Downtown Development Measure Set for November Vote

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Correction Appended

After a hotly debated five-year planning process, the Berkeley City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday night to put the future development of Downtown in the hands of city voters on a November ballot measure.

Citizens will vote on the 12-part measure, which summarizes the main points of the 2010 Downtown Area Plan. The council will then use election results to determine how to adjust the plan according to voters' preferences.

The council also passed a resolution amending the city's General Plan - which outlines the community's priorities and describes the city's financial situation - to conform with the planning and design implications of the ballot measure.

During the public hearing period of the meeting, Judith Epstein, member of the Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Organization, called the measure a vague "blank check."

"It's a plan to have a plan," Epstein said. "How can the public make an informed choice when all you have is a plan to have a plan?"

However, City Attorney Zach Cowan said the purpose of the measure is to establish an adaptable framework for the future rather than a master plan for Downtown.

"This is not a plan, it does not purport to be a plan. It is the adoption of a number of policies," he said. "The fact is that the ballot measure would leave a great bit of flexibility to develop a plan in the future."

A previous plan passed by the council last July but was later retracted in response to a petition signed by 9,200 Berkeley residents. Though the new plan includes 3,100 new living units, four new buildings up to 120 feet and three up to 180 feet and a review process by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for preservation of historical buildings, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said it does not address all of the concerns brought forward in last year's petition.

According to Arreguin, the city has spent around $1 million on the plan since its inception five years ago.

The measure also includes the Green Pathway component proposed by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Laurie Capitelli. a streamlined permit process for developments that adhere to strict green standards. Green Pathway-approved buildings must follow several city requirements, such as employing 30 percent of construction workers from Berkeley or neighboring cities.

Though myriad adjustments were made to the measure's wording throughout the meeting, Arreguin and Councilmember Kriss Worthington were still not convinced to approve it. Arreguin expressed disappointment with the measure's ambiguity.

"What's really going on is that certain members of City Council want their version of the Downtown plan, not what the people want," he said. "It's disrespectful to the people who have spent hours trying to get a Downtown plan, that's vague on specifics."

He added that because the measure is not legally binding, the council does not have to follow the proposal given to voters after it is passed.

Other council members, including Councilmember Max Anderson, saw the measure as a step forward, saying despite the long process, Berkeley should continue with the proposed plan to keep up with other cities.

"We can wander interminably in the wilderness of analysis if we want," he said. "I don't think it's perfect, but the preponderance of this plan makes more sense to me than the absence of the plan."


Correction: Tuesday, October 26, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the council voted 8-2 to put Measure R on the ballot. In fact, the vote was 7-2.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Alisha Azevedo at [email protected]

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