Voters to decide fate of ‘Green Downtown initiative’ Measure R

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Gracie Malley/File

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On Tuesday, voters will determine the outcome of Measure R, which would create a Civic Center Historic District zoning overlay to protect cultural resources and expand and implement regulations from the 2010 Downtown “green vision” measure.

The overlay would protect historic sites such as Old City Hall and the Berkeley Main Post Office, and it would require the buildings to be sites with civic uses such as museums and farmers markets. Other changes in this year’s measure include increasing the environmental rating standards of new buildings, protecting historic buildings and limiting the operation hours of businesses selling alcohol.

Supporters of the measure, also known as the Green Downtown and Public Commons Initiative, include Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, Rent Board Chair Lisa Stephens and Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents health, local government and nonprofit workers.

According to Arreguin, the 2010 measure created the “green pathway,” which expedited the approval process for developers who would provide community and environmental benefits.

“It was an optional pathway, and no one took it. With the new measure, these shortcomings are addressed,” Arreguin said.

But Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, an opponent of the measure, believes zoning changes should be addressed to the planning commission instead of through a ballot measure.

“If it actually passed, to change a word or even comma, another proposal would have to be put on the ballot and would have to wait to general election,” Wozniak said. “It is a bad way to do planning.”

Other opponents of the bill include Robert Reich, campus public policy professor and former U.S. secretary of labor, Mayor Tom Bates and the National Association of Realtors.

If the measure passes, Downtown buildings would be required to achieve a gold or platinum rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program, depending on building size, and a high energy-efficiency rating. The measure also would require new buildings to provide parking for shared cars and bicycles as well as electric-vehicle charging stations.

To provide local jobs, Measure R aims to require new construction projects to hire half of its workers from Berkeley. Workers, including hotel and security staff, must also be paid a prevailing wage.

“(The measure) ensures that the work will be concentrated locally rather than bringing in workforce,” Arreguin said.

Measure R also requires 20 percent of new development projects less than than 75 feet to be allocated as affordable-housing units. For those more than 75 feet, 30 percent and 20 percent of the building must be affordable units and family-sized units, respectively.

Downtown businesses serving or selling alcohol must close before midnight from Sunday to Thursday if the measure passes.

The measure was drafted by Arreguin, Zoning Adjustments Board Member Sophie Hahn, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Austene Hall and others.

Contact Sierra Stalcup at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @SierraStalcup.