Berkeley at a Crossroads 

Why the mayor's race, two council contests, and several ballot measures will shape the city's future.

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Worthington and Arreguín had originally voted against the downtown plan, not because they oppose urban growth, but because they believe the city needs to extract more concessions from developers to fund affordable housing, transportation, and social services. The council majority often ends up adopting some of Worthington and Arreguín's proposals, but typically not all of them for fear that developers, who already view Berkeley as being anti-business, would refuse to build in the city.

After opponents of the downtown plan referended it, the council rescinded it and decided to put it to voters in November 2010. Measure R, as it was called at the time, (not to be confused with the current Measure R, which involves redistricting), was endorsed by numerous environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, because it called for smart growth. Berkeley voters approved it overwhelmingly; it garnered 64 percent of the vote.

The council majority then approved a new downtown plan similar to the one it had okayed before. And though anti-growth activists opposed it, they did not referend it, since voters had already spoken. As for Worthington, he voted against the new downtown plan, while Arreguín voted for it after the council majority added more compromises.

In an interview last week, Worthington said one of the main reasons he's running against Bates is that he said the mayor won't work with him. Worthington also contended that Bates doesn't compromise enough. "If Tom Bates would only throw us a few bones ... on affordable housing, transit ... more progressives would vote with him." Worthington also strongly contended that he's not part of the anti-growth crowd, which he pegged as representing about "20 to 25 percent" of Berkeley's population.

In a separate interview, Bates acknowledged that he and Worthington often clash, but said that Worthington too often makes the perfect the enemy of the good. Over the past several decades, Bates has worked with numerous elected officials, both on regional boards, including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the state Assembly, and has earned a reputation for being a pragmatic consensus-builder. But Bates said that Worthington often can be exasperating, because even after the mayor and the council majority adopt some of Worthington's proposals, Worthington still refuses to vote yes. "Worthington is just so difficult to work with," Bates said.

Which brings us back to Measure T. Bates and the council majority decided earlier this year to put the plan for West Berkeley directly on the ballot, rather than approving it first, because they were convinced that opponents would referend their decision — just as they had done with the downtown plan. Worthington and Arreguín were the only two councilmembers who voted against putting Measure T before voters.

Under Measure T, six sites like Peerless Greens could be developed in West Berkeley during the next ten years. The sites would be given flexibility in terms of housing. But the new zoning under Measure T is voluntary — developers can choose to use it or can simply abide by the terms of the old zoning requirements. If they do use the new zoning rules, they must strike deals with the city council in which they make concessions, also known as "community benefits." These benefits can include payments to the city for affordable housing, transportation, and other needs.

Opponents of Measure T are running a spirited campaign. But they've also made some false and misleading statements. For example, in their official ballot argument, they asserted that Measure T would allow "75-foot high multi-block office parks" and "huge buildings next to Aquatic Park."

In truth, Measure T would allow neither. The plan would accommodate buildings of up to 75 feet in height, but would restrict the maximum average height of a development to 50 feet, thus precluding "75-foot high multi-block office parks." In addition, the council specifically exempted development sites along Aquatic Park from Measure T. As a result, even if voters approve the measure, "huge buildings next to Aquatic Park" would not be allowed.

Bates, Moore, and Capitelli, who is running for reelection in his North Berkeley district, all support Measure T. Their challengers oppose it.

McCormick, who is supported by longtime anti-growth activists like Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey, thinks Measure T is unnecessary. "I believe there is plenty of room in the current zoning" for the development of the six sites, she said. She also contended that developers will still develop those sites even if Measure T fails — although Herst has repeatedly said that he would walk away from his Peerless Greens proposal if he does not have more flexibility to build housing on the site.

As for Worthington, he argued that the council should have included a specific list of which community benefits developers must provide. Because he's in the council minority, Worthington said doesn't trust the majority to extract enough community benefits, because he views the majority as being too friendly to developers. Proponents of Measure T counter that a one-size-fits-all benefits list could hamstring both the city and developers: It wouldn't be fair to developers of smaller projects, and could hamper the city if it wants to require more benefits for larger projects.

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