City Council Rescinds Downtown Area Plan in Unanimous Vote

Photo: Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind the controversial Downtown Area Plan that was approved last July. Mayor Tom Bates and multiple council members said community opposition to the plan prompted the council's decision.
Catherine Shyu/Photo
Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind the controversial Downtown Area Plan that was approved last July. Mayor Tom Bates and multiple council members said community opposition to the plan prompted the council's decision.

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Photo: Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates's proposal to rescind the Downtown Area Plan was approved by the City Council Tuesday night. Council members and city staff hope to come up with a new plan that addresses quality of life for residents as well as business development in the Downtown area.   

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The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to scrap its previously approved and contentious Downtown Area Plan and return to the drawing board with recommendations to revitalize the area.

After nearly four years of planning and extensive debate, council members voted to support Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates's proposal to rescind the plan, which aimed to govern development for the area and was approved by a 7-2 vote in July 2009.

Bates and multiple council members cited overwhelming community opposition-which culminated in a referendum campaign that gathered 9,200 signatures against the plan in August-as the main catalyst for the plan's repeal.

"It's good in some ways that we had the referendum, because we came up with a better plan," Bates said at the meeting. "This is the result of the response, which changed daily as it was ebbing and flowing and adjusting."

Council members and city staff will now move forward in efforts to develop a new plan that adequately balances residents' quality of life with development and business growth in the Downtown area, council members said.

In an 8-1 vote, with only Councilmember Jesse Arreguin objecting, the council also approved Bates's recommendations for a new plan, which he said is based off about 50 meetings with residents since the referendum campaign. The council will now consider information from city staff and hold a public hearing before the measure goes on the November 2010 ballot, Bates said.

However, Arreguin said that the new plan, while it is a "small victory for the people," still fails to account for residents' primary concerns regarding stricter development regulations in the area.

"Despite the fact the mayor said he spoke with over 50 people, I believe I was the only member of the referendum campaign he met with," he said at the meeting. "This new plan addresses the obvious fallacies, but I hope the council will at some point begin to address the real issues of the Downtown."

Arreguin and Councilmember Kriss Worthington, both of whom voted against the plan in July and sponsored the referendum, said the original plan's limited provisions for worker protections and affordable housing in the Downtown area further weakened its chances of garnering community support.

Worthington added, however, that the current proposal-especially Bates's Green Pathways program, which promises an expedited permit process to developers who meet local hiring and environmental regulations-is a "positive step forward" in addressing these concerns.

With the exception of Arreguin, council members and residents who had also taken issue with the original plan's loose restrictions on building heights said the proposal currently being reviewed by the city holds promise to create a viable Downtown, although continued discussion is necessary.

"A lot sounds improved," said Berkeley resident Phoebe Sorgen, who was involved with the referendum campaign. "I'm just a little scared to hope that it's as good as it sounds."


Sarah Springfield covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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