Re 2902 Adeline: A Letter to Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board Members

Elisa Cooper
Tuesday November 01, 2016 - 01:02:00 PM

It was clear by the end of the 10/27 ZAB hearing regarding 2902 Adeline that most of the commission members had forgotten pertinent testimony. No one remembered the fraudulent parking studies submitted by Realtex; the uncertainty over how the community-driven Adeline Corridor plan would affect the "wide street" (the commissioner who rhapsodized about "infinite height" also seemed unaware of the South Berkeley Plan); the Terner Center Calculator which shows the project can pencil out at 4 stories so anything above that is pure profit; or the fact that tenants had been evicted so Realtex could option a residential property and extend their commercial mixed-use development down a severely parking-challenged residential street.

The Commission substitutes appointed by Councilmembers Droste, Moore, and Maio also may not have realized that there was a track record of Realtex political favors in play: from circumventing campaign contribution limits to attempt to oust Councilmember Worthington in 2014 to a $10,000 no-strings-attached gift timed to get the Habitot Children’s Museum out of the way of Mark Rhoades’ Harold Way deal, and their major donor support for Wozniak's PAC to promote Measure T1 ($100 million in “political machine” money for the General Fund). Needless to say, if Realtex does flip the property as they have a history of doing, it will be the Councilmembers, and not the hapless ZAB substitutes who will be accountable. 

What I would like to address is ZAB Chair Pinkston's claim that she had read "all the literature" and that it all pushes building market-rate development everywhere. Even the White House Development Toolkit Pinkston cited states that the purpose of boosting market-rate development at the regional level is to alleviate the burden on low income communities of color: "...new development tends to be disproportionally concentrated in low-income communities of color, causing displacement and concerns of gentrification in those neighborhoods, raising market rents within neighborhoods experiencing rapid changes while failing to reduce housing cost growth region-wide." (pg. 9) Even this paean to market-rate housing admits that upzoning is a direct cause of displacement. A direct cause of displacement IS a detriment as far as ZAB decisions are concerned. The very next paragraph refers to studies from the Bay Area which show how the displaced families increase the carbon footprint of the Bay Area because they have to commute to work from Antioch or Modesto. That's why I appended that study to my own ZAB letter. 

I did not go into Karen Chapple’s work on micro-scale gentrification, because I expected the Urban Planning and Policy graduates that attended the meeting to discuss the concept of Equitable Transit-Oriented Development. Chair Pinkston should also be familiar with Chapple’s work since she is a colleague who sits on the Planning Commission. Chapple’s classic Mapping Susceptibility to Gentrification: An Early Warning Toolkit. It states, “Researchers generally agree that new transit investment will bring higher property values to the surrounding area (except in the immediate vicinity of the transit station). This could spur a process of gentrification, which will be beneficial to some – but not to those who cannot bear rent increases and are forced to leave the neighborhood.” (pg. 4) Chapple’s recent work has "found a significant positive relationship between transit investment, gentrification, and displacement." (Case Studies 2015, pg. 8). The same work celebrates community organization and activism as having a positive effect on affordability. 

If I had been allowed to finish my own comment, I would have been able to save Chair Pinkston some embarrassment over her evident non-familiarity with what our major transit planning agencies are currently saying about displacement as a Transit-Oriented Development detriment. 

BART's 2016 Transit-Oriented Development Policy includes a Regional Land Use Vision that "seeks to link household affordability with access to opportunity....and aim for a District-wide target of 30 percent of all units to be affordable with a priority to very low (<50%), low (51-80% AMI} and/or transit-dependent populations." (pg. 2) Increased low income housing was what the ostensibly “NIMBY” neighbors were asking for in the community benefits package drawn up by East Bay Community Law Center. 

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Plan Bay Area 2040: Understanding Displacement in the Bay Area admits "disadvantaged communities may fail to benefit from these [market-driven] improvements if gentrification leads to displacement of low-income or minority residents, or if new development does not provide more housing choices and improved job opportunities to existing lower-income or minority residents."(pg. 2). The MTC suggests "addressing land speculation and wild swings in housing costs that impacts neighborhood stability (for example, by carefully considering the amount of up-zoning of an area at any one time)." (pg. 5) The MTC itself plans on "(M)aking One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) funding partially contingent on...adoption of local policy interventions, in areas where there is a high risk of displacement." (pg. 6) Oops, it looks like Berkeley is going to miss out on a pot of money that it could use to address the Housing Crisis if the City writes an honest application! 

