A lawsuit filed on May 11 against the City of Berkeley focuses on proposed zoning amendments to West Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Two citizens’ groups have sued the City of Berkeley over proposed zoning that they say would radically restructure West Berkeley.

The Sustainable West Berkeley Alliance (SWBA), an organization of Berkeley residents and businesses, and the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CNA), filed their suit in Alameda County Superior Court under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on May 11.

The suit concerns proposed Master Use Permit (MUP) sites — developments of more than four acres — and focuses on three aspects: the proposal to increase building height limits from 45ft to 75ft, the impact of taller buildings on residents, and the effect of proposed development on the environmental resources of Aquatic Park.

“We are not opposed to the entirety of the zoning amendments, just some of the particulars,” said Patrick Sheahan, the groups’ spokesperson, who added that the West Berkeley Alliance had been involved in discussions leading up to to the lawsuit.

Sheahan said the City passed a notice of determination for the filing of an Environmental Impact Report on April 11 with a 30-day notice to respond, which is why the groups have filed the lawsuit now. “We are not opposed to development. We are interested in helping to guide the process to help shape appropriate development,” he said. “We are very open to negotiation and would hope we could settle this without further proceedings.”

Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district covers part of West Berkeley, said the Council had not taken a position on MUPs yet.

Sheahan, however, said the language around the issue has been confusing, which was another reason the groups felt a lawsuit was necessary now. “Legally speaking the city has passed the complete amendment package which allows it to occur, but they have not discussed or defined the specifics of the MUPs. The city has done it in reverse order, not giving the Council the chance to discuss, or the public the opportunity to respond or comment, to the MUP issues.”

The current amendment proposes allowing up to 80 acres for MUP development with buildings 75 feet high.

In a press release issued today, SWBA and CNA outlined their three areas of concern:

First, the City’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) failed to study the effects of allowing proposed MUP sites to occupy properties zoned Mixed-Use Residential.  An MUP site would be allowed to locate potentially incompatible uses and 75-foot-high buildings next to homes and apartments.

Second, the EIR fails to identify and evaluate what actions would be taken to mitigate the impact of big buildings’ shadows on public open space and recreational areas, especially Aquatic Park.

Third, the EIR fails to evaluate the effects of proposed development on the environmental resources of Aquatic Park and the impacts on biological resources, hydrology, and water quality.  The intent of the SWBA and CNA action is to encourage the City of Berkeley to shape the rezoning to promote appropriate and sustainable development that adequately protects local residents, businesses and the environment.

Asked who was behind SWBA, Sheahan said it was a loose, recently formed organization. “It is not formalized,” he said. He said that, together, the two groups were a “consortium of people who have been following the [West Berkeley] issues for a long time”.

The City Council is meeting on Monday May 16th in a closed session to address the lawsuit.

City takes first step towards adopting West Berkeley plan [03.24.11]
Slim Council majority for West Berkeley zoning [02.23.11]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...