February 3, 2009               

Strong WEBAIC turnout at Planning Commission Meeting
Positive Meeting Results & Crucial Next Steps in West Berkeley Rezoning
Important Upcoming February 25th Planning Commission Meeting
- N. Berkeley Senior Center - Hearst & MLK

At least 32 WEBAIC members and supporters came to the Planning Commission last Wednesday to strongly support policies to preserve and enhance West Berkeley's industrial and arts uses. Many people spoke during public comment, showing most of the staff and commissioners for the first time the true breadth and depth of the diversity of uses, jobs and activities in the industrial zones. 

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who took the time to come out.  Your presence had an immediate and positive effect that will surely continue to felt in the process. If you hadn't shown up we'd now be stuck with a marginalized stakeholder process, a hardening of the two-acre Master Use Permit threshold, and a digging in of the heels at allowing retail, housing, and unlimited office in the industrial zones. 

And thanks to those who tried but couldn't make it.  Being in the final, critical stage of the process where the area-wide structural issues that will affect the majority of industries and arts uses are being addressed, each upcoming meeting (next: Planning Commission on February 25th) will be key, so please come on out and add your presence and voice.

An article on the meeting titled " West Berkeley Zoning Battle Fills Planning Commission Seats" is on the online Daily Planet at this web address: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-01-29/article/32138?headline=West-Berkeley-Zoning-Battle-Fills-Planning-Commission-Seats

This is a sampling:  "West Berkeley itself “is not very big,” (Planning Manager) Sanderson said. “It’s less that 10 percent of the area of Berkeley itself.”  But it is a well-organized 10 percent, as commissioners learned once again during their Wednesday night session.  One after the other, artists and owners of businesses ranging from recycling and industrial parts production to lumberyards, laboratory glassware manufacturing and printing rose to protest changes in the Master Use Permit (MUP) process that would be allowed on all parcels of two or more acres."

As we've come to expect with all press, the Planning Commission article isn't an ideal representation of what happened there (i.e. the "battle" metaphor), but compared to most press this article is relatively accurate.

Planning Commission meeting outcomes clarified in conversation with Planner Alex Amoroso:

Stakeholder process:  Three weeks prior to the meeting (and once the local elections were over), under clear political pressure, staff abruptly changed the agreed-upon stakeholder process to minimize input and marginalize stakeholder voices.  Thanks to the outpouring of concern at the meeting we're now back to the original stakeholder process (at least for the time being).
Master Use Permit Threshold:  Going into the meeting, Planning staff had proposed a special Master Use Permit for large sites that would allow their now-protected industrial and arts spaces and uses to be replaced by office, retail, housing, and R & D uses.  At the proposed two-acre threshold, 52-60% of all West Berkeley commercial property (except in the MUR zone) would be affected, essentially voiding the West Berkeley Plan on the majority of land it was intended to zone. Thanks to the turnout of our community this over-reaching (of the two-acre threshold) is now on shaky ground and the likelihood it will rise to at least three acres or above is a realistic possibility.  Staff is in the process of creating new maps showing parcels at three, four, and possibly other acre thresholds. 

Adopting a 3-4 acre threshold will limit the direct loss of industrial/arts space and businesses, limit the significant gentrifying spillover effects of placing these high-rent uses throughout West Berkeley's industrial zones, and applies the Master Use Permit where logic dictates, on the five to six sites originally targeted by staff (before their attempts to massively expand this provision).

Master Use Permit Allowable Uses:  One week before the meeting, staff proposed new zoning provisions that for the first time would allow retail, housing, and unlimited office uses deep into the Mixed Use Light Industrial, Mixed Manufacturing, and Manufacturing zones (MULI, MM, and M) under a Master Use Permit.  In combination with the likely removal of industrial/arts protections on the Master Use Permit site itself, the spillover economic pressure on surrounding industrial/arts uses would likely result in the ultimate loss of many of these businesses and activities with their associated jobs.  The incompatibility of these uses locating near industrial and arts uses would result in further loss.

The line-up of speakers; manufacturers, artisans, homeowners, artists, one-person shops, 100-employee companies, all made a great impression on staff and commissioners.  This is the largest and in some ways most difficult part of our task - simply making our presence and contributions real to the government and public.  It often seems that in the public and governmental consciousness West Berkeley is like the blank spot labeled "Unknown" on one of those maps from the 1500''s, or conversely miles of abandoned warehouses, maybe even with tumbleweeds blowing down the streets are imagined- ok, maybe not the tumbleweeds.  So it's up to us to fill in the blanks and empty warehouses of the imagination by demonstrating that we're here and explaining what we do.  Last night was a good start.  People can't begin to care about preserving and enhancing something they don't know exists.

NEXT STEPS: The WEBAIC stakeholder group will be meeting with staff next week to address the three most important issues in the entire zoning process - Master Use Permit, the Definition of what is "industrial", and what are Allowable Uses in the different zones.  If you would like to communicate with us on any of these issues, past or present, please get in touch. 

While they are greatly appreciated and certainly make it possible to do the work, there are no required dues to join WEBAIC.  So email or give us a call and come onboard at this critical but exciting moment (and sit in on the stakeholder meetings if you're feeling civically adventurous - or bored).  You'll meet some very interesting (and nice) people - your neighbors.  WEBAIC is now becoming commensurate with the interests we actually represent, industry and arts in the West Berkeley industrial zones, and thus our ability to positively affect policy for the continued viability of our constituency is steadily improving.  By coming together in this effort we have the best chance to be able to say for many years to come what we say now, that West Berkeley Works!

The WEBAIC steering committee       

West Berkeley Works!


ADDENDUM:  Local Free Press In Jeopardy -
As is happening everywhere, Berkeley's only truly local paper, the Daily Planet, is in deep financial difficulties and in real danger of folding soon.  Whatever one's opinions of its perspective or editorial stance, as an organ for public discourse and information dissemination the Planet is essential to our community.  Through fulfilling its civic function by providing fact-based articles on West Berkeley and its openness to the publication of diverse op-eds (including ours) the Planet has contributed to WEBAIC's ability to educate and organize on our constituency's behalf and maintain a vital industrial and arts presence in our town.  If any West Berkeley business is considering spending advertising dollars, the WEBAIC steering committee suggests you consider supporting the free press by supporting the Planet in this way.  Without a local newspaper to shine a light, most things will happen in the dark.

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