Planning Commission Votes to End Downtown Fast Food Moratorium

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 12, 2008 - 05:34:00 PM

The man residents of downtown Berkeley elected to represent their district on the city council came to the planning commission Wednesday night to make a request. 

The commissioners turned him down on a 5-3 vote, then voted 6-2 to end the ban on new fast food outlets in the city center. 

Jesse Arreguin, who was elected to the city council in November after the death of popular District 4 Councilmember Dona Spring, the original author of the moratorium ordinance, urged commissioners to hold off on a vote on ending the ban until he had a chance to meet with stakeholders in his district. 

“This is not a time-sensitive issue,” he said. 

Arreguin said he believed ending the moratorium was a good idea, but he said he wanted more time to consider the underlying issues which had led to imposition of the moratorium a decade ago. 

Neither the Downtown Berkeley Association, which has pushed for lifting the ban, nor city Economic Development Director Michael Caplan objected to the delay, he said. 

Arreguin said problems with definitions in the zoning code could bar some potentially desirable businesses while allowing others that weren’t. Commissioner James Novosel said, “If we lifted the moratorium you could still work out those issues. Why not lift it now and you can come back” to the commission with proposed changes? 

If the commission did decide to lift the moratorium, Arreguin said, he wanted the issue put on the calendar for a future meeting to address the questions, but “why not delay action a few weeks so we can actually talk to the interested parties?”  

“I’d like to point out that only one other person showed up to talk about it,” responded chair James Samuels. 

When Gene Poschman, Spring’s appointee to the commission, suggested continuing the hearing to allow Arreguin time to conduct his meetings, commissioner Harry Pollack immediately moved to close the hearing, getting a second from Dorothy Walker. 

“The middle of December is a lousy time to have a hearing and expect merchants to come,” he said. Poschman too said he had talked to Caplan, who had agreed that the existing definitions needed clarification. 

But chair James Samuels said he would vote to lift the moratorium, declaring that if the commission wants to ban any uses, the ban should apply city-wide. 

Dorothy Walker, the commission’s newest member, said the commission had already spent too much time on “a small issue” and that Arreguin should come back to the commission when he had specific proposals. 

During the public hearing that preceded the commission’s vote, Downtown Berkeley Association Executive Director Deborah Badhia and developer/broker John Gordon asked the commission to end the moratorium, while only Merilee Mitchell spoke in favor of Arreguin’s request. 

While Poschman and colleague Patti Dacey urged the commission to continue the hearing to allow Arreguin the time he sought, only Roia Ferrazares joined them on the vote, which failed 5-3. Ferrazares then joined with the 6-2 majority on the vote to end the moratorium.