Berkeley City Council to consider community benefit requirements for Downtown development projects

Joshua Jordan/Staff

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Berkeley City Council will discuss at its regular meeting Tuesday night a proposal to outline the community benefits required for high-rise development projects in Downtown Berkeley.

The proposal, written by Councilmember Kate Harrison, aims to clarify the significant community benefit requirements that apply to buildings taller than 75 feet. Currently, development projects in the city are required to dedicate at least 20 percent of the building’s market-rate units to affordable housing or to pay a mitigation fee to the housing trust fund. If passed, developers will be required to pay the mitigation fee earlier on in the process of a development project at the permit stage, according to Harrison.

Although the proposal is on this week’s meeting agenda, Harrison said she will ask to postpone discussions until January in order to allow time for consideration of specific provisions and planning details.

“We’re trying to create more transparency and clarity in the community benefits process,” Harrison said. “I don’t think the changes are that dramatic at all. They’re really clarifications.”

This proposal comes at a time in which the city is facing controversy surrounding ongoing development projects, including the contentious 2092 Adeline St. project and the 1310 Haskell St. project.

Housing activist and Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren said she supports the proposal because it provides a tighter definition for what constitutes community benefits and outlines a process for identifying such benefits. She added that the city should support the item “wholeheartedly.”

“(This item) adds enforcement to ensure the significant community benefits are not just some promise on a piece of paper that gets pushed aside, but actually hold standing as a condition,” Hammargren said in an email to the council.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that although the concept behind Harrison’s proposal is “meritorious,” the item would restrict housing development in the city if it were to pass in its current form.

Other opponents of the proposal, such as 2016 mayoral candidate and campus graduate student Ben Gould, state that the item will hinder the creation of tall buildings in the city, which in turn will result in fewer affordable housing units.

Gould said the proposal will “politicize the process” of complying with community benefit requirements, making it more difficult to create affordable housing.

“The biggest issue that I have with this item as it’s written currently is that it makes building tall buildings essentially infeasible,” Gould said. “It has to be financially feasible for developers to build tall buildings so we can get those community benefits. Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking.”

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.