Two Wednesday Meetings Focus on City Land Use

By Richard Brenneman
Monday July 06, 2009 - 03:10:00 PM

Berkeleyans concerned about land issues may have a tough time choosing which city meeting to attend Wednesday night. 

While the Planning Commission meets at the North Berkeley Senior Center (1901 Hearst Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Way), planning staff will be conducting a second meeting on housing at the South Berkeley Senior Center (2939 Ellis St., just north of Ashby Avenue). 

Both meetings start at 7 p.m. 

Adding to the complications, the Planning Commission will also be discussing the same housing issue being discussed at the South Berkeley meeting. 

The housing issue focuses on a mandatory revision of a key section of the city’s General Plan, the so-called Housing Element, which describes city policies for housing its existing and incoming residents. 

Both the city Planning and Housing Advisory commissions are involved in the rewrite, though the City Council will have the final say. 

The revised document is also influenced by the Association of Bay Area Governments, which sets quotas on how much new housing cities must be willing to permit in order to access state funds allocated through the regional government agency. 

While the South Berkeley meeting is largely informational, seeking input from the public on proposed changes to the ordinance, planning commissioners could take action at their simultaneous session. 

The commission will also be taking up the politically thorny issue of designing a new master use permit process for West Berkeley, which would change the rules of the development game on larger parcels in the only area of the city zoned for industry and manufacturing. 

The City Council has directed commissioners to come up with ways to ease development rules, with an eye toward allowing both phased development of larger parcels and in permitting changes in use within those parcels. 

Mayor Tom Bates wants the existing law changed with an eye toward capturing and keeping high tech companies spun off from research generated at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

One key question to be decided is just how small parcels can be that could be developed under the new permit system, with a considerable number of existing West Berkeley businesses and industries along with Berkeley’s dwindling populations of artists and crafts workers hoping to limit development to a few larger existing parcels, while developers are arguing for permits for smaller properties, and for the right to assemble smaller parcels to whatever minimum size is finally adopted.