In an effort to gain public input on the future of the Pacific Steel Casting site, Mayor Jesse Arreguín and District 1 Berkeley City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani hosted a community meeting Tuesday evening where they discussed the property’s sale, potential rezoning and environmental remediation.
Pacific Steel Casting closed in December after 84 years of business in West Berkeley, leaving behind 8.3 acres of industrially developed land with several manufacturing and storage warehouses. At the meeting, community members — ranging from industry representatives to local artists — considered how to move forward with the site’s development, exploring the best path for both the city’s manufacturing sector and the neighborhood at large.
“This is an exciting opportunity to revision this space to make a dynamic hub of industrial and commercial activity that can enliven this part of Berkeley,” Arreguín said at the meeting.
According to Arreguín, the site is divided into 10 areas of industrial activity, and the surrounding area is primarily commercial and industrial. The land is currently zoned “M” for manufacturing, but the city is open to changes in zoning based on community input.
Jordan Klein, the city’s economic development manager, said manufacturing is “really important” for Berkeley. He added that the industry employs about 4,000 people in Berkeley alone. Although heavy manufacturing continues to decline, food and beverage manufacturing is on the rise.
Several manufacturing business owners supported maintaining the M zoning of the site to allow companies to use the property, rather than turning it into office or retail space. Rick Auerbach, a West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies staff member, said Berkeley has one of the highest industrial rents and that maintenance of M zoning is, therefore, vital for companies.
“We were able to expand because West Berkeley preserves these large spaces,” Auerbach said. “We feel that the zoning as exists can have a complexity of different uses.”
Other community members expressed concerns about the parking, health and environmental issues that would come with redeveloping the land for future manufacturers. Several members proposed turning the site into a residential area, which Arreguín characterized as “not ideal” given the industrial nature of the surrounding area and the level of environmental remediation needed.
Kesarwani, whose district encompasses the Pacific Steel Casting site, emphasized the importance of improving the area around the site by addressing homelessness and illegal dumping. The City Council made a step in this direction at Thursday’s special meeting, where it passed the Clean and Livable Commons Initiative to improve the city’s ability to clear litter from public streets.
“We know there’s going to be environmental cleanup — that’s going to be really important,” Kesarwani said.
According to Arreguín, City Council will have a discussion in May on comments made during the meeting and through email. This discussion will provide guidance to the planning department regarding the zoning.