Community benefits of Downtown development discussed at special City Council meeting

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Ethan Epstein/File

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Berkeley City Council held a special meeting Tuesday to hear public comments regarding the city’s potential high-rise development plans for Downtown.

About 86 members from the public spoke at the meeting. People present voiced their concerns largely about what community benefits and detriments the proposed plan would impose on the city.

The plan would potentially allow the construction of five buildings higher than the existing building-height limit for the city, which is 75 feet, according to Charles Burress, assistant to Mayor Tom Bates.

Commenters raised concerns about the obstruction of the Campanile Way view and the effects of the plan on the Habitot Children’s Museum, Shattuck Cinemas and the art community in Berkeley.

According to Burress, out of the five potential developments, the two that have gotten the most attention are the Harold Way project and a proposed hotel at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, where a Bank of America currently is located.

“I think it is important to make it clear that when we are talking about community benefits, it’s not a project-level benefit — it’s a community benefit that benefits the broader community as a whole,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin at the meeting.

ASUC Senator Madison Gordon and campus junior Alex Smith spoke against the Downtown Harold Way development that would potentially block the view from Campanile Way of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

“The view from the Campanile is the heart of our campus,” Gordon said. “It is something that if you ever walk by our campus during sunset, everybody gathers around.”

Smith, who created a petition to save the view from the Campanile, said that after interviewing 41 students, she felt that the plan would also negatively affect students’ mental health.

Both Smith and Gordon also spoke about the lack of affordable housing in Berkeley and how students have to struggle to balance rent with food.

“Students are in need of affordable housing — students are choosing between food security and whether to pay rent,” Gordon said. “We have a food clinic because students don’t make enough to be both eating every day and be living in the city of Berkeley.”

At the end of the comment period, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the public needs to know that it can demand more in terms of significant community benefits.

“You are not being radical — you are being a good capitalist, looking out for the human capital and the physical capital of the city of Berkeley,” Worthington said.

Contact Lenin Silva at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @LeninSilvaNunez.