Election Section

Software Firm Must Provide Transit Subsidies

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 09:46:00 AM

The Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board mandated that a private software company provide transit subsidies to its employees as a condition of approval of its use permit onThursday. 

A group of North Berkeley neighbors expressed concern about traffic impacts from a proposed project at 1995-1999 El Dorado Ave. The applicant wants to build 4,234 square feet of office space in a renovated multi-tenant building, and to increase its height from 17.75 feet to 26.5 feet. 

Designed by David Trachtenberg—the architect who designed Berkeley Bowl—the building would be the only commercial building in the area apart from the PG&E substation located to its west. 

Trachtenberg told the zoning board that renovation and restoration plans include modifying the front facade and raising a part of the single-story roof to match the one on the second story. 

A couple of residents expressed concern about the scale of the project and how it would impact their privacy. Others complained that a software company was not an appropriate use for the area , which was zoned as a neighborhood commercial district, since it was not “functionally relevant” to the neighbors. 

The board asked applicant Brendan Madden, who owns Tom Sawyer Software, to limit the firm’s hours of operation to between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., as required by zoning in the neighborhood, and to limit patio hours for its staff from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to address privacy concerns. 

More than six neighbors testified about the lack of parking on the 1900 block of El Dorado, but said most of their concerns were addressed by a parking distribution plan Madden handed out right before the meeting which was later added to the board’s list of conditions. 

Madden outlined several public transit alternatives for his employees in this plan, including AC Transit, BART and a company shuttle which would drop off and pick up employees from the downtown BART, and a distribution of parking spots around the neighborhood which were not time-limited. 

The list also included transit subsidies—a tax-free commuter benefits program which allows employees to save on qualified commuting expenses—which zoning commissioner Jesse Arreguin suggested be included in the list of use permit conditions to minimize parking impacts.