Update, Jan. 18: Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani has introduced a set of amendments to the Housing Element that would address some of the concerns pro-density groups have raised about Berkeley’s plan. The proposed changes were posted online Tuesday afternoon.
One of the amendments would more firmly commit Berkeley to rezoning wealthy neighborhoods for increased density, and add language to the Housing Element stating that the city will work to achieve “greater parity among all transit and commercial corridors, especially between formerly red-lined areas and higher-resource areas.”
Another proposed change aims to make it easier for a property owner to demolish a home in order to build “middle housing,” such as a duplex or fourplex.
Currently a property owner must get a use permit, which involves a longer process and public hearing, if they want to tear down a home as part of a project. Kesarwani is proposing the city commit to changing its rules for middle housing projects, and allow certain demolitions — of buildings with up to three units, which haven’t been occupied by tenants for at least five years and which would be replaced with a denser project — to be approved “by right,” with no public hearing.
Original story: The City Council is poised to adopt a housing plan this week that will guide Berkeley’s growth over the next eight years.
Cities throughout California must develop the plans, called Housing Elements, to show how they will meet state mandates for new construction that have been ratcheted up as a response to the housing crisis. Berkeley is required to permit at least 8,934 new homes by 2031, three times the number of units it had to plan for the last time it drafted a Housing Element.
The housing plan itself does not approve any specific projects. But it lays out a vision for where in Berkeley new housing will go and what steps the city will take to make building homes easier. As a result, the document is at the nexus of many contentious debates over development in Berkeley — and some pro-density groups are pushing for changes to the plan, which they say doesn’t go far enough to allow for new housing in wealthy neighborhoods that have long resisted it.
The Berkeley City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday at 4 p.m. where it is expected to adopt the 656-page Housing Element.
“This plan will allow us to meet the demands of a growing population and increase our housing stock to provide a wide range of options for individuals and families of all income levels and needs,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín wrote in a newsletter ahead of the vote.
Northern California cities are required to complete their Housing Elements by the end of January.
The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development must then sign off on each city’s plan. Regulators have been closely scrutinizing this round of Housing Elements, and have rejected plans from scores of cities as insufficient or unrealistic.
When Berkeley’s planning department submitted the first draft of the city’s Housing Element to the department for review last fall, regulators told them the document needed more work. Berkeley planners revised their draft and submitted the update to the state on Dec. 1 for another round of review. HCD has until Jan. 30 to tell the city whether the draft passes muster, or needs further changes.
That latest draft will go before the City Council on Wednesday — if it’s approved and state regulators give it the green light, Berkeley’s Housing Element process will be complete.
But several local housing advocacy groups contend Berkeley’s current plan is flawed, and might not get the OK from Sacramento.
If its Housing Element is rejected, Berkeley could lose much of its local zoning authority, as well as access to key state grant programs, until it submits a revised plan that HCD approves.
In a letter to an HCD official last month, the groups East Bay for Everyone and East Bay Housing Organizations wrote that Berkeley’s plans would direct the bulk of the city’s new housing to historically less-wealthy areas, while well-off neighborhoods would see far less development and a particularly small share of affordable homes. They argued the plans run afoul of the requirement that cities “affirmatively further fair housing,” meaning they spread new and affordable homes around rather than concentrating them in less-wealthy areas.
Three members of the Berkeley City Council raised similar concerns about the plans last summer. They argued areas such as North Berkeley and the Elmwood District ought to take on more new development, and called for rewriting zoning rules to allow taller and denser apartments along Solano and College avenues, as well as the north end of Shattuck Avenue.
It’s unclear whether any councilmembers will seek to amend the current Housing Element draft on Wednesday.
City planning officials say the council will have the opportunity to make zoning changes along those streets in the near future. The Housing Element draft calls for the city to consider changes to zoning rules along “transit and commercial corridors, particularly in the highest resource neighborhoods.”
But East Bay for Everyone and East Bay Housing Organizations wrote in their letter that they want Berkeley to make firmer commitments to rezoning those neighborhoods. And they want the work done sooner — they note that the process for changing zoning rules in wealthy areas is scheduled to happen after other processes to spur development along San Pablo Avenue and near UC Berkeley.
“Berkeley must match its plans to upzone in West Berkeley and Southside with an equally strong commitment to increase multifamily housing capacity along more affluent transit & commercial corridors,” the groups wrote.