Updated: Who Backs Building on North Berkeley BART Parking Lot?
What Do They Want?
Thursday Meeting Could Yield Answers

Zelda Bronstein
Sunday March 11, 2018 - 09:44:00 PM
SB 827 could up-zone this area around the North Berkeley BART station.
Victoria Fierce (@tdfischer)
SB 827 could up-zone this area around the North Berkeley BART station.

UPDATE: The BART staff presentation for Thursday's meeting is now online

On the evening of Thursday, March 15, Mayor Jesse Arreguín, District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio, and District 3 BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman will host a community meeting at the Berkeley Adult School to discuss the possibility of building housing on the North Berkeley BART station. Many neighbors of the site now view that possibility with intense mistrust, thanks to confusing statements from Arreguín, YIMBY hype and harassment, and Saltzman’s failure to brief her constituents about BART’s intentions and her YIMBY sympathies. 


For most people the first public notice of the meeting was a February 10 tweet from the mayor: 

“Stay tuned for a town hall meeting with BART on development of the North Berkeley BART parking lot. I am commited to starting the process of building housing there.” 

This was a surprise; Arreguín had never voiced support for housing at the station. 

Which side is he on? 

In a confusing February 20 op-ed posted on his personal website, the mayor also seemed to endorse upzoning areas around BART stations for eight-story buildings. The op-ed’s ostensible aim was to clarify Arreguín’s position on State Senator Scott Wiener’s controversial SB 827, the massive giveaway to the real estate industry that’s co-sponsored by Berkeley State Senator Nancy Skinner. 

Under SB 827, housing projects within a half-mile of a major transit stop (e.g. a BART station) or a quarter-mile of a “high-quality” transit corridor (defined as “fixed route” bus service no less than every fifteen minutes during peak commute hour) would be exempted from local controls on: 




  • density (number of units)
  • minimum parking spaces
  • maximum heights
  • and zoning that limits additions onto existing structures that comply with the bill’s own maximum height limitations of 55 of 85 feet, depending on the width of the street.
In Wiener’s telling: “Developers can choose to build shorter, but cities can’t force them to build shorter…” In fact, as the San Francisco Planning Department has observed, when the state’s Density Bonus kicks in, under certain conditions, buildings could go as high as 110 feet. 



A month earlier, Berkeleyside.com reporter Janis Mara had quoted Arreguín as calling SB 827 “a declaration of war against our neighborhoods.” In contrast to that much-cited, unequivocal denunciation, the position he took in the op-ed was muddled. Under the headline “New Housing Bill Well-Intentioned, Yet Ultimately Wrong Approach to Development,” the mayor criticized the bill for 



  • handing ordinate power to transit agencies
  • unintentionally fueling opposition to future transit investment
  • fostering traffic congestion and “parking impacts”
  • ruining neighborhood character
  • being “fundamentally unfair,” insofar as its cookie-cutter approach ignores cities that, like Berkeley, have encouraged new housing
  • failing to protect students, working families, and communities of color from displacement.
But Arreguin also wrote: 





“If approved as written, [SB 827] would radically alter how Berkeley and many other California cities look by allowing much denser housing in many neighborhoods. This means apartment buildings as tall as eight stories not only near BART stations and bus depots—which I wholeheartedly support—but also in many of our residential neighborhoods, if they happen to be located within just a ¼ mile of a “high quality transit corridor” [emphasis added].”
On February 28, Arreguin told me that the bolded passage “does not report my position,” and that his office would make a correction, and it has: “which I wholeheartedly support” has been removed from the text. 



“I do support density,” Arreguín said, but up-zoning needs to be done on “a case by case basis.” In any case, he could not support the bill in its current form. 

On March 4, Arreguín sent me the formal statement on SB 827 that his office had provided to New York Times reporter Conor Dougherty. The document echoes the fence-straddling of his op-ed’s headline. Arreguín is “pleased” that Wiener has amended the bill’s first draft to address “potential impacts of displacement” that the bill would create, but he “looks forward to speaking” with the senator about adding “still stronger affordability and anti- displacement protections”—for example, repeal of the Costa Hawkins Act. Nowhere does he express outright opposition. 

