Public Comment

Open Letter to Mayor Arreguin Regarding Community Benefits and Development Concessions

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday February 16, 2018 - 06:17:00 PM

Dear Mayor Arreguín,

It was very disturbing to hear you say almost offhandedly, as we were leaving the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Downtown Community Benefits meeting last Thursday, that paragraph F, Alteration of Community Benefits Package, should be dropped from the Resolution.

The majority of Berkeley voters elected you and other council members who ran as progressives because we wanted the city to reverse course from the extremely pro-developer policies of Mayor Bates and the previous council majority and focus on serving the city’s needs. But here is an instance where we’re not seeing the more careful consideration of the implications of policy that we voted for.

At the heart of our concerns was Bates and his council majority's seemingly unthinking approval of huge disruption downtown, damage to existing businesses and public services like the High School, the YMCA, the Library, and the Post Office, especially during the construction process, and ever more market rate housing instead of the low and moderate income housing we need. The community benefits proposal approved for 2211 Harold Way was an insult to the city of Berkeley. For developer Joseph Penner, no doubt advised by former Planning Department employee Mark Rhoades, to propose eight replacement theaters as a significant community benefit after the demolition of our beautiful, comfortable, successful existing theaters was like a black joke. 

If we mean to ensure that city residents share in the benefits developers will derive from their projects that use valuable space downtown, we must make sure the proposed community benefits are commensurate with the developer’s expected profits and serve the needs of the community. If a package is approved and then the plans change, we must ensure that any alteration in the benefits package is appropriate. This is too important to leave to staff, who have a conflict of interest. We have seen that planning staff, dedicated to ensuring the flow of income into their department from developers’ fees, work to support and serve developers’ interest. Thus the loss of the promised Fine Arts Theater, the Gaia Bookstore, and the extension of the 2211 Harold Way project. 

I hope you will support inclusion of paragraph F, Alteration of Community Benefits Package in the Resolution to clarify and set standards for Berkeley’s Significant Community Benefits program.