Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to pass the 2023-2031 Housing Element in an explosive special meeting Wednesday, virtually attended by over 150 Berkeley residents.
Prior to the vote, a slew of public commenters criticized two last-minute amendments proposed by Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani less than 24 hours before the meeting. One amendment in question proposes changes in language to allow by-right demolition of residential units to build “middle housing,” defined as duplexes or fourplexes.
“This was a last minute change. It is not a mere correction, it is a substantive change,” said Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner Ida Martinac at the meeting. “The Rent Board and 4×4 Committee need an opportunity to look into it. This is very last minute and I am not pleased with that.”
The other amendment intends to commit the city to increasing housing densities in commercial and transit corridors, along with “formerly red-lined areas and higher-resource areas,” according to the supplemental language.
Kesarwani, Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Rigel Robinson defended the demolition amendment as an opportunity to build more fair housing in the city, citing it as a way to combat Berkeley’s history of redlining.
“It is critical that we consider all the methods carefully that we take in that process,” said Nathan Mizell, Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board commissioner at the meeting. “I stress that we take a moment to focus in on the supplement … and fully understand its impacts.”
To address concerns made by members of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Berkeley Tenants Union and other city constituents, the amendments’ updated language clarifies residential units as “single-family homes” and reads that the policy will be sent to the Rent Board and 4×4 Committee for consideration.
The amendments were ultimately consolidated into the Housing Element, with a 6-3 vote on the demolition amendment — Councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Kate Harrison and Susan Wengraf voted against — and unanimous approval of the second amendment.
“I’m proud of this Housing Element, including the amendment … that will help undo decades of economic segregation,” Arreguín said at the meeting.
Principal planner Grace Wu and associate planner Justin Horner fielded questions from city councilmembers after the public comment session, clarifying the methodology used to identify sites for development and create an Environmental Impact Report.
By state law, Berkeley’s regional housing needs allocation was set as 8,934 additional residential units in the Housing Element.
According to Wu, the Housing Element provides a buffer of 68% in identified sites, grouped by likely sites, opportunity sites and pipeline sites. However, concerns were also raised about the distribution of opportunity sites in public comment.
“To isolate new housing in the south and west echoes Berkeley’s history of redlining,” said Telegraph for People president Rebecca Mirvish at the meeting.
Berkeley’s Housing Element is now being reviewed by regulators from the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which will determine if the plan sets a realistic path for housing development in the city.