New: Berkeley’s economic, social, cultural, and environmental health (Public Comment)

Charlene M. Woodcock
Sunday July 16, 2017 - 09:56:00 AM

To the Berkeley City Council:

I think we can all agree that it would be a tragic mistake to permit gentrification to irreparably alter the character of our city. Berkeley’s reputation has long been based on the diversity―racial, cultural, and economic―of our city. As a city we have committed to reducing our contribution of greenhouse gases to the Bay Area atmosphere by requiring the highest energy efficiency standards for new construction. And Berkeley residents have made it very clear they want housing for all income levels. Unfortunately, these goals are not reflected by many of the residential development projects approved in recent years.

Inadequate rigor in formulating policy is derailing these commitments and the city is permitting the construction of many large residential buildings that will not meet the state’s 2020 requirement of zero net energy nor maintain economic and racial diversity by ensuring inclusionary housing. Instead, many large new buildings have been approved whose developers’ intent is to make the greatest possible profit without addressing the city’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases and energy and resource waste and to provide inclusionary housing. The result, with nearly all the new projects intended to be sold or rented at market rates, is the rapid gentrification of our city and failure to address the city’s need for family and low-income housing that meets the highest energy efficiency standards, as our Downtown Plan requires.

The November election made clear that Berkeley voters are dissatisfied with this failure and with the rapid gentrification it has encouraged. We elected people who ran as progressives specifically to address these issues. We want to see an energetic effort to change course and work with the tools provided by California law. We can work toward our goals by putting in place new requirements for future residential building projects as well as those that have been approved but not yet broken ground or received final construction permits. 

For example, the city has the ability to change zoning to “mixed residential use,” to require the projects in the pipeline to meet our housing needs. Since the Downtown Plan requires the most effective energy-efficiency standards, the city should replace LEED Gold with LEED Platinum to reflect current best environmental practice. Berkeley voters want to see much more rigorous design standards than LEED Gold so that we can reduce our contribution to pollution in the East Bay. The West Branch Library provides a model for improved design standards to achieve LEED Platinum.  

We should not waste our limited building sites on projects that do not meet our need for mixed rates, aesthetic distinction, and sustainable green design. We do not need any more bland, cheaply-built, “luxury” residential buildings for those able to afford market rates. We need to terminate or reform the projects in the pipeline that don’t meet the city’s need for inclusionary housing and more rigorous energy efficiency/environmental standards. To fail to do so will put us very far behind on our desired environmental goals and family/low-income housing needs.