Public Comment

Press Release: Zoning Adustments Board (ZAB) Public Hearing Tonight On Demolition Of Industrially Protected & Productive West Berkeley Industrial Building

Thursday February 27, 2014 - 08:31:00 AM

Tonight (Thursday, February 27) the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) will hold a Public Hearing on the application by the Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley (French School) to demolish a 13,000 ft industrial building to accomodate a new playing field. As the building is considered protected industrial space, Berkeley Municipal Code Section 23E.84.090.E requires mitigation for such loss. The French School previously owned the property in 1998 and at that time ZAB ruled it could remove the building without the required mitigation because “To date (1998), the council has not adopted a payment schedule for mitigating the loss of warehouse space, therefore this finding is not applicable.” Planning staff have now recommended allowing the demolition without the required demolition, based on the 1998 ruling. 

Since 1998 the City of Berkeley has required mitigation for the loss of protected industrial space in at least two instances, thereby demonstrating that “a payment schedule for mitigating the loss” of such space has been adopted. Since the previous ZAB determination was predicated on there being no payment schedule “To date…” (in 1998), and there being a payment schedule in the present, the City should fulfill its obligation under the Zoning Ordinance to require mitigation for this loss. 

Economic and Social Reasons For Requiring Mitigation In This Case: 

There are important bottom line reasons to require mitigation for the loss of all, and in particular, this industrial space. Over the last 50 years, this space has housed a speaker manufacturer and repair shop, a graphic arts studio, an auto repair shop, and most recently, a manufacturer of prototypes of specialty stainless steel filters for high pressure liquid chromotography machines. They were also a scientific instrument repair facility. These businesses provided the three essential economic components to the community that were envisioned by the West Berkeley Plan: Important Goods and Services, Revenue to the City, and Good Jobs. 

Most of these businesses are prime examples of the kind of local economy cities are rightly trying to encourage, as they keep the money circulating locally while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions by allowing people to access needed services and products nearby. Though not specifically local serving, the prototype manufacturer provided physical components essential to many scientific disciplines. All these businesses provided good jobs, many of them not requiring advanced degrees to make a decent living. Along with these jobs comes the significant multiplier effect of employees spending money in the local area. 

Beyond local goods/services, good jobs and their multiplier effect, these businesses provided significant revenue to the City of Berkeley through business license, property tax, and various fees. Once this 13,000 sq ft building is gone, there will also likely be a reassessment of the property, lowering the property taxes significantly, another loss for the city. These monetary losses to the City are cumulative into the future, with thousands of potential dollars being removed from City coffers every year due to the loss of this building. 

No more jobs, local goods and services, and no more of the continuous revenue stream to the City this building provided will result from its demolition These buildings are habitat for these economic and social “goods” and that is why the West Berkeley Plan and Zoning Ordinance seeks to preserve them through the industrial protections provisions which includes the mitigation requirements that Planning staff have recommended against implementing. 

The loss of such industrial and artisan habitat is unfortunate, but the very least the City of Berkeley should do in this instance is enforce its own regulations dis-incentivizing such loss while recouping a minimal portion of the monetary loss it will incur due to the proposed demolition. In line with its regulations, the Zoning Adjustments Board can allow the Ecole Bilingue its playing field while forwarding the City’s interests through requiring the modest but meaningful mitigation required by law.