Public Comment

Berkeley Council delays action on affordable housing proposal

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday June 16, 2017 - 10:40:00 AM

The council meeting was a pretty depressing spectacle Tuesday night, with the minority, the Livable Berkeley-Rhoades-Caner-Panzer contingent who couldn’t elect their mayor, dominating with their tired, disproven trickle-down theory of housing.

But they succeeded in pushing the council to justify one more delay in dealing with the crisis, contributing to the longtime holding pattern for low-income housing projects, while the market rate projects continue to be approved to the profit of developers and investors.

We elected a new council majority to deal with our housing crisis but they seem to be too timid or unwilling to oppose the pro-development interests even though Berkeley voters elected them to do so. Kate Harrison’s very modest proposal to hold the in-lieu fee to $34,000 for those developers unwilling to designate 20% of units for low-income residents was delayed for further discussion, further “studies,” and, once again, nothing done to address the crisis. 

We need bold policy changes to reverse the huge oversupply of high-end housing that is crowding out long-time Berkeley residents who can’t afford the dramatically higher rents and house prices. 

Berkeley has already met 141% of its ABAG quota for above moderate income housing but only 40% of units for very- low-income and a very shameful 3% of low-income and 4% of moderate-income units. 

What’s worse is that unless policy changes are made now, the above-moderate units will double to 278% of quota, thanks to the many projects in the pipeline. 

But those projects can be altered. Several of us have consulted with a very experienced land-use attorney who confirms that courts have approved a city’s right to change zoning and other requirements affecting developers right up until ground is broken for the project. 

This council can require LEED Platinum energy efficiency standards of all projects now in the pipeline, as they should do if we are to address climate change as we must do. This will improve those projects for the benefit of all of us. And they can require 40% low-income units or more, or a considerably higher in-lieu fee for projects in the pipeline so that we can actually build a fund for inclusionary projects and work with non-profit developers. If a more responsible environmental and social policy displeases for-profit developers unwilling to design for zero net energy and at least 40% inclusionary low-income housing, so much the better. They aren’t providing what we need. 

The council could improve the terribly destructive 2211 Harold Way project, which would turn downtown Berkeley into a construction zone, demolish the Shattuck Cinemas, downtown’s economic engine, and contribute many more of the above-moderate units that we don’t need. A zero net energy building, respectful of the scale of downtown’s historic area, incorporating 40% low income units, would be welcomed by most Berkeley residents. Conversely, this city council majority will own this bad project if they fail to modify it to suit Berkeley’s needs. 

Their responsibility is to the residents of Berkeley. Their mandate from the voters is to change city policy dramatically in order to correct the shameful imbalance between housing for the wealthy and housing for families and low-income residents, and to ensure housing for Berkeley residents, not those from outside Berkeley who can pay much higher rents.