Public Comment

Wednesday Planning Commission to Address the Future of West Berkeley

Sunday July 11, 2010 - 04:59:00 PM

There’s a key Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday July 14th to decide the future of protected industrial spaces and the location and definitions of research and development. The Planning Commission is set to have their last discussion (before a final Commission Public Hearing in September) on opening up now-protected industrial space, on Wednesday, July 14th, 7pm, at the North Berkeley Senior Center - MLK at Hearst • As at the May 19th meeting, the Commission will likely take a "sense" vote on the issue.* 

Why Attend: 

As these protections are the central mechanism by which West Berkeley maintains a viable, local-serving industrial base with over 320 companies & almost 7000 family-wage jobs, your attendance at this meeting can accomplish three critically important things:

1. It can assure that the Planning Commission doesn't reverse its May 19th decision to not open up protected manufacturing space.

2. It can convince the Commission that their ill advised vote to open up the protections on all Wholesale Trade & Warehouse space (almost 2 million sq ft, over 1000 jobs) is:
a.) Unnecessary to accomodate R&D. WEBAIC has already agreed to allow millions of R&D sq ft (able to accomodate many times more R&D than projected demand) on large Master Use Permit sites.

b.) Destructive of existing economic activity (R&D uses are documented as paying on average 3X protected uses, creating displacement pressure on functioning companies and productive jobs), and

c.) Not legal (violates West Berkeley Plan and Berkeley General Plan Goals and Policies, and hasn't studied as required (in the West Berkeley Project Draft Environmental Impact Report) potential environmental impacts from the opening up of this large amount of space to uses (R&D) generating 50% more traffic than existing uses.
3. It can assure that where R&D locates on now-protected space in West Berkeley (ideally on MUP sites), it has an industrial character requiring wet lab or bench space, thus making sure that the precious 4% of Berkeley's land base set aside for industrial production & distribution uses isn't taken up by pure office uses that are already allowed to locate on the large land base in all Commercial districts and on the large amount of West Berkeley space not under protections.
The West Berkeley Plan intentionally put R&D outside the protected category because R&D is more highly capitalized and would displace protected uses. This fact is as real today as when the policy was enacted. Even in this economic downturn, Berkeley aggregate vacancy rates for warehouse and manufacturing space are the second lowest of all East Bay cities, (lower than for offices), revealing the resiliency of these sectors. This is also no time to be putting displacement pressure on the jobs of people who've taken the brunt of regressive federal economic policies over the last several decades and who are most likely to be a paycheck or two away from foreclosure, loss of healthcare, or other economic calamity. These jobs are the linchpin of Berkeley's economic and ethnic diversity and are recognized as such in the West Berkeley Plan. The City should be seeking to expand, not contract, them. 

Express Chimes In 

Even the East Bay Express, a paper previously showing no understanding of WEBAIC's efforts, put the article: "Factories for the Future...momentum shifts toward preservation of land suitable for light manufacturing" as their cover story on the June 30-July 6th issue. As cities everywhere are recognizing the value of maintaining a PDR (Production, Distribution, & Repair) base, it's up to all of us together to guide the Planning Commission away from its present unsustainable course and in the direction of rational, equitable, and productive policy choices that recognize the value of the revenue, jobs, goods, and services that flow from West Berkeley's successful industrial and artisan economy and culture. 

Master Use Permit and other Proposals at Wednesday, July 28th PC Meeting 

The last Planning Commission Meeting until the fall will be held on July 28th (same place & hour) on the critical issues relating to the Master Use Permit. Among these issues are allowable heights and density (FAR - Floor Area Ratio), how much of West Berkeley will be subject to this permit and over what period of time, what are permitted uses on these sites, and how development on these sites will affect the residents & homes in the Mixed Use Residential (MUR) districts. 

*When Democracy is Denied, the Antidote is More Democracy: 

At the May 19th meeting, the Planning Commission denied many business owners, employees, and residents the basic democratic right to inform decision-makers with their opinions and experience on issues critical to their lives and livelihoods before those decision-makers voted on these issues. Since only a short period of time was set aside for public comment before this important vote, many of the citizens packing the room were relegated to speaking late at night (if they were even able to stay), after the decisions had been made. Though violating the spirit of democracy, this action was likely "legal" due to the "vote" taken (though clearly setting direction for staff) somehow not qualifying as an "official" vote. 

Voting before citizens have their say reveals a deep disrespect toward citizens taking valuable time from their lives and families to exercise their right to express their opinions in a timely manner. If Commissioners don't possess the patience or energy to listen to citizens they're tasked with serving, there are adequate numbers of able citizens willing to shoulder this responsibility. 

In the face of such action, it's more important than ever to show up and respectfully express our opinions until such time as the weight of our facts, experience, passion, and dare we say, sometimes wisdom, result in a positive outcome for West Berkeley and the Berkeley community as a whole.