Ballot initiative seeks to revise Berkeley Downtown Area Plan

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Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, along with environmental and labor interests, is advocating a ballot initiative that aims to make the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan more environmentally friendly.

The Downtown Area Plan is an initiative that aims to both revitalize the Berkeley area with economic and housing development, urban design and other improvements to public spaces, while also preserving the city’s historical landmarks. The latest version was approved in 2012, based on guidelines in a ballot measure passed by voters in 2010, called Measure R.

The initiative Arreguin advocated outlines that city developers looking to create new buildings more than 60 feet high will have to adhere to an extra set of rules intending to ensure environmental conservation and fair labor practices. For example, buildings more than 60 feet will be required to have LEED platinum railing instead of gold railing, public restrooms and more affordable housing units.

In addition, the initiative stipulates that at least 50 percent of the construction workers for these new developmental projects will have to be Berkeley residents, bringing the current requirement up by 20 percent.

It also seeks to establish an overlay district in the Civic Center Historic District. The buildings in the commercial parts of this overlay would be limited to a certain set of uses, including governmental uses, playgrounds and public schools.

Although a version of the Berkeley Downtown Area Plan was initially approved by City Council in 2009, it was then rescinded after an opposing campaign garnered enough signatures, upon which the city looked to Measure R to create a plan. Debate over details of the Downtown Area Plan has been circulating as far back as 2002, when a lawsuit was filed against UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan for 2020 because of environmental concerns.

Arreguin believes that his initiative will help better fulfill the goals of Measure R. He has received criticism, though, from both local developers and other council members.

“Downtown Berkeley should be a vibrant, attractive place for young people to live and work. (This initiative) is going to kill it,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak.

Wozniak reiterated that the city already has a solid Downtown plan and that the general population clearly supports development in the Downtown area.

“This initiative seems to want to revisit the Downtown Area Plan that was approved by 64 percent of the voters in November 2010 after a five-year planning process involving extensive community  input,” said Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner. “It is horribly complex and confusing. If supporters want to revisit the Downtown Area Plan, they should work with the Planning Commission and Council to address possible revisions.”

Arreguin and his supporters began collecting signatures Friday. They need at least 2,638 signatures by Thursday to get a guaranteed spot for the initiative on the November ballot.

Contact Becca Benham at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beccabenhamdc.