West Berkeley Project to appear on November ballot

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Berkeley City Council voted to place the third phase of the West Berkeley Project — a controversial long-term plan aiming to expand the area’s retail and multi-use space — on the city’s November ballot Tuesday night, despite continued opposition from some members of the public.

Although community members voiced concerns regarding the ambiguity of the drafted ballot language and the appearance of the West Berkeley Project on the ballot itself, council members added amendments to the ballot language drafted by the city attorney and passed the measure for the ballot.

The drafted ballot language includes developmental flexibility for developers on six master use permit sites comprising 25 to 30 acres with developments that could reach a maximum height of 75 feet during the next 10 years.

The master use permit process would allow modifications to various development standards for large building sites in exchange for specific benefits to the city — which the ballot language specifies as the creation of open spaces, affordable work spaces for artists, employment programs and protections for Berkeley Aquatic Park.

Councilmember Linda Maio also amended the ballot language at the meeting to include developments at the sites to have an average height of 50 feet and provide environmental and community benefits.

However, city residents expressed concerns about community benefits that remained ambiguous and were unsatisfied with the findings of the city’s Environmental Impact Report discussed at last Tuesday’s meeting.

“The reality of it, these benefits could possibly be anything … since anything in the units could be a benefit to the Planning Commission,” said Berkeley resident Rick Auerbach. “To pick three of them is not accurate.”

With the drafted ballot language, many residents also raised concerns regarding how the entire scope of the West Berkeley Project and its implications could be conveyed on a ballot without misleading voters, who may not be up-to-date with the project’s issues.

“The voters are not going to be able to pick their way through all the details of (the West Berkeley Project) and give a well-considered answer,” said city resident Curtis Manning. “Who knows, maybe you’ll win, but it’s not right and it’s just another nail in your coffins, politically speaking we hope.”

According to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, adopting the measure would place a set of zoning regulations that could allow further development after 10 years since the number of master use permit sites are not specified after the 10 years.

“The entire foundation of this ballot measure is poorly put together,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It’s inappropriate to adopt such a half-baked plan … It’s tragic we will have another ballot measure that will contribute to the negative atmosphere in Berkeley.”