Public Comment

Planning Commission Public Hearing To Allow Large Medical Office Buildings In Mixed Use Light Industrial Zone (MULI)

Rick Auerbach, WEBAIC
Friday April 15, 2016 - 04:54:00 PM

Proposed New Medical Office Building (MOB) Zoning Allows 10,000 – 40,000+ sq ft Uses, Prohibits Uses Less than 10,000 sq ft
4/20/16 - 7:15pm, North Berkeley Senior Center 1901 Hearst Ave / MLK Jr. Way

This coming Wednesday, April 20, the Planning Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the staff proposal to create a new zoning classification (MOB) in the MULI that would allow now-prohibited large scale Medical Office Building Buildings from 10,000 – 40,000+ sq ft, while prohibiting MOBs under 10,000 sq ft. The proposal requires a Public Hearing for 20,000+ sq ft but only an Administrative Use Permit (AUP) up to 20,000 sq ft. 

History: In 2015 Councilmember Moore asked Council to request the Planning Commission change MULI zoning to allow medical uses. Councilmember Moore has stated this proposed change is the result of a request to him, but has declined to state who this request was from. WEBAIC believes the public has a right to know the origin of this request, as it will help to clarify the intent and possible consequences of the proposal. 

Staff Rationale: In their last report on the subject, Planning staff, to their credit, acknowledged that Medical uses typically pay from 3 to 5 times what typical industrial (and arts) uses pay. They reached the logical conclusion that “the demand for medical offices may increase with the (new) use allowance and promote conversion of space”, in contradiction to the fact that “The general purpose of the MU-LI District is to encourage light manufacturing industries in the area;” and to “provide opportunities for office development when it will not unduly interfere with light manufacturing uses and/or the light manufacturing building stock.” 

Despite the above staff analysis, the reasons staff gives for the new zoning proposals are: 

A.) Health care providers are moving away from building 24/7 stay hospitals because of stringent code 

requirements (= greater building costs) and are building cheaper outpatient facilities for much of the care. 

B.) The industrial zones, specifically MULI, have the large properties that can accommodate these facilities. 

C.) Alta Bates says it’s closing in 2030 due to state seismic upgrade requirements, the implication being that 

West Berkeley’s largest industrial zone should provide space for whatever is to follow from this development. 


Why Now? Beyond the fact that Alta Bates isn’t talking about closing for 14 years, it’s hard to see why this issue has now arisen. It is possible that Councilmember Moore, who on zoning matters has consistently voted against the interests of West Berkeley’s industrial and arts maker community by minimizing available space for their uses, made this referral in response to a request to accommodate a specific development. 

WEBAIC Analysis: The clear intention of protecting, retaining and promoting manufacturing in the MULI - West Berkeley’s largest industrial zone – is demonstrated by the Plan’s numerous goals and policies clarifying that providing a place for manufacturing and industrial & arts uses and their approximately 7000 good jobs are its primary function. In contrast, there is one word - “medical” - in one MULI section of the Plan referring to its use. Contrary to Council’s referral to the Planning Commission that states the West Berkeley Plan has a “goal” to “encourage” Medical uses in MULI there is no such goal and no statement, policy, or incentive to encourage such use, unlike the many that exist to encourage and protect for industry and arts. As office uses in MULI are only allowed where they “will not unduly interfere with light manufacturing uses and/or the light manufacturing building stock”, it is hard to square this with staff’s acknowledgment that allowing large-scale hospital-type structures in the zone would encourage “conversion” of industrial space. 

West Berkeley’s industrial zones, and MULI specifically, are admirably fulfilling their designed function of providing habitat for a local, robust manufacturing, warehousing, recycling, and arts maker economy and culture (1% vacancy rate) as part of a larger, West Berkeley mixed use economy. 

The contributions of this local and sustainable economy are finally being acknowledged on the national and regional level for their significant contributions to the equity of our cities (good jobs available to those without college=anti-displacement), their strong economic contributions to local jurisdictions and economies, and their environmental benefits (reduced GHG emissions) from clustering them close to raw material sources (ports/airports), employee populations (dense urban areas), and transportation distribution corridors. ABAG/MTC currently has a Bay Area-wide study underway at UC Berkeley analyzing and quantifying these benefits from the industrial economy (what they call Goods Movement) and the threats to them. 

West Berkeley Industrial Zone The Center of Berkeley’s Health Care Infrastructure? As we have not been allowed to know the genesis of this proposal, we can’t know what is intended by its appearance at this time. Councilmembers don’t typically recommend zoning changes without a concrete reason or project. The fact this proposal has appeared now, plus staff’s rationale of Alta Bates potential closing in the future point to an intention to have Berkeley’s largest and most productive industrial and arts zone become the future site of Berkeley’s healthcare infrastructure. 

Displacement of Industry & Arts By Medical Uses A Form Of Gentrification: As doctors and clinics seek to locate near large healthcare facilities (Alta Bate/Pill Hill, etc.) it’s reasonable to expect the same in MULI. Under the new proposal these individual offices can cluster in additional MOBs. The fact that industrially-zoned land is much cheaper than Commercial corridor land creates another major incentive for medical uses to gravitate to MULI. All this points to industrial spaces of significant size likely being lost to medical uses in an ongoing manner with resulting displacement of good jobs. Berkeley’s industrial zoning works because industry & arts were specifically not intended to be placed in competition with other uses that would drive up land prices beyond their ability to pay. This is the underlying rationale and mechanism of the WB Plan and MULI zoning. Installing large-scale medical uses in MULI violates this clear intention, with the resulting pressures created being a form of gentrification. 

Healthcare In Berkeley-Yes, Productive MULI As Its Center - No: There is no doubt Berkeley residents need timely access to healthcare, but targeting MULI to fulfill this function is the wrong approach. With a small fraction of Berkeley’s geography dedicated to its vibrant maker economy, we should be very careful in incentivizing any action that could threaten or reduce its viability. Is it worth losing good jobs for those least able to attain them, city revenue, and important goods & services from a long-serving local economy for this use? A creative city such as Berkeley can surely find a more equitable answer. 

* Berkeley’s Future Healthcare Needs Deserve a Council-Initiated, Community-Wide Discussion, Not Back Door Greenlighting to Turn Berkeley’s Most Productive Maker Artisan/Manufacturing Zone into the Center of Berkeley’s Healthcare Infrastructure  

* Planning Staff Analysis Shows Medical Uses Pay 3 to 5 Times What Industry/Arts Can Afford, Admits Proposal Will Likely “promote conversion of space”, Setting Stage for Gentrification & Displacement of Successful Economy, Jobs, & Culture