How Bad is the Downtown Initiative?

Berkeley’s well-being is threatened by a deceptively labeled “Green Downtown” initiative on the Berkeley ballot in the November election.

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· Reverse the Downtown revival – The initiative’s unworkable requirements and prohibitive fees would sabotage the remarkable Downtown turnaround that has given us a more vibrant, cleaner and safer heart of the City.

· Increase greenhouse gases – The loss of 1,300 units in Downtown housing capacity (cited in the City staff report) disperses population and increases auto-caused pollution. This loss translates into 225 million pounds of carbon emissions over 15 years, according to the Environmental Impact Report on the City’s Downtown Area Plan.

· Kill transit-oriented housing – The Downtown housing loss also undermines our critical climate action strategy of increasing housing density near major transit hubs. The developer of the pending 302-unit Berkeley Plaza, for example, said the project would be withdrawn if the initiative passes. The proposed 16-story hotel and office project across the street from the Downtown Berkeley BART station also would be killed, forcing visitors and office workers to rely more on auto transportation.

· Tie the city’s hands with inflexible ballot-box zoning – The initiative’s extensive new zoning provisions – unlike normal zoning codes subject to modification when needed through public hearings and city government channels – could not be changed, except by another election. Every small detail of the 28-page measure, no matter how undesirable it may turn out to be in practice, could not be adjusted or changed without another expensive election.

· Threaten the city government’s future solvency – The city staff report estimated the initiative could reduce potential city tax revenues by $1.3 million and Berkeley schools revenue by $1 million. Berkeley, like many cities, faces growing deficits and cuts in services because of rising pension costs and needed repairs to crumbling infrastructure.

· Overturn the Downtown Area Plan and 2010 Measure R – The initiative would overturn, in one quick ballot, Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan – an explicitly green master plan developed through six years of community participation involving more than 200 public meetings and multiple local agencies and organizations. It allows up to five buildings over 75 feet, including a needed hotel. The Downtown Plan won 64 percent voter approval as Measure R in 2010.

Berkeley’s two elected officials in Sacramento, Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, are among the community leaders opposing the initiative. Organizations that have already taken stands against it include the Downtown Berkeley Association, Berkeley Design Advocates and Livable Berkeley, and it is anticipated that others will soon join.

We urge you to oppose this misleading initiative whose consequences would be disastrous for Berkeley.