Berkeley Neighborhoods Council discusses housing needs, environmental sustainability goals

Member of The Berkeley Neighborhoods Council speaks at the forum.
Allen Zeng/Staff

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Berkeley community members met with Mayor Jesse Arreguín at a Berkeley Neighborhoods Council forum Saturday to discuss keeping Berkeley a livable city.

A primary topic of discussion was the residential development of the North Berkeley BART station parking lot. According to Arreguín’s official website, BART intends to work with the city to brainstorm plans that best reflect the desires of the community.

Arreguín said at the forum that though BART’s development guidelines designate a seven-story maximum building, he does not believe this is an appropriate level for the area and hopes to collaborate with BART to address this issue. BART has set a goal to make at least 35 percent of the new units affordable, according to Arreguín’s website.

“Our principle focus has been building affordable housing. Otherwise, we will continue to see an exodus of people of color, elderly and everyone who contributes to Berkeley’s culture,” Arreguín said during the forum. “We are working to bring back people who have been displaced.”

Arreguín also discussed Berkeley’s glaring housing deficit. Though the city has 1,900 housing plans under the permitting process, Arreguín said there is a need for moderate- and low-income housing, and Berkeley “can’t make enough new affordable housing.” He added that Berkeley will have to preserve current affordable housing in addition to building new units.

Timothy Burroughs, acting director for the Berkeley Department of Planning and Development, discussed the impact that increased population growth has on Berkeley’s infrastructure, particularly because the city’s infrastructure is already challenged.

“We’re not adding (changing infrastructure costs) to the burden cost of housing,” said Zero Waste Commission member Margo Schueler. “Without an infrastructure, it doesn’t matter how many houses we build.”

Arreguín also mentioned that the city will be holding UC Berkeley responsible for student growth. According to him, the lack of student housing is causing prices to go up throughout the city. He added that he hopes to hold job-rich companies responsible for building the necessary housing for their employees.

According to Burroughs, the city of Berkeley is looking at what it can do to increase its environmental sustainability in 2020 and go beyond state environmental codes through local amendments. The city is also hoping to shift more operations off gas and onto the electrical grid now that Berkeley has access to greener energy through East Bay Community Energy.

Burroughs added that the city aims to accelerate electric vehicle adoptions, address rising sea levels through permeable pavement and perhaps offer more bike parking and electric vehicle charging stations. The public works department is also developing a green infrastructure plan, he said.

“I think the issue of sustainability and tackling climate change is critical, and trying to balance our need to build housing within the urban core so we don’t impact the outer reaches where there’s a lot of agriculture and valuable land and open space,” said District 4 City Councilmember Kate Harrison. “We’ve got to balance building the housing and creating the green spaces so that people will live a healthy life.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.