Berkeley officials want more housing in wealthy enclaves

Can reform of zoning code alter trajectory of affordable homebuilding?

Development, Berkeley, Bay Area, East Bay, housing

According to some of Berkeley’s elected officials, the affluent sections of the city are not taking their fair share of new housing construction.

The call to action stems from the release of the latest draft of Berkeley’s Housing Element Plan, which mandates cities must develop a certain number of houses from 2023 to 2031. The state requires Berkeley to develop 9,000 units during that period.

West Berkeley Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani and Terry Taplin made their case in a letter sent to the city’s planning staff where they argued that the more affluent parts of the city only account for 4 percent of new construction. In response to these concerns, staff will look to revamp zoning codes for more affluent neighborhoods such as North Shattuck, Solano and College. The changes could allow taller buildings which could make way for development of more dense housing.

The current draft element plan outlines building a majority of the housing units along San Pablo and University avenues, at the North Berkeley and Ashby BART stations, or in Downtown and the Southside neighborhood near UC Berkeley.

“We are very concerned that the draft Housing Element does not address Berkeley’s legacy of redlining and fails to fulfill State HCD standards for affirmatively furthering fair housing,” the letter stated. “We believe that the city must, at minimum, increase allowable height and density in the zoning districts covering Solano, North Shattuck and Elmwood.”

California’s HCD standards on fair housing call for cities to “take meaningful actions that, taken together, address significant disparities in housing needs and in access to opportunity.”

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In the letter, the council members said that 3,600 apartments are to be built in West Berkeley, compared to 326 in Northeast Berkeley. The imbalance was even wider for affordable apartments, with 1,956 eyed for West Berkeley and 136 in Northeast Berkeley. They also claimed that West and South Berkeley were zoned to allow more industrial and commercial uses.

Not everyone agrees that zoning laws need to change. Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who represents North Berkeley, doesn’t think the changes would make much of a difference.

“The idea that we can’t produce affordable housing in North Berkeley with the zoning we have is false,” she said in a statement. “I welcome, embrace and would like to see more affordable housing in North Berkeley. … I’m not sure the zoning is the issue.”

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