New: Growth at What Cost?

by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
Sunday October 31, 2010 - 12:44:00 PM

One of the key issues in this election has been what kind of growth we want Downtown. As the neighborhood that includes Downtown, Council District 4 will be the most affected by that growth. 

My main opponent, Jim Novosel, argues that I haven’t been a team player. He knows the real story. Here it is: 

Novosel is one of six (out of nine) Planning Commissioners who earn their living in major construction (he’s an architect and developer). He sat on the 2-year-long Downtown Area Planning Advisory Commission, charged by the Council with the task of coming up with a blueprint for Downtown’s future. I sat on DAPAC too. 

Novosel and I both worked hard on that committee. I worked to make sure that new construction mitigated environmental impacts and provided real community benefits: affordable housing, open space and green building requirements. In the end, DAPAC came to a compromise, accepted by 17 of the 21 members, the biggest elements of which were two large hotels that would clearly benefit the Downtown economy, and a substantial increase in building heights in the central Downtown area. I and the other environmentalists signed on to the compromise because it contained safeguards to protect the environment and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Then the plan went to the Planning Commission, which, under Novosel’s guidance, threw out the green building requirements and community benefits and greatly expanded development in the residential areas around the Downtown. The two hotels became four 18-story condos or office buildings. But most importantly, the Planning Commission added Section 8.3, which reads: 

When establishing provisions for new fees and financing strategies, consider how fees and exactions may discourage development, so as to make these provisions consistent with the intent of this Plan.” 

That is, any of the rules that might interfere with a developer’s profit can be discarded without consequence or mitigation. 

This provision was so outrageous that 9,200 Berkeley citizens forced a vote on this plan with a referendum. But the Council majority didn’t think their plan could stand public scrutiny. They repealed it, resetting the future of Downtown back to zero. I offered them a compromise: restore the affordable housing, labor, environment, and neighborhood protections, limit the height of taller buildings to 10 stories, and get rid of section 8.3. Instead, they put Measure R on the ballot. 

There are only two parts of Measure R with legal force: the expansion of downtown’s boundaries to include surrounding residential areas, and a revision to seriously weaken the landmarks process. Measure R is NOT a plan. Despite the overblown language in the ballot question, these are the only two certain effects of Measure R. 

How did the developer-oriented Council majority get the Sierra Club to sign onto Measure R? The Council promised, behind closed doors, that the Sierra Club will have a seat at the table when a new plan is developed. 

Maybe they will get their deal and maybe they won’t. As for me, I’m not willing to rely on decisions based on unwritten promises. But the Sierra Club knows who the environmentalist is in this race, and they have endorsed me over Novosel. Just because they signed onto this controversial proposal does not mean that they are going to endorse someone working to undermine the critical environmental requirements and community benefits that they fought so hard for. 

Novosel wants this to be an election about consensus building, and I accept that. Now you have to decide what kind of consensus you want, and who gets to be part of it. I’ve tried to build consensus among ALL those affected by downtown development. Novosel wants to build consensus between the Council majority and his developer clients. It would be a real travesty for District 4 to be represented by someone who has time and time again voted against its interests. I believe that District 4 needs a representative who is independent and will put the needs of residents over corporate interests and developers. Every day, I do my best to live up to Dona Spring’s legacy. I am asking District 4 residents to return me to the City Council so that I can continue my work to improve our Downtown and stand up for our neighborhood. 


Jesse Arreguin is the incumbent Berkeley City Councilmember representing District 4 (Downtown and Central Berkeley) and is running for re-election in Tuesday’s election.