January 27, 2009               

The West Berkeley Rezoning Effort

What's at Stake

The Planning Department is in the final stages of the West Berkeley Project rezoning effort in the West Berkeley industrial zones. The decisions made in the next few months will likely determine West Berkeley's development direction for the next 20-50 years.

WEBAIC, the West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies, a coalition of industry and arts, is involved as an active stakeholder group in this process; meeting with staff and elected officials, educating our membership and the public, and testifying before the Planning Commission on issues of concern to our constituencies.

The rezoning process is a legitimate effort to reconfigure West Berkeley zoning to accommodate existing and future needs of the industrial, scientific, cultural, retail, and commercial business sectors. WEBAIC believes that if everybody involved in this process acts with our community's best interests in mind we can achieve a balanced, reasoned, and successful result that will satisfy all legitimate needs, specifically to: provide adequate new space for new clean/green technologies, provide an increased revenue stream for the City, and preserve and expand the existing industrial (production, distribution, repair) and artisan/artist sectors.

This balanced approach keeps a vital and real urban production economic ecosystem with 320 inter-related industrial companies and their 6500-7000 living wage jobs, largely for those in our community without advanced education. It keeps and allows to expand our growing green collar job sector and its important recycling, reuse and energy conserving activities. It keeps our vibrant cultural arts sector with 1000 working and performing artists infusing our community with their creative energies. It provides for emerging technologies that can help us on our path to a more sustainable relationship with the Earth through efforts to responsibly create and use the energy we need to live. It keeps and provides expansion opportunities for the business professions that now make up over half of the employment in West Berkeley. And it brings more needed money into City coffers to fund the services we've collectively decided are important to our lives and the lives of our neighbors. This is our vision that can be achieved by enacting a few simple policy changes.

City of Berkeley staff and politicians have a different vision. Their vision would ultimately result in the loss of most of the existing industrial production and arts communities, replaced by vast, dense office parks, high-end condominiums, and retail stores. The final stage of this process would see the last of our community's economic and ethnic diversity disappear.

This is how it happens: Staff is proposing to create a Master Use Permit, which if used by a developer would allow his/her development to be exempt from existing industrial and (likely) arts zoning protections if the development meets a certain size threshold. The proposed two-acre threshold would cover at a minimum 52% of all commercial property in the three targeted West Berkeley industrial zones - MULI, MM, and M. The provisions proposed would allow office, housing, and retail to replace production and arts uses on our precious production lands deep into the industrial zones.

Instead of this extreme proposal, WEBAIC is proposing a reasoned alternative, a 3 - 3.5 acre threshold that would apply to a much more reasonable percentage of West Berkeley land and would target what the staff has already identified as their five "underutilized development sites." We're proposing that "new" industrial uses like clean, green tech and biotechnology be allowed on these sites, but NOT retail and housing. These five sites have the potential for four to five million square feet of development. With the additional sites that would fall under this threshold we estimate up to 10 million square feet could be built to accommodate these needs. This is an enormous amount of space to fill. More than enough for the needs of any amount of incubators and/or established companies. On the rest of West Berkeley not covered under this new Master Use Permit, existing zoning would remain, preserving and enhancing the valuable businesses and jobs we presently have.

This way we all win - by taking a reasoned, balanced approach we gain space for new important technologies and jobs, we preserve our important production capacities with their key jobs, we retain our creative cultural sectors, and bring significant new monies to the City. And we get to keep the wonderful diversity of our community and region.

The choice here is critically important and stark. A grounded, vital, diverse, thriving, forward-looking economy, culture, and population, or office parks, condos and stores to compete with our struggling downtown and neighborhood retail centers. Do we acquiesce to now discredited, land-rush greed-based policies that will lead to the our ultimate economic and social impoverishment, or do we create an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future that we'll all be proud to live in.

Your voice is needed as we make these decisions. Please come to the upcoming meetings at the Planning Commission and make democracy real.

West Berkeley Works!


WEBAIC  •  info@webaic.org  •  510-549-3213


            Helps the public understand West Berkeley industries' contributions to the community;

            Helps businesses maintain and increase their contributions to Berkeley's economy and cultural richness, including how to adopt sustainable practices;

            Serves as a liaison between WeBAIC's members, the community, and local government;

            Promotes the development of sustainable industries as envisioned in the West Berkeley Plan.


WEBAIC • West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies
(510) 549-0190 • PO Box 2755, Berkeley CA 94702