June 16, 2009               

WEBAIC Planning Commission Report Back

WEBAIC input at 6/10 West Berkeley Project Planning Commission Meeting:

•Helps move sensible fast-track proposals forward
•Helps convince staff/Commissioners proposals with possible negative impacts need closer look
•Helps Commissioners understand negative consequences of vast expansion of MUP sites

With very few opportunities left to present our case to the Planning Commission before final decisions are made, WEBAIC members and supporters showed in solid numbers and with such common sense policy perspectives that Commissioners and staff responded very positively to our concerns.  The fast-tracked zoning proposals discussed at the meeting will now be vetted by staff in house and in discussions with stakeholders.  Surviving proposals will be drafted into zoning language and brought back to the Commission on June 24th for one final public discussion before being heard at the Commission's Public Hearing on July 22nd. Please mark both the evenings (exact time to be announced) of June 24th and July 22nd on your calendars as our presence at these meetings will be essential to a positive result for our interests.

Thanks again to those of you who were able to come, as once again your presence made a visible difference.  When Commissioners hear first hand from the people who provide Berkeley and beyond with needed goods and services, revenue, and good jobs, the reality of West Berkeley as a vibrant hub of essential activity is concretely driven home.  A huge change at any one meeting may be hard to see (though it can happen), but the direction policy takes after a meeting and the way staff relate to WEBAIC in subsequent discussions reflect a direct and positive effect from your actions.  Your continued presence and support are what WILL make the difference. 

Staff's report to Commissioners covered two areas:

1. Proposals to fast track (in response to Council's directive) several zoning improvements
2. Responses to Planning Commissioner's questions from their April 28th meeting.

1. Proposals Fast Tracked by staff in response to City council directive:

Staff's main objective in this effort is to quickly bring proposals forward that will have an immediate and positive effect on facilitating economic activity.  To do this, proposals must not be so complex as to require a lot of background work and must be generally acceptable to all stakeholders so as not to get bogged down in conflict, appeals, etc.

Of the five proposals, WEBAIC agreed with:
A. Incidental Retail - Proposal to " Allow incidental retail in MU-LI subsequent to establishment of primary use".
B. Clarify interchangeability language that Manufacturing/Warehousing/Wholesale Trade/MRE can interchange freely
• These proposals are moving forward with draft language expected soon.

WEBAIC and staff agreed this proposal needs a closer look but could be fast-tracked:
C. Subdivision (demising) of space
WEBAIC testified that staff's proposal to "Decrease levels of discretion of conversions across the board by one permit level" was an overly blunt approach to an important issue.  All parties want to see the physical subdivision of space happen more easily, and WEBAIC and Norheim/Yost brought forward a joint proposal to accomplish this three years ago.
• This proposal is moving forward - stakeholder discussions expected to lead to agreement next week.

WEBAIC had questions about these two proposals:
D.  Parking reductions - staff provided NO specifics about their proposals.
E.  Childcare in the MULI - State and Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulations were unknown and
     childcare in immediate proximity to industrial uses poses potential serious incompatibilities.
• These proposals are not moving forward in the present fast track process, likely due to 
  the amount of background work required and the lack of unanimity among stakeholders.
F. Switching to NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System) from SIC (Standard Industrial Classification system).  WEBAIC supports this change of industrial classification systems, pending final verification of the Office of Economic Development (OED) document stating no significant changes in Use Categories would resut from this switch.  After the 6/12 Planning Commission meeting, and in response to Commissioner encouragement and apparent unanimity among stakeholders, staff moved this issue to the Fast Track:  Staff is presently examining NAICS to clarify that there will be no Use changes in this switch.  From our limited understanding, NAICS takes a more modern and fine-grained look at Uses with uses being placed into more sub-categories than at present.

A separate section of the Office of Economic Development document suggests the creation of new zoning Use categories for Research & Development (R & D) businesses not requiring "traditional" lab space and Internet Technology (IT) and publishing uses.  This suggestion is in contradiction to WEBAIC's Core Concept, which states: Except for the existing provision allowing offices under certain circumstances in the MULI, uses that can be conducted in an office environment and are not in support of a primary industrial/arts use should not locate on the limited (4-5%) amount of Berkeley land reserved for industrial and artistic production, distribution, repair, recycling/reuse, and supply.  Uses not requiring the amenities, conditions, and tolerances provided by industrial zoning should locate on the ample property zoned for office-type uses in the Commercial zones, including downtown.  Non-industrial R & D labs, IT, and publishing uses generally don't have these requirements and do not meet these conditions.

2.  Staff responses to Planning Commissioner's previous questions:  

Staff responded in their Report to numerous questions from previous Planning Commission meetings.  Those of most concern to WEBAIC are issues relating to the Master Use Permit process:

MUP threshold size + Limitation on Eligibility of sites for Master Use Permit:
These two issues both refer to the question: How much of West Berkeley's industrial lands will ultimately be subject to the MUP process?  WEBAIC reported to the Commission that the present 3 acre threshold would make approximately 25-30 sites occupying around 42% of M, MM, and MULI property eligible for MUP status.  This is a vast expansion from the six "underutilized opportunity sites" originally targeted by the City for this process.  Commissioner responses to this expansion ranged from concern to alarm with what sounded like a general consensus that this expansion was not what the process was intended to accomplish and that the expansion itself appeared to a major reason why the West Berkeley Project was taking a long time. WEBAIC was heartened by these sentiments.  On the limitation on eligibility issue, staff suggested the possibility of looking at a "finite list" of eligible sites, while WEBAIC has suggested a "date by" limitation in order to avoid unlimited aggregation of sites for eligibility.  However it's done, WEBAIC's position is that: There should be a method by which a finite number of sites would be available for MUP status, beyond which no further eligibility would be granted, and that number of sites should match as closely as possible the six originally identified "opportunity" sites.

Office Uses on Master Use Permit Sites:  Staff has clarified their position by stating that it is "not their intention" to permit 100% offices on MUP sites and suggested zoning code additions to accomplish this.  WEBAIC supports these proposed code additions and believes the combining of the existing industrial protections on MUP sites with staff's proposals offers the best chance to realize this goal. Maintenance of existing industrial protections on MUP sites is at present the simplest and most efficacious method to assure MUP sites are utilized for the purposes of accommodating new green/clean tech industrial laboratory uses as well as art and non-lab industrial uses that include green collar companies and jobs.

Height limit and FAR on MUP sites:  Staff acknowledged a lack of support for their proposed doubling of heights to 90 feet and FAR to four.

Full Parking Waivers: Staff acknowledged a lack of support for their proposal to allow full parking waivers on MUP's

MUP delineated benefits:  Staff has broadened the discussion of the Master Use Permit benefits/trade-offs to include the WEBAIC-supported concept of including certain guaranteed or required benefits.

West Berkeley Works!


WEBAIC  •  info@webaic.org  •  510-549-0190


            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