Public Comment

In Support of the Downtown Plan Referendum

By Toni Meister
Thursday August 06, 2009 - 10:42:00 AM

I am supporting the Downtown Plan referendum because the mayor and the current Berkeley City Council majority are giving away development rights and failing to protect neighborhoods from adverse impacts and detriment. 

They argue that we have to densify the downtown in order to spare the neighborhoods while they intend to develop all the remaining flatlands, starting with West Berkeley and then the areas around the North Berkeley and Ashby BART stations. 

Their tactics are familiar: Set up citizen advisory groups like the Density Bonus Subcommittee and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), string them along for two years, and then ignore their recommendations or rip them off. 

At the heart of the downtown plan controversy are height allowances and requirements such as green-building standards, open space, affordable housing, and transit mitigations. The Bates/Maio version that the council passed at one of their infamous late-night meetings allows for six-story buildings near low-density residential neighborhoods and gives developers an escape from paying for public benefits. 

An economic feasibility policy (land use 8.3) states: “When establishing provisions for new fees and financing consider how all fees and exactions may discourage development,” giving developers room to wiggle out of their obligations to the community. 

In 1991, I spent six months on the citizens’ advisory committee for the Bayer development agreement, a 30-year contract which has garnered over $13 million for the city in infrastructure improvements, education, community programs, and fees. Yet at the time, the City Council was paralyzed with fear of a plant closure. It was staff working with determined citizens and Fern Tiger Associates, representing the corporation, who brought negotiations to a successful conclusion. 

The current council is similarly afraid that developers will actually turn their backs on the East Bay’s premier city, its centrality in the Bay Area and splendid climate and cultural life, when their stance should be welcoming with tough love, supporting innovation while maintaining standards that make Berkeley a desirable place to live. 

Nowadays the mayor and City Council rely too heavily on staff planners, who no longer see citizens as a help but a hindrance to their professional ambitions, and both the council majority and staff are besotted with the smart-growth rationale and its dumb assumptions. 

If the city doesn’t force developers to respect our neighborhoods and pay for the privilege of building in Berkeley, then the taxpayers will not only lose our amenities but end up footing the bill. 

For your own sake, for the sake of democracy in Berkeley, for the sake of the future, and for Pete’s sake, sign the Downtown Plan referendum. 


Toni Meister is a Berkeley resident.