Once upon a time, Berkeley was seeing an unprecedented wave of construction, with new -- but perhaps ugly -- apartment buildings popping up right next to our famous brown shingles and lovely craftsman bungalows. At the same time, rents were rising much faster than income. Thus Berkeley in the 1970s began the move toward rent control, and voters passed the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance to prioritize neighborhood character and affordable housing over unbridled growth.
Today, Berkeley is again seeing a huge wave of development, with 1,000 new apartments being constructed in the wake of upzoning and other changes under the Downtown Area Plan. At the same time, market rents in the Bay Area increased 9.2% last year, according to RealFacts.
But the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance is still the law of the land. That voter-approved initiative recognized that “new construction in a city as built-up as Berkeley requires demolition, often of attractive low rent older homes,” and so it called for any new construction to contain a decent proportion of low-income housing. Later, parts of the NPO were incorporated in Berkeley’s Demolition Ordinance (BMC 23C.08), which prohibits demolition of rent controlled units unless they are in really bad shape and they will be replaced with affordable housing.
However, the City Council majority has decided we need to ease restrictions on development further, so there are new drafts of the Demolition Ordinance. The latest of these drafts would allow developers to tear down rent controlled apartments if they are empty, and not require that they be replaced with units for lower income residents. The Berkeley Tenants Union objects to the changes to this zoning code, because easing restrictions on empty units encourages eviction and harassment.
The Sierra Club, Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Neighborhoods Council, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and East Bay Community Law Center are also speaking out against these new drafts. BTU asks that any change require one-for-one replacement of rent controlled housing with units affordable to low income residents – The Housing Advisory Committee and the Berkeley Rent Board agree.
Should speculators be allowed to tear down a single family home or duplex for no other reason that to build a larger building with market-rate apartments?
The Planning Commission will consider changes to the Demolition Ordinance on Wednesday, November
3 6 when they meet at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 7 PM. BTU urges everyone interested in preserving the diversity and character of our communities to voice your concerns.
Speaking in person at the Commission is the best way to make sure your opinions are understood. Writing is a good second choice. Write to Planning here: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about the Demolition Ordinance, visit our website: http://berkeleytenants.org/?page_id=773
[Editor's Note: Wednesday's date was originally incorrect in this article. The corrected date is November 6. You can see the packet here: