Public Comment

New: Citizen Participation Under Attack

Rob Wrenn
Saturday April 02, 2016 - 05:54:00 PM

Berkeley has a long tradition of involving residents in decisions about land use. The idea that the people who are affected by decisions should have some say about those decisions has always been strongly supported in Berkeley and is mandated by our General Plan and by our Zoning Ordinance. But now Mayor Bates wants to exclude residents from any involvement in decisions regarding large housing projects in Downtown, South and West Berkeley, Telegraph and the Southside south of UC (but not in the most affluent homeowner neighborhoods). Bates was once a liberal but has gradually morphed into a corporate Democrat, who acts to benefit special moneyed interests rather than working for the public interest. 

Berkeley is a built out city with very little vacant land that isn't meant to be preserved as open space. New development invariably has impacts on people who already live here. A new building might block sunlight to existing homes. There might be traffic impacts. The developer's proposed design might be an ugly mess. 

Under the system that has been in effect for decades, our Zoning Adjustments Board considers these impacts when it approves new development. Modifications are often made in response to community input; conditions are often attached to the project's permit. Projects are improved by public input. (How well depends on the caliber of people appointed to ZAB). 

ZAB rarely turns down a proposed housing development; it's only happened once in recent years where the developer just refused to present a project that complied with existing zoning. Yet Mayor Bates is proposing that there be no public input, that ZAB would play no role; projects would be approved "by right" by a member of the city's planning staff, over the counter, with no public hearing, no opportunity for public input, no review by ZAB or the Design Review Commission. 

Would developers getting "by right" approval at least have to provide a substantial number of units affordable to people with incomes under $100,000 a year? No, their entire project could consist of apartments affordable only to those making high incomes. Would these projects have to be "green" with solar thermal or electric systems? No, they could be conventional run of the mill buildings, as long as they provide some bicycle parking and other things that are now quite routine in Berkeley. 

What the mayor is proposing, which is up for consideration this Tuesday, April 5 is a radical assault on the whole idea of citizen participation as well as a blueprint for gentrification of the city. The mayor has refused to vote for increased funding for affordable housing, that is housing for those with less than six figure incomes. 

If this alarms you, and I hope it does, please write to the City Council at If you want the City to make a real commitment to funding affordable housing, rather than giveaways to developers who are already making money hand over fist in the current "luxury" housing boom in Berkeley, please consider signing this petition: [This first appeared on]