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Planning Commission Special Workshop On MUP Community Benefits to Be Held on Wednesday

Friday September 07, 2012 - 12:38:00 PM

Three consecutive weekly meetings on master use permit community benefits for West Berkeley have been scheduled:

1. Sept. 12 - Planning Commission Special Meeting – Workshop On MUP Community Benefits
2. Sept. 19 - Planning Commission Public Hearing On MUP Community Benefits
3. Oct. 3 - Planning Commission MUP Community Benefits Discussion

The Community Benefit Concept: The concept of municipalities requiring developers of large-scale developments to return ''benefits'' to the community is well established across the country. In the case of West Berkeley, the Master Use Permit, as compared to the existing, underlying zoning, gives developers the potential ability to build higher and more massively, to have greater lattitude in allowable uses, and to request reductions in required parking. These entitlements are expected to provide significantly greater profits for developers taking advantage of a Master Use Permit. The logic of Community Benefits says that the City is entitled to require a developer to return a percentage of this greater, MUP-facilitated profit to the community in the form of ''benefits'', either through fees, programs, or other on-the-ground methods.

A Brief History – The West Berkeley Project Master Use Permit & Community Benefits: During the Planning Commission's West Berkeley Project deliberations, WEBAIC and community requested that community benefits be specific and mandatory. Although the Commission addressed the topic, they ignored this WEBAIC/community advice and never seriously examined the issue, such as looking at what other communities require of their developments. The result was the Commission's passing of weak and vague benefits language that could be easily interpreted by a Zoning Adjustments Board (the deciding body on Master Use Permits), to mean whatever it might choose. This was a huge red flag, particularly in light of the City of Berkeley's less than exemplary track record in capturing benefits/concessions from developers. And as developers are historically known to threaten cities with pulling their developments unless said city conforms to demands for either concessions or weakening of benefit requirements, clearly defining required benefits and formulas for creating them are especially important if a city is serious about benefits. Whether having a Planning Commission heavily weighted with members with ties to the development/real estate industry played a role in the creation of less than meaningful benefit requirements is a subject worth contemplating for a community serious about balancing its legitimate needs with those of developers.

Council Moves Community Benefits Determination & Implementation In More Positive Direction:
The City Council, in response to testimony from the Alameda County Building & Construction Trades Council, the Berkeley Organizing Congregations For Action (BOCA), WEBAIC, and the community, took a more serious approach to Community Benefits. The community owes a strong Thank You to the Alameda County Building & Construction Trades Council and the Berkeley Organizing Congregations For Action for their strong, pro-active demands before Council that these programs be concrete and enforceable, not phantoms consisting of feel-good words. Council repudiated the Planning Commission's Benefits-Lite approach by passing benefits language that moves issue in a significantly more concrete direction. They passed language that states that the MUP will not go into effect until the Council adopts an ordinance that:

A.) enacts a benefits package.
B.) enacts a formula for determining the value of community benefits that will be required;
C.) creates a process under which applicants for MUPs are required to demonstrate meaningful attempts to meet and consult with the affected community prior to filing an application,
D.) enacts mechanisms for ensuring that the affected community is involved in evaluation of the adequacy of any proposed community benefits, that community benefits inure primarily to the benefit of West Berkeley, and that there is community involvement in overseeing provision of promised community benefits.

Additional language states that “The proposed benefits package must... specify the types of benefits, the method
of delivering and guaranteeing these benefits, and their net present value. ...and) demonstrate how the
proposed benefits are a reasonable exchange for the requested changes in development standards...Measures
to mitigate the land use impacts of the proposed project shall not be considered benefits under this Chapter..."

The above language signals that the conceptual framework for requiring, determining, and overseeing the benefits are on a much stronger trajectory than previously conceived by the Commission. It is up to WEBAIC, the unions, faith organizations, and the community to ensure that this language, and the enforcement mechanisms required to translate this language into real, meaningful benefits, comes to fruition at the Planning Commission.
City Council Puts Menu Of Possible Community Benefits Before The Planning Commission:
The Council, on their own and responding to stakeholder concepts, has put ten potential Community Benefits before the Planning Commission for discussion starting September 12: (Underlining by WEBAIC)

1. Retain and provide affordable work space for artists or funds for that purpose.
2. Provide transportation demand management measures consistent with the West Berkeley
Circulation Master Plan Report or funds for that purpose.
3. Provide access to and participation in jobs training programs designed to advance employment
prospects for Berkeley residents, especially those living near or below the poverty line.
4. Provide affordable work force housing in West Berkeley or funds for that purpose.
5. Contribute to environmental improvements at Aquatic Park or other measures to improve
environmental quality in West Berkeley.
6. Payment of prevailing wages for all construction work under the MUP.
7. Provision of privately owned but publicly accessible open space as part of the MUP.
8. Provision of space and or support to childcare providers so that affordable childcare can be provided
to those who need and qualify for it.
9. Require local sourcing of building materials to the extent feasible.
10. Provide benefits or raise funds for programs and initiatives that further goals of the West Berkeley Plan.

Which Community Benefits? On their face, all these potential benefits have points to recommend them, but it is unrealistic to expect the monetary benefits flowing from the MUPs will be enough to significantly fund the entire list. We also must as a community determine whether developers will be allowed to pick and choose, or whether we as a community will determine what are the proper priorities, and whether any benefits rise to such a level of importance that they require mandatory contributions from all MUPs. Additionally, the Planning Commission is not bound by this list, but could consider other benefits arising from testimony.

Another newsletter from WEBAIC addressing our positions on the various benefits and the questions posed above will be forthcoming prior to the Planning Commission's September 12th workshop. Development in some form will continue in West Berkeley, and the upcoming meetings are a critical opportunity for the West Berkeley industrial, artisan, and residential community to weigh in on potential benefits that may be derived from this development. 

Wednesday, September 12th, 7pm, North Berkeley Senior Center - MLK @ Hearst