Planning Commission Considers Reforming City Zoning Policies

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The Berkeley Planning Commission held a meeting Wednesday to discuss how best to reform zoning policies in West Berkeley in order to promote further development in the area.

Officials said they are in the process of formulating proposals that would redefine categories of businesses allowed to manufacture and operate in the area.

The Wednesday meeting was intended to provide the commission with feedback on how to increase economic activity and available jobs by reforming the policies.

The current zoning policies have been called "outdated" and do not include some newer industries, such as green business and those dealing with computers or robotics. Other policies make it difficult for new and smaller businesses to begin development.

"The idea is to promote more green business and more innovative startups," said commission member Teresa Clarke.

The current policies make it more difficult for these types of businesses to obtain permits to begin development and continue developing in the area. Recently, the complications that can arise under the current system became clearer when Clif Bar & Co. had to leave its West Berkeley site partially due to its location on the boundary of two zoning districts-one zone only allowed warehousing and the other only office space.

The commission is looking into solutions that would reform these old categories of manufacturing so that new kinds of industries fit into their definitions.

"Right now the new businesses don't fit the categories we have. New industries like robotics or new things aren't the old type of manufacturing," Clarke said. "We really want to make the code book for the 21st century."

One solution is to eliminate a public review before the Zoning Adjustments Board for small businesses, which can take up to nine months. Without the public review, Clarke said small businesses can go directly to the city to be reviewed for zoning certificates, but big businesses would still have to go up for public review.

While Clarke said the commission sees the expansion of new kinds of businesses as positive for Berkeley's economy, others are concerned that plans for this concept may hinder existing businesses. Rick Auerbach of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies said the group is concerned that the expansion of green businesses has already gone too far.

"The city is seeking to open up so much land for these uses and is doing it in such a way that it will force the displacement of living-wage jobs," he said.

Auerbach said West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies supports the development of green businesses, but there needs to be a balance between these new industries and others, such as arts and crafts.

"We can promote green-clean tech on (the original) places," he said. "There's no reason to go beyond that."

Before a formal proposal is formulated, Clarke said the commission will continue to listen to the input of the manufacturers and community members. Steve Goldin, a manufacturer and member of West Berkeley Business Alliance, said there needs to be more information included in public discussions.

"We need more statistics and data to help the ... public discourse," Goldin said.

The commission will discuss solutions further at its Oct. 28 meeting.


Contact Emma Anderson at [email protected]

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