YIMBY provocation 

What really got the emails flying were the inflammatory dispatches from the local YIMBY cell, East Bay for Everyone (EBFE). 

On January 4, the day after Wiener introduced SB 827, EBFE Co-executive Victoria Fierce posted a map on the #UpzoneNorthBerkeleyBart website illustrating the area around the station whose upzoning would be mandated by the bill. 

Then, well before any official announcement about the date of the meeting about housing had appeared, the build-baby-build group posted a misleading call to action on its website

“Save the Date: #UpzoneNorthBerkeleyBART, March 15 

by tdfischer| Feb 14, 2018 | Events | 

Councilmember Maio and Mayor Arreguin of Berkeley are officially organizing a meeting for March 15 to discuss increasing housing density in the area around North Berkeley BART. East Bay for Everyone has been agitating over this issue since our earliest days, and now it is becoming a reality! This is really important!’” 

"tdfischer" is Victoria Fierce's Twitter name. Her other job is co-directing the YIMBYs’ legal arm, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Educational Fund (CARLA). Its motto is “Sue the Suburbs,” a precept CaRLA has been putting into action with increasing success. 

Shortly after her February 14 post, Fierce tweeted: “This is when it counts. Its almost unheard of to have more than 2 weeks advance notice for this, and we have nearly a month.” How the YIMBYs got a heads-up is a mystery. 

On February 17, Libby Lee-Egan, another member of EBFE, issued a tweet at #UpzoneNorthBerkeley announcing the group’s meeting at the Westbrae Biergarten to organize for the March 15 community meeting: “Who’s going to this today?? Let’s upzone the shit out of North Berkeley!” Echoing Lee-Egan, Fierce tweeted: 

"Share this far and wide. Retweet the shit out of it. Tell your family, your cats, your kids, your cats’ kids. This is an ALL HANDS ON DECK situation and we want as may voices in the room to speak out on housing abundancy an desegregation." 

The EBFE calendar shows that another meeting about upzoning North Berkeley took place on February19 at the group’s Oakland office. 

An announcement posted on the EBFE website states that the March 15 meeting will be about upzoning North Berkeley, and that the YIMBYs plan to squelch the neighbors and take over the event: 

"It is absolutely critical that we get out ahead of the curve on this and take control of the narrative. 

"The neighbors there will be mostly concerned about parking and increased heights. We need to take those concepts and render them harmless through a more compelling message of housing abundancy, transit accessibility, and access to opportunity." 

On February 20 EBFE invited people to celebrate the group’s second birthday at Spats that evening and see “this amazing scale model of North Berkly [sic] BART!” The model showed 570 units at the site packed into four buildings of varying heights—the tallest rose 31 stories to 300 feet—and, bizarrely, given the YIMBYs’ newfound enthusiasm for transit-oriented development (TOD), an eight-story, 500-space parking garage. 

On February 23, Nico Wright posted his objections on the EBFE website: 

Hey: I’m a big fan of density, live pretty close, and am a trained architect, landscape designer, and urbanist. You are doing yourselves no favors putting this out there. Not a good plan for the site. Could achieve as many units with a better lower and more even plan. 

Five days later, EBFE’s Greg Magofña replied: 

Hi Nico. This is NOT a proposal. It was just a fun thing to play with at the bday party. 

Wright: “I get it but few others do.” 


Maio tells the YIMBYs to cool it 

Fierce, who lives in Oakland, Fierce, who lives in Oakland, somehow got access to a private Berkeley NextDoor online community group and was posting their private messages on Twitter, maligning neighbors of the North Berkeley BART station. A neighbor complained to Maio. On March 2 the councilmember, whose district includes the station, told me that she was “disheartened” by this news, that she’d written to EBFE asking them “to look into it,” and that they’d said they would. 

