Measure T’s Deceptive Mailers Falsely Claim Union Endorsement, Funds for Community Benefits (News Analysis)
Many Berkeley voters have now received two mailers from the Yes on Measure T campaign that are full of false claims. The first mailer includes, in its brief list of endorsers, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The SEIU logo appears with “Local 21” underneath. SEIU Local 21 is a local in Louisiana and it’s doubtful that they have taken a position on Measure T.
The second mailer, which arrived at my home yesterday, lists SEIU Local 1021 as an endorser. Unlike Local 21, Local 1021 does actually exist in the Bay Area, representing public sector workers who work for Bay Area cities and counties. However, SEIU Local 1021 has not endorsed the measure. Quite the contrary, it has taken a position against the measure, which can be verified by visiting their Web site. The AFL-CIO’s Alameda [County] Labor Council has also declined to endorse Measure T. There is, in fact, little labor support for Measure T.
The Yes on T mailers make a number of other false claims about what the measure will do:
The earlier mailer says that Measure T will provide “Expanded shuttles to BART”; the later mailer says it will “provide funds for” expanded shuttles. In fact, as anyone who reads the measure can see, it says nothing whatever about shuttles to BART. Nothing in the Measure would either provide shuttles or provide funds for shuttles.
Protections for Aquatic Park
The mailers say that Measure T will either “provide” or “provide funds for” special protections for parcels adjacent to Aquatic Park. But, in fact, the City Council rejected protections for the Aquatic Park recommended by the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and Citizens for East Shore Parks. Measure T’s provisions related to Aquatic Park are weak. It’s not surprising that Sylvia McLaughlin, Co-founder of Save the Bay, for whom East Shore State Park was recently renamed, is opposing the measure as our most environmentalists. The Sierra Club has declined to endorse Measure T.
Affordable Housing and Workspace for Artists
Yes on Measure T’s deceptive mailers say that the measure will “provide” or “provide funds for” affordable housing and workspace for artists. In fact, neither housing nor workspace is mandated by this measure. All the measure says is that before the measure takes effect, the Council has to adopt an ordinance that provides “at least one” of a list of ten community benefits. Housing for artists, and workspace for artists are two of the ten benefits. However, “at least one” means that the city need only require one of the benefits. Number 9 on the list of 10 is “Require local sourcing of building materials to the extent feasible”. The City Council could choose that benefit as the “at least one” and they would be in compliance with Measure T and that would be all that developers would be required to do. Just as no funding is assured for artist housing or workspace, there is also no assured funding for job training or “technology education” for youth.
Shouldn’t We Trust the City Council?
But shouldn’t we trust the City Council to adopt an adequate set of required community benefits?
Landowners and developers would receive a large windfall from the increased density and greater height which would be permitted on large sites in West Berkeley totaling as much as 40 square blocks. And new development, whether under existing zoning or under new, more permissive zoning, has impacts, such as increased demand for housing and city services, transportation impacts, etc. The city has clear grounds for requiring community benefits and for requiring developers to address the impacts of new development. Impact fees and community benefits are required by many cities; it’s not a radical concept.
Based on the City Council’s track record to date, there is little basis for believing that any significant requirements or community benefits will be imposed on developers by the current City Council majority. The monetary value of benefits actually being discussed by City staff is also very small and wouldn’t go far toward paying for the wonderful things promised in Measure T campaign’s misleading mailers.
I was on the Planning Commission in 2002 when the General Plan was adopted. That plan called for establishment of a citywide transportation services fee (TSF) to deal with the transportation impacts caused by new development. The transportation services fee was also a mitigation measure in the General Plan’s environmental impact report (EIR). When an EIR is certified, mitigation measures specified in the EIR are supposed to be implemented. The City’s transportation staff worked on a fee that would have fund various pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements; it was developed by consultants from Nelson Nygaard, a reputable consulting firm, and recommended to the City Council by the Transportation Commission in 2006. But the Council took no action to implement it, and now, fully ten years after the adoption of the General Plan, the city still has no transportation services fee, and is no longer even discussing a citywide fee.
The 2002 General Plan also called for consideration of Open Space Fees. This idea got a big boost during the Downtown Area Plan planning process from 2005-2007. But like the TSF, no open space fees have been implemented to date.
Green Building Standards
Two years ago, a measure about downtown planning, Measure R, was on the ballot. Unlike Measure T, that measure was endorsed by the Sierra Club. That measure included “New Green Standard Development Requirements”. LEED Gold green building standards were supported. Community Benefits were named in that measure. But Measure T includes absolutely no green building standards and makes no mention of solar panels or alternative energy. Why is green building and environmental sustainability appropriate for downtown but not for West Berkeley? Under Measure T, a developer might opt to include solar panels, or to meet LEED green building standards, but they wouldn’t have to; nor does the measure even encourage them to do so. Without specifying green building or community benefits Measure T will do little or nothing to help the city meet its Climate Action Plan goals.
Measure T is also misleading in the way it portrays West Berkeley. It talks about “abandoned manufacturing sites”, but Measure T’s provisions would not apply only to abandoned sites. And abandoned sites are not the norm. The vacancy rate for West Berkeley’s manufacturing space, which was a low 2.9%, fell to an even lower 2% in Third Quarter 2012. West Berkeley is already home to many innovative businesses. New large-scale housing and new office buildings allowed by Measure T could displace artists and artisans and industrial businesses.
West Berkeley is the only area of the city where manufacturing is permitted. You can’t put industrial uses in downtown. Office buildings and housing, by contrast, can be built in many areas. The concept of transit-oriented development suggests that downtown is a much better location for large scale office and housing developments. Downtown has a BART station and is serviced by numerous AC Transit bus lines. It’s possible to live there without a car and many residents do not in fact own cars. By contrast, there is no BART station in West Berkeley and transit service is more limited. Nor does Measure T, despite the misinformation about BART shuttles, require them to do anything to “provide” or “provide funds for” transit improvements.
Measure T promises “good jobs”, but there could be a net loss of jobs as people now working there are displaced to make way for new development. Speculation encouraged by more permissive development standards could drive up rents and force out other artists and artisans and industrial businesses. It should come as no surprise that West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC) is urging people to vote against Measure T and that many individual artists and artisans are campaigning against it.
Don’t be fooled by the false claims in Yes on T’s misleading campaign literature. Read the text of Measure T for yourself.
Rob Wrenn is a former chair of the city’s Planning and Transportation commissions.