Many community members attended Tuesday night's council meeting, which was slated to focus on housing. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Many community members attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, which was slated to focus on housing. Photo: Ben Gould
Many community members attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, which was slated to focus on housing. Photo: Ben Gould

Despite an ambitious agenda, the Berkeley City Council managed Tuesday night to vote on just one policy shift related to affordable housing after attendees became outraged at proposed agenda changes put forward early in the evening by Mayor Tom Bates.

Council voted 8-1 on the Bates proposal to increase the percentage of affordable units required in new projects from 10% to 20%, and to increase the mitigation fee developers can pay if they don’t want to build those units on site. Councilman Max Anderson was the lone “no” vote.

The fee per unit — for all units in a project — is set to increase from $28,000 to $34,000, payable when the certificate of occupancy is issued. There’s a temporary discount, to $30,000, for those who pay early, when the building permit is issued. The discount is slated to sunset after 18 months. Those who choose to build below-market-rate units on site can get out of the fee or pay less, depending how many units they build.

Council asked the city manager to come back with revisions to the existing affordable housing mitigation fee ordinance, which would also “expand the level of affordability” for the below-market-rate units. Currently, units must be affordable for households earning up to 50% of the area median income; the new proposal would add a second tier of units affordable to households earning up to 80%.

The idea behind the mitigation fee is to bolster the city’s Housing Trust Fund to help Berkeley build greater numbers of affordable units around town. To some degree, there is an ideological divide between those who believe developers should include affordable units on site, and those who want to boost the city’s own fund. Proponents of the fund say it can be used to go after grants and leverage the money to get more units in town than building on site — mixed in with private developments — would allow.

Read the study the fee is based on.

Community members who spoke against the mayor’s proposal said there was no reason to offer developers a discount, and advocated for higher fees for those who do not want to include below-market-rate units on site.

“I haven’t seen any rationale for discounting it,” local resident Rob Wrenn told council. He described it as “an unnecessary reduction to benefit developers.”

Others said the city should not be encouraging more private housing projects, or should limit new development to low-rise buildings, affordable projects or projects that repurpose the existing housing stock.

“We don’t want incredible density,” one man told council.

Most of the speakers were against the mayor’s proposal. Several others urged city officials to be cautious about setting the fee too high, or requiring so much inclusionary housing that it would halt development altogether. They said the city needs to build housing for people across the spectrum to make rents more affordable for everyone.

“What we need is housing at all levels of affordability,” one speaker told council. “Do not kill market-rate-housing.”

Laura Clark of Grow SF asked council to stop prioritizing the demands of homeowners over the needs of renters.

“You need height, you need density,” Clark said. “We need to increase the number of people who can live in this community.”

Anderson said he was not in favor of the fee discount, which he saw as an unnecessary giveaway to developers.

Council voted to send the items it didn’t consider to the agenda committee to determine when it will be feasible to bring them back for a vote.

Chaos ensues after changes at Berkeley City Council (04.06.16)
City Council to focus on creation of more housing (04.05.16)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...