There are a lot of good reasons to vote no on Measure LL, but perhaps the best one is that the campaign to pass it is based on lies. Measure LL would repeal our current, green Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) and put in its place a loophole-laden ordinance, designed to expedite the demolition of our historic homes and neighborhoods. The fact that proponents refer to it as a landmarks preservation ordinance may be the biggest lie of all. That’s because if a developer chooses the right options among the new and confusing bureaucratic procedures for landmarking, a historic building could be cleared for demolition before the public even knows what’s going on. In effect, Measure LL provides a means to keep historic structures from being preserved.
Measure LL contains a controversial provision called a “Request for Determination.” Measure LL backers claimed that it was needed, based on an allegation that our current LPO didn’t allow property owners to obtain a determination if their properties were historic or not. That’s patently false, since under our current LPO, property owners can and do come before the Landmarks Preservation Commission for such determinations. There’s a good reason for them to do so; the Mills Act provides property tax rebates for the restoration of historic buildings. So there was never any doubt about what our LPO allowed, but determinations weren’t what Measure LL backers really wanted. They wanted what they call a “safe harbor” for the demolition of potentially historic structures—a period of time in which they would be unprotected by law. The RFD procedure provides this cover, by allowing property owners, developers, or their agents to obtain decisions that properties aren’t historic, using a process with confusing timelines and limited public disclosure. Measure LL is a stealth anti-landmarking ordinance.
How did such an ordinance come to be written? It all began with a lie. The city attorney said that our current LPO was in violation of the 1999 Permit Streamlining Act, because our ordinance didn’t provide specific timelines for environmental review. This was nonsensical, since a state law prevails over a municipal ordinance and would simply impose the required deadlines on the permitting process. Furthermore, in 2000, the state Office of Historic Preservation certified our current LPO as being in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. But the lie took on a life of its own, and it became the premise for repealing our LPO and creating the developer-driven ordinance that became Measure LL. Ironically, the new ordinance is the one in violation of law. It violates both the California Environmental Quality Act and the Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance. Measure LL will cost the City of Berkeley tens of thousands of dollars in lawsuits, but proponents never divulge this fact.
The campaign to pass Measure LL has been a litany of lies. Proponents call Measure LL a “compromise.” Now, if our current LPO had actually been in violation of state law, as alleged, then correcting it could not truthfully be called a compromise. It would be a necessity. But people who tell lies often forget to keep their stories straight, and so the story about Measure LL being a compromise was born. This clever façade puts a reasonable-looking face on the ruthless pro-development agenda behind Measure LL.
What city officials never disclose is that Berkeley’s stock of affordable housing lies almost completely within older neighborhoods. That’s a lie of omission, but a significant one, and it may be the key to understanding why developers want Measure LL to pass so badly. There’s virtually no room for new development in Berkeley without demolishing existing buildings, and that means affordable rental housing will be destroyed if Measure LL passes. The profitable, high-density buildings that replace small apartment buildings and single family homes will in turn lower the property values of the remaining residences.
Finally, Measure LL undermines the city’s green goals, because preservation is an integral component of our sustainable future. This is a betrayal of global proportions, because according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 48 percent of the Greenhouse Gases produced in the United States come from the demolition, construction, and operation of buildings. We waste less energy and fewer resources by preserving and retrofitting historic buildings than we do by constructing new buildings to replace them, even when those buildings are energy-efficient and made from some recycled materials. That’s because new buildings don’t last long enough to recoup the cost in embodied energy that it takes to construct them.
There would be no need for misrepresentations, if there was even one good reason to pass Measure LL. But there are none. Vote no on Measure LL and keep our strong and green Landmarks Preservation Ordinance!
The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) recommends a no vote on Measure LL. The Berkeley Green Party and the Green Party of Alameda don’t just say to vote no on Measure LL; they say, “NO! NO! NO!” The Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Organization is the proponent of this referendum. For more information on BNPO and Measure LL, go to www.savethelpo.org.
Judith Epstein writes on behalf of the Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Organization.