that preservationists have said protected historic resources. But three years ago, the City Council adopted a new ordinance that preservationists said would not provide effective protection. A ballot alternative, Measure J, lost in 2006, after which the council-adopted ordinance was supposed to go into effect.  

But opponents, including the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Organization, circulated a referendum petition which put the new version on hold. If adopted, the measure would reject the new ordinance and leave the old one in place. 

At the City Council, referendum advocates have been arguing for a few weeks with the Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan about what the ballot language should say so that voters understand the question before them. 

Cowan said he would rewrite his ballot question for next week’s final council meeting of the year. The ballot language he presented on Tuesday simply asked voters if the latest landmark ordinance should be repealed. Preservationists contend that the ballot question should clearly state that the new ordinance constitutes a substantial revision of the old one. 

The council also: 

• Voted unanimously to begin procedures to purchase 1 Bolivar Drive for the new animal shelter, using bond funds and funds from the sale of the old shelter. 

• Met in a workshop with the new Berkeley Housing Authority and learned that, while new staff is on board, the new board has been trained and the wait list has been revised, the authority continues to be in “troubled” status. Having neglected to appoint a mandated joint housing-city committee, the mayor and board chair appointed one Tuesday evening. 

In a separate off-agenda item from the city manager, the council learned, after the BHA submitted a freedom of information request to HUD for the information, that HUD had completed its investigation of the problems of the former Berkeley Housing Authority and determined that there was sloppy work by some employees but no criminal activity, as had been alleged by the former city attorney. 

The council put off until next week: 

• Discussion of instant runoff voting—the city clerk’s office is waiting for an update from the California secretary of state. Meanwhile, Berkeley’s July 14 date to have the voting machines certified has passed. The clerk’s office has concluded that there will be no IRV vote in Berkeley this year. 

• A resolution of support for the California Voters FIRST Act on redistricting on the November ballot; 

• Two resolutions in support of the AC Transit Ballot Measure, one placing conditions on the support.