City Council Considers West Berkeley Plan Changes at Work Session and Public Hearing

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Thursday January 27, 2011 - 12:11:00 PM

Tuesday night's work session and public hearing at the Berkeley City Council went into the details and concerns regarding West Berkeley. City planning staff have been working on restructuring West Berkeley for the last three years, as an update to the last West Berkeley Plan, which was drafted in 1985 and went into effect in 1998. 

The Council heard from the city staff regarding the details of the plan they proposed, which aims to increase employment, provide affordable space for artists and artisans, and attract manufacturing jobs to an area that has seen a significant decrease in employment in the last ten years. Since 2001, West Berkeley has seen a 40% drop in manufacturing jobs. Bayer provides 1600 of the remaining 3,345 manufacturing jobs in the area. In 2008, 800 artists were operating in West Berkeley. 

Much of the plan is geared toward attracting research and development businesses to the area, including attempts to make it easier to reuse and expand existing buildings and to issue Master Use Permits for the development of larger areas. Another stated goal is to provide protected spaces to be used for R&D, arts and crafts, contracting, building services, and warehouse non-store retail purposes. Currently, “protected spaces” are for manufacturing, wholesale, warehousing, and material recovery. Master Use Permits, which would issued to owners of four acres or more, or of smaller whole square blocks, at the discretion of the Zoning Adjustments Board, would allow owners to lease space to people and businesses who are using the space for varying purposes, with some limitations, without having to repeatedly obtain use permits. 

The plan includes incentives for developers to use space for job training, affordable space for artists and artisans, and development of a “more robust non-auto oriented transportation system.” Developers who offer the city any of these three benefits would receive in return the ability to increase building height from 45 to 75 feet and to have an increased floor area ratio. 

Members of the public, especially residents of West Berkeley, expressed concern about the possibility of a wall of 75-foot buildings blocking views of the Bay and causing other problems. One commentator pointed out the importance of maintaining a safe emergency evacuation route to the highway by maintaining a low level of traffic in the area. 

Much of the plan seems centered around the possibility of development by the bio-tech industry, especially development by the University of California, with some speculation that the proposed second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may be located in West Berkeley. 

The public hearing will be continued at the February 8th council meeting.