ENDORSEMENT SPECIAL: Measure T is a Trojan Horse

By Becky O'Malley
Friday September 21, 2012 - 12:09:00 PM

More on the Berkeley ballot measures: for the election-weary among us, it’s hard even to remember which is which. Here’s an easy way to remember why to vote NO on Measure T, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“The Trojan Horse is a tale from the Trojan War about the stratagem that allowed the Greeks to finally enter the city of Troy and end the conflict….After a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war….

“Metaphorically, a "Trojan Horse" has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space.”

So when you see Measure “T”, think “Trojan” Horse, and vote NO. 

Here’s how it reads on the November ballot” 

Shall the West Berkeley Plan and the Zoning Ordinance be amended to allow development flexibility on up to 6 large sites, each under the same ownership, during the next 10 years, allowing a maximum height of 75’ with a site-wide average height of 50’, and only if community and environmental benefits are provided to West Berkeley? 

It’s bad enough that this ballot measure has been carefully tailored by compliant city council members to benefit a small number of already identified existing large landholders over the next ten years. If that’s not preferential spot zoning, what is? 

The proposed new zoning was concocted in a series of poorly publicized meetings which failed to bring existing businesses and residents together with those who sought these changes for open discussion. In contrast, the existing West Berkeley Plan was adopted after a long series of interactive encounters among stakeholders—which just didn’t happen with this new proposal. 

When the plan finally got to the City Council and the general public was allowed to comment, almost every speaker—businesses, residents, artists, craft workers and others —was opposed. A very few speakers favored the proposal, and almost all of them would benefit financially from the changes. 

But worse is the Trojan Horse feature of the Measure T scheme: in ten years all bets are off, and anyone able to assemble a big enough parcel and/or persuade the Zoning Adjustment Board (commissioners are political appointments made by councilmembers) that some kind of “community benefits” could come out of the deal could build a blockbuster. A relatively small number of projects is mentioned in this year’s ballot measure, but it could turn out to be a Trojan horse allowing speculators in who would consume West Berkeley. 

As you can see from the excellent graphics on the savewestberkeley.org web site, if Measure T passes a wall of high-rise office buildings could replace the thriving West Berkeley mix of small manufacturers, research and development quarters, artists’ studios and homes which now makes the area a great place to live and work. 

Even worse, some of these structures could come right up to Aquatic Park, a waterside jewel already threatened by city neglect and pollution from storm runoff. That’s why important environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Citizens for an Eastshore State Park have been opposed to Measure T. 

This is no way to do planning. Like the other Berkeley ballot measures which Tom Bates and his council majority have foisted on voters for this November, it’s cleverly designed to create a blank check which will enable all sorts of bad outcomes, with no effective public process to control it. 

And what about those supposed future “community benefits” which the measure touts as compensation for harm done? Probably just another classic scam. 

This is nothing new on the face of the earth. In fact, I’ll just quote from two of my favorite classic authors. 

First, there’s the Latin poet Vergil, whose Aeneid, the source of the Trojan Horse tale, I read in high school. 

The line from the epic poem, Equo ne credite, Teucri! Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferenti. ("Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Danaans [Greeks], even when bringing gifts.") is the original source of the admonition still good advice today: beware of Greeks bearing gifts. 

The gifts promised in Measure T, the so-called community benefits, could very well turn out to be nothing more than what my other old favorite, organizer Joe Hill, warned about in his classic song: “You'll get pie in the sky when you die”. If so-called community benefits are not signed, sealed and delivered, as they were in the original community-vetted West Berkeley Plan, beware. 

The planning commission is now engaged in fast-tracking a promised enumeration of benefits from re-zoning West Berkeley in a mad rush to justify the Measure T plan before election day, but nothing they come up with will be guaranteed to be deliverable. If I were a betting woman, I wouldn’t want to bet on any substantial benefits coming from the proposed big developments for West Berkeley, at least none which would outweigh the obvious detriments in the Measure T giveaway. 

No one denies that the West Berkeley Plan needs a bit of tweaking to bring it up to date, but there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. Voters should not approve Measure T, which is nothing but a giveaway to a few privileged property owners. Instead the whole thing should be handed back to the Planning Commission for the kind of interactive public process that worked so well when the plan was first adopted. 

Just remember T for Trojan Horse, and vote NO on Measure T. To coin a phrase, Berkeley can do better.