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Berkeley: Downzoning for affordable housing?

A few days ago I received an alarming email from Friends of BRT:

Transportation and land use are intimately linked. The combination of better public transportation and transit-oriented development is the Bay Area’s best hope for reducing the pollution, congestion, and related problems associated with the region’s over-dependence on the private automobile. Yet, instead of leading the way, Berkeley, in the form of a relatively small group of activist neighbors, is fighting the trend vigorously.

This Tuesday, April 22, the Berkeley City Council will vote on a proposal that would significantly downzone the major transportation corridors. Essentially that proposal is exactly the same as Measure P, which 80 percent of Berkeley’s voters defeated in 2002.

I followed Berkeley’s protracted zoning-by-committee Downtown Plan process and always check the Berkeley Daily Planet, which seems to be that city’s only news source, but had never heard of any downzoning effort. Why would the Berkeley Daily refrain from applauding neighbors’ efforts to keep newcomers out with restrictive land-use policies? Then I remembered an ongoing and rather odd discussion of a density bonus that comes to the Berkeley City Council today:

Two different versions of a proposed municipal density bonus are on the council’s agenda, one recommended by the Planning Commission and the other by the city planning staff.

The regulations would govern the size and shape of multi-story mixed-use housing projects of the sort now being built along the city’s major traffic arteries.

The commission is urging the city to pass an ordinance that will take effect before the June 3 general election to offset the possible impacts of Proposition 98.

In Oakland, there has been a little discussion of density bonuses, which are available to developers who include price-restricted (“affordable”) units in residential projects by state law. The density bonus functions as a voluntary Inclusionary Zoning program, similar to Los Angeles or Massachusetts though much less used (one project in Temescal is applying for it; I don’t know of any other use of this ten-year-old law in Oakland). Desley Brooks specifically directed the Blue Ribbon Commission to look at density bonuses as they attempted to draft an affordable-housing ordinance, but of course the commission did not, and IZ advocates ignore the density bonuses that would be consequence of their proposal. As a result, few people understand that once cities adopt mandatory IZ regulations, they lose some control over development, which prevents municipalities from adopting IZ just to discourage development.

It appears that Berkeley’s planning staff is adept at using the state’s density bonus to move projects past a skeptical Zoning Adjustments Board and Planning Commission hearings dominated by outraged NIMBYs. Having caught on to the ruse, the ZAB has been for some time asking for an ordinance that allows them to limit development further. Much like Jane Brunner tried to pass a poorly-thought-out IZ ordinance before Prop 90 came to a vote in late 2006, it appears the Berkeley City Council is sufficiently cowed by the spectre of Prop 98, and will radically downzone their transit corridors in order to assure that Berkeley’s future development includes price-restricted units, and that there will be few of them.

In related news, it appears that State Senate candidate Loni Hancock (former “progressive” Mayor of Berkeley, current Assemblymember, wife of Tom “I stole the newspaper” Bates) is carrying some significant legislation to further placate NIMBYs who love affordable housing in theory. According to the Planet (I couldn’t find this bill), Hancock has introduced a bill that would exempt cities with IZ from the statewide Density Bonus without forcing them to create their own bonuses, thereby encouraging cities to pass the sort of IZ ordinances a recent pro-IZ study found to be the least effective: mandatory, unfunded policies without planning concessions. Politicians like Loni Hancock, Tom Bates and, in Oakland, Jane Brunner and Nancy Nadel advance a damaging anti-growth agenda under the auspices of providing more affordable housing, and inevitably their targets are transit corridors and other places that make growth smart. BRT proponents and other environmentalists are wise to connect the dots.

Posted in berkeley, california, citycouncil, elections, endorsements, housing, iz, planningcommission.

2 Responses

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  1. Becks says

    Berkeley has more NIMBY related problems than I’ve seen in any other city. It’s especially frustrating because the council and the residents all purport to be committed to improving the environment by reducing green house gas emissions, but they’re not willing to make any real sacrifices to get there.

    Also, BTW, the bill you’re referencing, AB 2280, was not introduced by Hancock – it’s authored by Lori Saldana (San Diego) and Anna Caballero (Salinas). However, Hancock did vote for it when it went before the Housing Committee. This bill sounds like bad policy so it’s scary that it sailed through it’s first committee hearing.

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  1. » Berkeley: Downzoning for affordable housing? linked to this post on April 22, 2008

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