On February 26 Lee-Egan posted this apology on NextDoor: 

“Victoria Fierce, a co-executive and organizer for EBFE, has made some divisive, alienating, and frankly rude comments about North Berkeley neighbors, citing screenshots of the “rezoning” thread. The tweets did not reveal anyone's names or addresses. However, Victoria did make a member of the community feel unsafe and targeted, which is not in the spirit of EBFE’s anti-doxing policy found in our code of conduct. East Bay for Everyone does not support Victoria's actions and she is on a leave of absence. You will not see her at the March 15 meeting or any other regarding building at North Berkeley BART. Furthermore, we do not support doxing of private information and anyone in our organization doing so will be disciplined. We are also working on strengthening our code of conduct and creating a culture where leaders hold themselves to a higher standard than members. We’re a young organization and we’re trying to be better.” 

(Note: To dox is to search for and publish private or identifying information about particular individuals, typically with malicious intent.) 

Fierce’s disciplinary leave of absence was apparently brief. At the BART Board’s March 8 meeting, where she urged the agency’s directors to endorse SB 827, Fierce described herself as “the co-executive of East Bay for Everyone,” as well as a board member of YIMBY Action and a member of California YIMBY. “In total,” she stated, “I represent nearly three thousand Californians in the Bay Area alone.” 

Maio has also posted on NextDoor, making clear that, contrary to EBFE, the March 15 meeting has nothing to do with the zoning around the station, only about “what the site lends itself to for housing. 

Maio also described to me her earlier efforts to foster inclusive planning for housing at the North Berkeley station. “I felt very responsible that neighbors be involved in notification and process,” she said. Three months ago, she and an aide spent a couple of hours going door-to-door to every house within a block of station either talking to residents or leaving flyers for those who weren’t home with advance information about the upcoming meeting. At that point the date was unknown. She invited people to contact her or to sign up to be placed on an email list or to contact her. 

“A lot signed up,” she said. 

I suggested that it would be a good idea to provide information about BART’s presentation before the meeting. She agreed, noting that that was up to BART. 

Where’s the info, BART? 

On February 28, I emailed BART Communications Department Manager Alicia Trost. I asked if BART has a specific plan or vision for housing at the North Berkeley site. 

Noting that BART classifies the North Berkeley station as “Urban with Parking,” I also asked what BART’s policy is on replacing or not replacing parking at stations in this category when housing is built on their parking lots. 

Because (as of this writing, just five days before the March 15 meeting) BART has yet to issue an announcement about the event, much less to distribute information about its policies for housing at the North Berkeley station, I’m going to print Trost’s enlightening reply in full: 

BART’s vision for housing at the station: 



“BART’s TOD Policy also states that BART will only 'Solicit proposals for transit-oriented development in localities that have an adopted plan allowing for transit-supportive land uses.' The main BART Property at North Berkeley is currently zoned ‘Unclassified.’ Therefore BART has no specific plan or vision, and would work in close collaboration with the city on any new plan or vision for the property. "BART’s vision for its overall TOD Program is articulated in its TOD Policy. We aim to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by focusing residents and workers close to BART and connecting transit where they are less likely to drive, and in particular help alleviate the region’s housing crisis by building 20,000 homes on BART property, 35% of which (7,000) are expected to be affordable. BART would expect a minimum of 20% of new housing units built on BART property to be affordable, with a higher percentage preferred if financially feasible. Any development at North Berkeley station would be expected to support this larger vision. [emphasis added]"  



BART’s parking replacement policy at the North Berkeley station: 





"BART’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Policy states that BART will “strive for no to limited parking replacement” at stations classified as Urban with Parking in the Station Access typology map. Stations have been assigned this classification based on how BART riders get to the station today as well as the local context and in many cases consideration of local planning and feedback from cities. BART stations with a high share of riders who walk, bike, or take connecting transit to BART were more likely to be classified as 'Urban with Parking.' "No exact amount of replacement parking has been established for North Berkeley or any other station without an approved development. There is no “one size fits all” on the question of replacement parking. BART requires all developers to fund an extensive station access study during the development process, and works with developers to ensure that the design of the project takes the station access needs of BART riders into consideration. Development on BART-owned property must result in a net increase in BART riders."  



