Public Comment

City of Berkeley flouts state density bonus law for 2902 Adeline project

Robert Lauriston
Friday April 28, 2017 - 04:19:00 PM

California's density bonus law provides a variety of bonuses for housing projects that include a small percentage of below-market-rate units that are reserved for and affordable to low-income households. One bonus is "concessions," which can be used to set aside local zoning code provisions.

To qualify for that bonus, the law also requires that any existing units that are or were last occupied by low-income tenants be replaced by units with the same number of bedrooms. If the income of the tenant households is not known, the law requires the city to presume that they were low-income in the same proportion as all renter households in the city. The burden is on the applicant to rebut that presumption.

Last October, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board approved permits to demolish a five-bedroom house at 1946 Russell and a mixed-use building at 2908 Adeline containing one five-bedroom unit and one two-bedroom unit in order to build a six-story building with 50 units, two of which would be affordable per the state law. This approval included use of a state concession to override the floor-area ratio limit. City staff did not inform the ZAB of the replacement requirement, so it was not even discussed. 

A group of 30 neighbors appealed that ZAB decision to the City Council. One of the bases for our appeal is the lack of replacement units. We believe that to qualify for the concession, the project would have to replace the demolished two five-bedroom and one two-bedroom units and include two new below-market-rate units. A letter detailing this was submitted to the City Council by one of our attorneys, Jassmin Poyaoan of the East Bay Community Law Center. 

The property owners claimed that they occupied the two units at 2908 Adeline, but we provided the Council with a list of 25 current or previous tenants, advertisements from last September offering rooms for rent, and documentation that all three of the owners live elsewhere. They also claimed that there was only one name on the lease at 1946 Russell and he was not low-income when he signed it, but they have provided no documentation of his income at the time they doubled the rent to force him and his roommates to move, and no information at all about his four roommates or the current or last tenants of 2908 Adeline. 

The city continues to refuse to make the required presumption, and the applicant has not rebutted it. Councilmember Hahn understands the problem but to date seems to have been unsuccessful in communicating that understanding to the rest of the council. 

Our appeal will be back before the Council for the fourth time this coming Tuesday, May 2. There will be no public comment, since the public hearing was closed, so if you want to make your opinion known on this matter, call or email Mayor Arreguin or the Council member for your district.