The Association of Bay Area Governments also weighed in with Addressing Displacement in the Bay Area (2015). ABAG confesses that "Any regional effort to support collaboration requires consideration of the diverse needs and pressures faced by each jurisdiction."(pg. 8) Further, ABAG asserts "(O)ur task as a region is to ensure that PDA's [Priority Development Areas such as the Adeline Corridor] can grow in a way that is envisioned by each jurisdiction while allowing longtime residents to remain in place if they choose."(pg. 9) Rather than hoping the market will fix the Housing Crisis at some "regional" level, ABAG recommends that cities, "Leverage local resources to support programs such as the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) fund, and to incentivize local policies that address displacement."(pg.10) Perhaps Chair Pinkston also missed the part of the East Bay Community Law Center's proposal that identified local social impact investors that could collaborate with market-rate developers like Realtex to provide affordable housing. What a sad pickle of missed opportunities. 

Just in case Chair Pinkston really hasn't read the literature she claims to have read, she might have at least listened to the guidelines the City of Berkeley agreed to follow when it applied for the Adeline Corridor planning grant. As I mentioned in my testimony, MTC/ABAG's PDA Elements & Guidelines that supplemented the application packet requires an Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement Strategy "(t)o limit or prevent displacement in the area, the strategy should identify how non-subsidized affordable housing units in or neighboring the plan area may be impacted by plan build-out. The plan should describe existing preservation policies to maintain neighborhood affordability and additional zoning changes or policies needed." (pg. 7) Applicants were supposed to consider goals such as: 

  • No net loss of affordability in the plan area
  • Total number of affordable units, by income level, that will be accommodated in the plan area
  • Target for percentage of total units that are affordable
Other guidelines were: 

  • Demonstrate consistency with the jurisdiction’s Regional Housing Need Allocation and the sites and policies identified in the Housing Element (pg.7)
    Side note: Berkeley’s RHNA numbers for 2015 were 23% Very Low Income, 21% Low Income, 4% Moderate Income, and 89% Above Moderate Area Income. The 2016 HUD AMI is $97,500 for a family of 4 and $68.300 for a single person.
  • Identify policies that will be used to preserve or add affordable housing (pg. 8)
  • Identify policies that will be used to avoid displacing existing residents (pg. 8)
How did Eric Angstadt, the former Director of the Planning Department handle the Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement Strategy part of the application? He promised that the City "makes use of all affordable housing strategies available under current law." If the City can't even deny a developer *discretionary* use permits and waivers worth a million dollars each for a property-flipping scheme to encourage Realtexto negotiate for low income housing, how can City staff claim it "makes use of all affordable housing strategies"? Is the City Manager prepared to admit to the MTC that since the City is apparently institutionally incapable of letting the community shape the plan as required, staff fudged the truth apparently just so the Planning Department could get their hands on more consulting-hiring money? 

As I stated in my testimony, the Adeline Corridor Plan project manager, Alisa Shen, reported to the Planning Commission on 10/21/2015 that the result of the community input process of what is ostensibly a community-driven plan was that our community overwhelmingly, far beyond any other point, called to "(P)reserve neighborhood character and diversity with an emphasis on affordable housing and maintaining social and economic diversity of the neighborhood." At the ZAB meeting a considerable part of the local community came out to reiterate their priorities. Yet somehow members of SF BARF from Oakland and a few signed FORM LETTERS finagled by Realtex were put on equal footing so that they were allowed to hijack what ABAG/MTC promised would be a community driven process. Perhaps the lowest point was when a Google employee, who probably lounges on the Google bus all the way to work, boasted about his car-free lifestyle right after half a dozen local children of color gave heart-wrenching testimony about how gentrification had affected their lives. How did ZAB miss that this Google employee is exactly the kind of carbon-footprint-hypocrite that has been displacing their families from Berkeley? 

Despite Chair Pinkston's frankly tunnel-visioned denial of the facts about displacement as a detriment in Transit-Oriented Development, I do appreciate that at least one of the ZAB members - I believe he was a substitute - gave the community credit for wanting housing development on the site instead of projecting anti-development boogie men on a well-meaning group of people whose commitment to confronting the housing crisis within their own community is worthy of respect. 

I know accusing someone of being a racist in Berkeley is the equivalent of calling someone "Hitler" on an online forum, but ZAB might also want to look at the disparate ways it treats the "community context" detriment in North and South Berkeley. I wonder whether the difference between four and six stories would be dismissed on the other side of the "red line". Why aren’t the BARFers out demanding Transit-Oriented Development around the North Berkeley BART station? Could it be because their sponsors Councilmembers Bates, Capitelli, Wengraf, Maio, Droste, and Moore have decided to sacrifice South Berkeley to appease the vested interests of wealthier constituents in North Berkeley?