Berkeley is considering building housing at the North Berkeley BART station parking lot, as discussed by Berkeley residents at a community meeting at the Berkeley Adult School on Thursday.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín, City Councilmember Linda Maio and BART Director Rebecca Saltzman presented preliminary information for the potential of renovating the lot. If the project were to be carried out, it aims to designate 35 percent of units as affordable housing, according to Saltzman.
“I have long thought that building housing in North Berkeley BART parking lot was a missed opportunity,” Arreguín said. “There’s a lot of land that’s available, and we’re in a housing crisis. We need to look at all publicly owned sites as opportunities for building housing, particularly housing that’s affordable, for students and working families, and low-income individuals.”
According to data from the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, the median market rate rent for a two-bedroom unit in Berkeley for 2017 was about $3,000 — a significant increase from the 1998 average of about $700.
The potential housing at the North Berkeley BART station would be a form of transit-oriented development, or TOD, higher density development constructed next to public transit. According to BART’s guidelines, 20 percent of housing units in TODs must be affordable, but Saltzman said the systemwide goal is 35 percent.
Current proposed state legislation SB 827 and AB 2923 could impact zoning standards for the North Berkeley BART station project, including by potentially altering height requirements for housing, according to the presentation. Arreguín said he is opposed to both of these bills.
“I have felt that there could be amendments that could make the bill better. It has been amended, but I don’t think those amendments go far enough,” Arreguín said. “Once we’ve seen the bill language, I think it was very clear that there was more that the bill needs to do to address the issues around displacement.”
Many residents in attendance asked for units that were affordable for low-income and very low-income community members. Others asked that the city wait on building new units, as it leads to detrimental effects of urban renewal.
“I used to joke that 50 percent of our children will, in a few years, work for Google and Facebook, and the other 50 percent will serve them coffee. Unfortunately, we are moving in that direction. But what we’ve not done is find any housing for those 50 percent that serve coffee,” Bob Marsh, a Berkeley resident in attendance, said at the meeting. “We should be talking about very affordable or truly affordable or low-income (housing).”
According to Maio, the public appeared to have various opinions about the project, but she said many appear to be afraid of something “big and gargantuan” being built. She believes, however, that that will not happen but that it is important to keep the entire process public and the dialogue open.
Currently there are no studies that have been done on the North Berkeley BART station parking lot.
“This has to do with the urgent need for housing,” Maio said. “We’re in a crisis right now.”