A proposal that could change the way Berkeley calculates how much can be built in a single development—and aimed at cutting down the size of future projects—was passed unanimously by the City Council Tuesday night.
The proposal to adopt a new city methodology for calculating development densities, brought by Councilmember Dona Spring, now goes to the city manager’s staff for review. Staff is expected to report back to the council with possible changes within a month.
Spring used a power point presentation on the University Avenue area to show how the calculations for density are resulting in three to four times the amount of density called for in the city’s General Plan.
“If these [current] calculations are allowed to stand, the residential development potential on University Avenue from [Martin Luther King Jr. Way] to Sacramento will be nearly ‘used up’ by three developers,” she said during her presentation. The current process will leave Berkeley “stuck with a few massive projects and a lot of unimproved buildings and sites.”
In a follow-up interview, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that the current density interpretation “benefits rich developers who want to build big developments by building the minimal number of affordable units.”
Councilmember Linda Maio said that the calculations for density on University Avenue use the entire space from Sacramento Avenue to MLK instead of individual plots or acres. When the figures for density are calculated using such a large area, she said, the threshold for density is very large, resulting in the buildings being approved at a maximum density. If the same buildings then get a 25 percent affordable housing density bonus, Maio said, the result is “big, bulky buildings.”
According to Maio, Spring’s proposed changes would reduce the area which the city uses to calculate the density allowed in any individual development. A smaller calculation area means smaller individual projects. Maio said she hoped the changes proposed by Spring would “create an accurate balance.”
In other matters:
City Health Officer Poki Namkung reported on the health risk associated with cell phones and cell phone base station antennas. The report was a follow-up to the contentious debate over the Sprint cellphone antennae facility at 1600 Shattuck Ave., approved by the City Council last month. According to Namkung, the radio frequencies that cell phones and base stations emit are non-ionizing radiation, energy too low to break chemical bonds and damage the genetic material of cells. The base stations, said Namkung, would be dangerous only if a person stood directly in front of one. Because cell phones are used in close proximity, they present more of a health hazard than the towers, she added.
After the presentation, Councilmember Worthington asked Mayor Tom Bates to help the city look for the information written by scientists who disagreed with Namkung’s conclusions.
The City Council also rejected, unanimously, a Citizens Humane Commissions proposal to change the way funding is allocated for community groups working in conjunction with the city’s animal shelter. The proposal had been made on behalf of community groups facing cuts in city grants.
In rejecting the request to separate the community groups’ funding from the city shelters, however, several of the councilmembers promised to find a way to ensure the groups’ funding.›