Trost added that 25% of BART patrons starting their day at BART use the parking lot, and that there are 385 people on the waitlist to reserve a parking space at North Berkeley BART. 



Rebecca Saltzman, YIMBY enthusiast and SB 827 supporter 

Rebecca Saltzman lives in Oakland. She was first elected to represent BART District 3 in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. Stretching from El Cerrito in the north to San Lorenzo in the south and Lafayette in the east, her BART district covers parts of many East Bay cities. In 2016 I encountered her and an Oakland lawyer well-known for representing developers as they were distributing leaflets on my North Berkeley block for Stephen Murphy, Sophie Hahn’s pro-developer rival for the District 5 council seat. 

On March 8 Saltzman joined four other BART directors to support SB 827 if unspecified amendments to provide affordable housing, protect tenants, and mandate prevailing wages were added, making the agency the first public entity to endorse the bill. The vote was 5-4. 

Her vote was no surprise. On January 4, Saltzman tweeted her support for the bill, thanking Wiener for 

a bold proposal that would increase and accelerate housing production on BART property and around stations. BART is committed to dense TOD but does not control zoning; this bill would help us meet our ambitious goals. 

Indeed, Saltzman is a YIMBY enthusiast. On November 28, 2017, she urged people who “want to see enough housing built for everyone in the East Bay” to “please join me in donating to @eb4everyone today,” retweeting the organization’s pitch: “Help us meet our #Giving Tuesday goal of $3,000 today and your dollars get an instant upzoning with a matching donation!” 

When we spoke on March 9, I asked: “You’re a member of East Bay for Everyone, aren’t you?” 

Saltzman said that she’d contributed to the group but didn’t know if that made her a member. She added, “I wasn’t involved in any of the thing they’ve put forward” about the North Berkeley BART station or the March 15 meeting. 

“The point of the meeting,” she said, “is to get input” from the community. “No development proposal is on the table.” 

Beyond information contained in BART’s TOD Guidelines, the only new considerations will involve the location of the tunnel under the station and where development would be essentially prohibited at the site. 

Saltzman said she understands that “people are scared,” and that she will “try to allay their fears.” The officials who convened the meeting “are coming with an open mind.” 

When I asked whether BART planned to publish information about its policies for housing at its stations in general and at the North Berkeley station in particular, she said that Maio was coordinating outreach. BART would be placing flyers in racks at the station “early next week.” 

That’s late in the day, especially given the clamor of the past month. And since the racks are inside the station, only people riding BART will have access to the flyers. Moreover, if other BART riders are like me, they rarely look at anything in the racks. If BART really wanted to inform the public at large, it would have posted a big sign about the meeting outside the station a few weeks before the meeting. It could still do that. 

On Saturday I emailed Saltzman asking if the flyers would be posted outside the station proper. I’ve yet to get a reply. Meanwhile, neighbors are leafleting the nearby area with announcements about the meeting. 

Here’s Maio’s official announcement: 



"The March 15 meeting about the suitability of the main North Berkeley BART parking lot as a site for housing. Venue: Berkeley Adult School Multi-Purpose Room. Enter from Curtis/Francisco. BART will present the site’s suitability, given the presence of the tunnel, and will discuss transit-oriented development, followed by questions and discussions. Contact: lmaio@cityofberkeley.info"
And for those who’d like to ask Nancy Skinner why she’s co-sponoring SB 827, at the March 22 meeting of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, Skinner will be speaking on “what’s happening in Sacramento and SB 827,” with discussants Berkeley Councilmember Kate Harrison and Dellums Institute Principal Margaretta Lin. 6:45 pm, Humanists Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland