The developer for a downtown Berkeley hotel proposal at Shattuck and Center said his plans are on hold pending November's election. Image: JRDV Urban International
With the defeat of Measure R, the plan for a downtown Berkeley hotel at Shattuck and Center is back on track. Image: JRDV Urban International

Now that Measure R, the initiative that aimed to impose stricter standards on tall buildings, has been defeated, the project to build a hotel downtown is back on track.

Developer Jim Didion of Center Street Partners LLC had stopped all design work on the hotel planned for the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street pending the outcome of Tuesday’s vote. Didion had contended that the requirements called for by Measure R would make the project financially infeasible.

But after Measure R was delivered a resounding defeat — No on R captured almost 74% of the vote, according to the most recent tally — work was set to resume, said Matthew Taecker, one of the hotel’s consultants. He said revisiting the design will be one of the team’s first tasks.

“Our team needs to meet to re-engage and discuss next steps, not the least of which is to address concerns we heard earlier this year,” Taecker said in an email.

The proposed 180-foot-tall complex would be located at 2129 Shattuck Ave. It is set to include ground-floor commercial space, including a restaurant or bar, three floors of office space and 12 stories containing nearly 300 hotel rooms. Eighty parking spaces are planned at an underground level. Developers said they plan to pay to use another 120 spaces in the city-owned garage — slated for demolition and reconstruction — on Center Street across Shattuck.

Councilman Jesse Arreguin. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Councilman Jesse Arreguín: said Measure R has served to shift the conversation. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguín, who was a main backer and main face of the Yes on Measure R campaign, said Thursday that despite the measure’s defeat, it served to shift the conversation around community benefits in a positive way.

The Berkeley City Council would not have passed a Civic Center overlay if Measure R had not been on the ballot, he said. (The overlay — aimed to protect the fate of the downtown Berkeley post office — was one of the components of the plan.)

He also thinks Measure R contributed to the recent announcement by the developer of The Residences at Berkeley Plaza at 2211 Harold Way that he would use 100% union labor for construction. The hotel developer is also considering using union labor for building, and has pledged not to interfere with having a hotel workers’ union, he said. Before Measure R, those talks had been bogged down, according to Arreguín.

“When Measure R went on the ballot, it provided the leverage to negotiate with the developers,” said Arreguín.

Applicants for projects are also making their own suggestions for community benefits, and planning staff and the Zoning Adjustments Board are asking that benefits be better defined, he said.

There were two reasons why Measure R lost, according to Arreguín. At 28 pages, the measure was too complex. Money was another issue.

“I really believe one of the main reasons Measure R failed is because we were outspent 14 to 1 by our opponents,” said Arreguín. “The opposition raised close to $250,000…. [making it] one of the largest campaign war chests in Berkeley’s history. With that much money it’s really hard to get your message out there.”

John Caner, who runs the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the lopsided defeat shows that the majority of Berkeleyans want a denser, transit-friendly downtown. He spent a lot of time talking to people at the Solano Stroll and Sunday Streets, and found that many younger people were opposed to Measure R because they like the direction the downtown is headed.

“I think it was generational,” said Caner. “The younger generation understands. They want a vibrant urban core. They want density, a pedestrian lifestyle.”

Caner said he hopes the vote on Tuesday settles the disagreement over the downtown’s direction. (Voters in 2010 also approved another Measure R — a blueprint for the Downtown Area Plan — by 63% of the vote.)

“Measure R was a big distraction,” he said. “It slowed us down for a while, but that’s the democratic process. I would hope that after two times the message is clear… It’s an endorsement of where the city is going.”

In many ways, Measure R was a litmus test for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates‘ leadership. He has spent a lot of time working on the redevelopment of downtown and contributed $11,000 to the anti-R campaign.

Some observers say the measure’s defeat may have been damaging to Arreguín’s political career. However he said he hopes to bring some of the components of Measure R, such as increased parking for bicycles and electric cars, to the City Council for discussion.

High-rise developer to use 100% union labor (10.21.14)
Berkeley hotel plans halted pending initiative vote (08.07.14)
At B-Side: Implications of downtown Berkeley initiative (07.22.14)
Would new green initiative kill 2 downtown high rises? (05.14.14)
‘Explosive’ downtown Berkeley housing boom under way (01.14.14)
Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans (06.26.13)
Early high-rise plans lack inspiration, say commissioners (03.19.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Large downtown Berkeley property changes hands (11.28.12)

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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...