City Councilman Jesse Arreguin and his aide Anthony Sanchez turned in 3,900 signatures Tuesday that they hope will qualify their Green Downtown and Public Commons for the November ballot. Photo: Tom Hunt
City Councilman Jesse Arreguín and his aide Anthony Sanchez turned in 3,900 signatures Tuesday that they hope will qualify their Green Downtown and Public Commons for the November ballot. Photo: Tom Hunt

At least two measures backed by Berkeley residents appear to have collected enough support to make them likely to be on the November 2014 ballot.

On Tuesday, a group backed by City Councilman Jesse Arreguín turned in more than 3,900 signatures to put a measure before voters that forces higher environmental standards on tall buildings in the downtown on the ballot. It would also create an overlay in the civic center district preventing certain buildings from being converted to commercial use.

Backers of an initiative that supports flexible work time also submitted a large number of signatures to the Berkeley city clerk, making it likely to be on the ballot. Those supporting the Flextime Work Initiative, an advisory measure, submitted 4,604 signatures May 2.

It takes 2,638 valid signatures to place a measure on the ballot.

City clerk Mark Numainville will now send the signatures to the Alameda County registrar of voters to be counted to see if enough valid signatures were collected. Then the Berkeley City Council must look at the various measures and either adopt them or place them on the ballot. Council is expected to do that by late July, said Numainville.

Supporters of the Green Downtown and Public Commons Initiative collected the signatures in just three weeks, which backers believe signals there is strong support to stop the sale of the U.S. Post Office and demand higher green standards from developers wanting to construct structures higher than 60 feet tall.

The initiative is very complex with many provisions (see Berkeleyside stories on it) but would require tall buildings to be LEED Platinum rather than LEED Gold, require developers to build more affordable housing on site and would prohibit any in-lieu payments into an affordable housing trust fund, and codify certain height limits and setbacks, removing the discretion of the Zoning Adjustments Board to grant a use permit.

Proponents say this is what voters wanted when they passed the advisory Measure R in 2010. Some of the promises made then have not been kept, they say.

“After ten years of involvement with Berkeley’s Downtown planning processes, and listening to the concerns and aspirations of my constituents, I am confident that this initiative is the right balance between private development and public benefits.  It’s a modest proposal that reflects our values and our needs, and protects our City’s Civic heart,” Arreguín said in a statement.

But Mayor Tom Bates and those in the development community strongly disagree with both the intent of the initiative and some of its claims. They point to downtown’s new vibrancy, where more than 1,400 apartments are under construction. Three tall buildings, including a hotel, are making their way through the planning process. New restaurants are popping up regularly and more people are coming downtown. Stopping the construction of new buildings they think will further downtown’s resurgence will thwart the changes, opponents of the initiative say.

Eric S. Robinson, a Berkeley resident and a principal architect at Paulett Taggart Architects in San Francisco, looked at the initiative for Berkeleyside and agreed that it would make development more difficult.

The Flexible Work Time Initiative

The Flexible Work Time Initiative would ask Berkeley and the state of California to pass laws making it easier for employees to choose part-time work and other flexible working arrangements. (Read the text of the initiative.)

The Flexible Work Time Initiative logo
The Flexible Work Time Initiative logo

“This sort of law is important to promote better work-family balance,” Charles Siegel, initiative organizer and author of The Politics of Simple Living, said in a statement. “But we also want to emphasize the environmental benefit of giving people the choice of downshifting economically. If people choose to work shorter hours and to consume less, then they will also pollute less.”

He claims having more flextime would do many things:

  • It would create stronger families: The standard 40-hour week dates back to a time when families were expected to have stay-at-home mothers. Today, American parents with children say that they have trouble balancing their work and family obligations.
  • It would create more jobs: If people worked less, employers would have to hire more people. The Dutch say that promoting part-time work caused what they call the “Dutch employment miracle”: unemployment fell from 13% in the mid-1980s to 6.7% in 1996, the lowest level in Western Europe at the time.
  • It will lessen human impact on the environment. Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, and consume less energy. Flextime could lower American energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

City officials are considering placing a soda tax and parks initiative on the ballot. Berkeley residents are also circulating other ballot initiatives — including two related to an increased minimum wage —but haven’t yet turned in signatures.

Read all Election 2014 coverage on Berkeleyside.

Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, parks measure (05.21.14)
Would new green initiative kill two downtown highrises? (05.14.14)
Initiative aims to tighten “green” parts of downtown plan (05.05.14)
New 16-story hotel proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.19.13)
New 120-foot building proposed for downtown Berkeley (12.09.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Lawsuit challenges Berkeley’s new downtown plan (06.06.12)
After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan 

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...