Election Section

Re: An Open Letter to Victoria Peirotes from the Sierra Club

By Gene Poschman (Reader Commentary)
Tuesday October 26, 2010 - 10:16:00 AM

This is a detailed analysis by a life member of the Sierra Club of the Open Letter to Victoria Peirotes by Kent Lewandowski, Chair, Northern Alameda County Group Sierra Club, S.F. Bay Chapter. (This “letter” is taken almost verbatim from an e-mail by Helen Burke to Club members dated October 13 which will also be referred to.)  

Club language is in italics. To cut to the bottom line—as will be shown in too much detail below— the Club “open letter” is intellectually bankrupt as a justification for the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club to have endorsed a Yes vote on Measure R.  

The Club letter begins with 6 specific bulleted items (Center Street Plaza, transportation fund, affordable housing etc.) that it claims are in Measure R (each of these will be analyzed below) but of equal importance, there is in the letter the very clear claim that the Club has endorsed Measure R because these items are “hard-won victories for the Sierra Club and our allies….” 

If these items are really not in Measure R, and/or they were not hard-won victories for the Club but were present in DAPAC or even the Planning Commission version and/or the 2009 Council Plan, then they are not hard-won reasons for endorsing Measure R but really only excuses for the Club endorsing Measure R! 

Simply put, the Club is offering after the fact excuses for a predetermined endorsement, and not valid justifications based on what is in Measure R or how it got there. 


The Club writes: 

Measure R is a vision for downtown Berkeley that includes much of what the Sierra Club has for years been advocating for in the Downtown Area Planning (DAP) process, specifically :  


· Claim: A plan for a vibrant pedestrian plaza along Center Street between Oxford and Shattuck, with Center closed to automotive traffic except for emergencies and for deliveries at certain times of the day (the "Walter Hood proposal" for Center Street - adopted by City Council independently of Measure R). 

Analysis:—But Measure R has no mention of the Center Street Plaza! So how can Measure R as claimed above both “ include” a “plan for a vibrant pedestrian plaza along Center Street…” and not even mention Center Street Plaza? It cannot, so the first justification is pure nonsense and there goes a non-existent hard-won victory.  


· Claim: Establishment of a transportation fund to provide enhanced transit services and an open-space fund. 

Analysis: Any even cursory reading of the wording of the language in Measure R on the transportation and the open space fund shows it is clearly “feel good” language without substance. The parking fund is clearly and only linked to the reduction of parking requirements, parking requirements which the Club opposes. For example, on parking Measure R reads: 

h) Parking requirement may be reduced by paying into a Transportation Management Demand Fund to provide enhanced transit services and an open-space fund. 

In a sad but interesting way, the original Sierra Club e-mail by Helen Burke mentioned above, after citing these pseudo parking and open-space funds as reasons for the endorsement of Measure R, then really discounts the Measure R version of a transportation fund and an open space fund and admits that the Sierra Club endorsed Measure R knowing that it was inadequate: 

The current version of the plan offers payments into the transportation fund as an alternative to a minimum-parking requirement, and the open-space fee would be an alternative to providing open space on-site. These fees should be required of all developers. The transportation fee is designed to provide alternatives to driving, and the parking requirement works at cross purposes to it. Developer-provided open space is often not accessible to the general public. 


· Claim: An affordable-housing requirement (as much as 20% on-site for some buildings). 

Analysis: There is, unfortunately, nothing in Measure R which requires affordable housing in the downtown. This is a sad misunderstanding by the Club and a sloppy misstatement—it must be remembered that Measure R purports to have two “pathways,” a green pathway and seemingly a non-green pathway, and in this non-plan only the so-called “green pathway” has any mention of affordable housing, however inadequate that mention is. It reads: 

Provide 20% affordable rental housing onsite or in a building located in the Downtown Area, or paying a fee to the Housing Trust Fund.  

First, if the developer does not go with the so-called green pathway, no affordable housing. There is thus no “affordable housing requirement.” Second, if the developer does go with the so-called green pathway, note that there is no affordable housing “requirement” even “in some buildings” as the Club so strangely states. Instead, an in-lieu fee can be paid and again given this Council’s ambivalence on affordable housing and its developer-oriented policies, the fee in no way will reflect the amount in the recent nexus study and will be minimal. 


· Claim: The requirement of “LEED Gold” designation in new buildings—among the highest environmental building standards—including such features as passive solar, recycling of storm water, energy efficiency, and green roofs. 

Analysis: Yes, there is in the Measure R “advisory” language, the statement that LEED Gold be met. The problem is first, that any knowledgeable person knows that LEED Gold can be gamed in getting to the required 60 points. There are points given for being downtown, there are points given for being near transit etc. The claim by the Club that there are any specific requirements included in Measure R as to “passive solar, recycling of stormwater, energy efficiency, and green roofs”, either is deliberately misleading or shows a complete lack of understanding of the LEED Gold 60 point system. These items are not required in reaching the LEED Gold 60 points and Measure R does not in any way require them. 

And further, every previous plan, DAPAC, even the Planning Commission plan, and the 2009 City Council plan. contained LEED Gold. So much for hard-won victories to justify endorsement of Measure R.. 


· Claim:Unbundled” parking and housing which requires that residential units and parking spaces be rented out separately, so that residents are not required to pay for parking, and parkers will pay their share of costs. 

Analysis: This “unbundling” issue has been unanimously supported in every Downtown Plan in the past 5 years (DAPAC, the Planning Commission, the Council 2009 version) —the notion that unbundling was “a hard-won victory for the Club” is nonsense and obviously, not a reason that the Club endorsed Measure R, but again, an excuse. 


· Claim: The principle of conditioning any new density in the downtown on the provision of environmental amenities.  


· Claim: Regarding density, which is admittedly a controversial issue, the Sierra Club has advocated throughout the downtown planning process for moderate increases in density, as long as the increases are specifically tied to provision of substantial environmental and transit amenities. We believe that the ballot measure provides this linkage.  

Analysis: The Council has not accepted any such principle or linkage in Measure R. The new high density in the 17 story, 180 foot towers is not conditioned on “substantial environmental amenities” –these amenities were in the DAPAC Plan but are not in Measure R. The Measure R additional “conditions” for Green Pathway buildings over 75 feet rather strangely deal only with prevailing wages and apprenticeship programs! Please try and read Measure R! 


· Claim: On balance, the Club believes that the positive accomplishments that it has pushed for and achieved make Measure R worthy of support. Moreover, we will continue to push for stronger wording in the next phase as the city develops zoning-amendment language. 

Analysis: It feels almost cruel to ask what is meant by “on balance?” What is being balanced? The Club has “achieved” nothing. Sadly, there is no clue given by the Club as to the negative things in Measure R —one thinks of 180 foot, 17 story high-rise towers and the gutting of historical protection procedures in the Downtown—- which are not even mentioned by the Club. There is no balance.