2211 Harold Way: A Bad Deal for Berkeley

Becky O'Malley
Monday November 30, 2015 - 09:48:00 AM

December 7 UPDATE: If you want to make your voice heard regarding the plan (it's more than a "proposal" now) to build an eighteen-story luxury apartment tower on the site of the Shattuck Hotel, demolishing the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, tomorrow is your last chance. The action starts at 5:30 at Longfellow School. You are supposed to be able to speak for two minutes, or to yield your turn to someone else. However, the Mayor is infamous for changing the rules at the last minute, so anything is possible. The meeting will probably last into the wee small hours of the morning, or at least until the witching hour, at which point the council majority will do the dirty work in front of anyone who's still there to watch.

December 4 UPDATE: It is more than ironic that as the city is in the throes of a housing/homelessness crisis, the City Council is staging a marathon special meeting next Tuesday to officially kosher a new eighteen story building containing more than 300 luxury apartment units and zero affordable units. They're in a rush because Mark Rhoades, the developer's fixer, has announced that he needs to have a done deal by January 1. 

Meanwhile, the police continue busting the homeless occupation at the Maudelle Shirek Building (Old City Hall). Come to the council meeting on Tuesday (5:30, Longfellow School) and let them know what you think about all this.


Procrastination, they say, is the thief of time. And so are holidays, it seems. I’ve spent the whole Thanksgiving weekend enjoying the company of my extensive family and studiously avoiding what I foolishly perceive as my duty to the larger society and to the future. Chances are, many readers have done the same.

Sadly, that’s probably just what our civic masters and mistresses in Berkeley are hoping. T ey’ve crammed a significant amount of essential decision-making into the last two or three meetings of 2015, just when voters are busy wondering how to roast chestnuts without building open fires and engaging in other frivolous winter holiday pursuits.

Thanks to Kelly Hammargren of the Sustainable Berkeley Coalition, you can see just the next week’s worth of important civic events here. This week, for example, on Tuesday, December 1, the council is expected to pass at second reading the Maio-Capitelli ordinance which opponents charge criminalizes the homeless. Protests are expected—if you care, you should come. See last week’s editorial for my opinion on that one.

The situation that’s weighing on my conscience at the moment is the monster now slouching toward downtown Berkeley. I’m making one last attempt to explain to the Berkeley City Council that if they uphold the Zoning Adjustment Board’s decision on the huge project proposed for 2211 Harold Way, they’ll be participating in an enormous give-away of the public good to private financial speculation. It’s obvious to anyone who’s attended any of the hearings, but the City Council has effectively isolated itself from the information so far.

Next week, they’ll attempt to cram years of testimony into an evening’s worth of one-minute sound bytes. They will hold a hearing and possibly make a decision on the project on Tuesday, December 8, starting early at 5:30. The meeting has been moved to a larger auditorium at Longfellow School because they anticipate a big crowd. Opponents have filed four separate appeals, and the applicants have also appealed, looking for even more sweeteners for the sugarplum already on their plate.

Letters emailed to the Berkeley City Council by 5 o’clock today (Monday , November 30) will be delivered to councilmembers in their printed packets. There’s an outside chance that at least some of them read what’s in these packets. You can (and should) also appear in person at the public hearing, but letters from voters are really important.

There’s no time like the present to do what you failed to do in the past, I guess. Here’s my own letter—you’re free to steal from it and even copy verbatim with your own signature if you want. 







Dear Councilmembers, 





Many, many hours of public hearings, pounds of paper and gigabytes of digital evidence on the folly of the project proposed for 2211 Harold Way have been submitted to a variety of your delegated Berkeley agencies in the last couple of years. We’ve attended many such meetings and read most of the materials. As active citizens and experienced businesspeople we are firmly convinced that approving the project in its current form would be a bad deal for Berkeley. 

Why? Here are a few reasons, by no means all: 


A t least $4.2 million in available mitigation fees would be left on the table as extra profit for the would-be developer. Your own consultants told you in March (via their “nexus” study) that asking developers to provide $34,000 per unit for the city’s affordable housing fund would still provide ample profits, and would not cause them to abandon their projects. Many cities in the Bay Area do this or better, as you should be aware. 

So why should Berkeley give former city planning manager Mark Rhoades and his L.A. financier clients a $14,000/unit discount on this particular deal? $14,000 times ~300 units = at least $4,200,000 lost. 

Berkeley can’t afford to lose more than four million dollars! 

During the recession, you lowered the city's mitigation fee from $28,000 to $20,000, leaving $8,000/unit on the table because you didn't want to discourage development. Now, however, we're in a building boom, but even by your own now obsolete standard you've conceded close to two and a half million to this particular applicant for no justifiable reason. 

If Developer #1 gets a deal like this, subsequent applicants may assert a justified legal claim that they should get the same deal. They will be able to charge inappropriate influence by an ex-employee, and might make the charge stick. Berkeley stands to lose many more millions if this happens. 

I attended the ZAB meeting where this low-ball figure was approved, and most ZAB members to their credit were very uncomfortable with it. They were told by city staff that the amount had been set by the council so that their hands were tied. Now it’s up to you as councilmembers to correct your mistake. 


The city needs more affordable housing, low cost housing and family housing, and this project provides none of the above. The original Measure R, which many Berkeleyans supported, specified that a limited number of extra-story buildings would be allowed in downtown Berkeley. It makes no sense that the first one built should be luxury units for rich people. Many studies now show that there’s no “trickle-down” effect in housing—these new tenants won’t be vacating low-priced units already in Berkeley. Instead, they’ll be well-off people coming from San Francisco and all over the world looking for fancy apartments with glamourous views of the Golden Gate. Middle class Berkeley families will be priced out. One commenter called this project “gentrification of transit”—devoting a prime location near BART to homes for high-end commuters who will surely have cars parked somewhere nearby for weekend excursions even if they take the train to work. 


The movie theaters are a major economic engine for downtown Berkeley, they’ll be out of service for a minimum of three years, and they may never come back. ( Remember the Fine Arts Theater, Gaia Bookstore, etc. etc.) The theater plans have shifted in the discussion innumerable times. The latest iteration might bring back small screening rooms with low ceilings in place of the existing beautiful cinemas--if they came back at all. The applicant’s appeal indicates that he even wants to back out of that offer. 


The project offers none of the significant community benefits required for extra-story buildings by the Downtown Plan. The worst insult to our collective intelligence is the consultant’s claim that rebuilding the theaters after demolishing them constitutes a significant community benefit. If that’s the case, perhaps he will next offer to demolish the Berkeley Main Library and rebuild it as condos—that would be a really big benefit, right? Rebuilding the theaters would simply be mitigation of damage the project caused, at best, with no compensation for lost revenue downtown during the years of construction. 


The project labor agreement is not a significant community benefit for Berkeley. PLAs should be a minimum for all new Berkeley projects as a social justice requirement, but this one provides no direct benefit to any Berkeleyans except for those few construction union members who happen to live here. 


The building will endanger the historic Shattuck Hotel, its guests and moviegoers by tunneling under the questionable original tile foundation. No decent geotechnical information has been supplied since putting the theaters below the hotel foundation was proposed. The whole EIR is shoddy--it was never even reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding its effect on adjacent historic resources. 


Construction will endanger and disrupt Berkeley High School and the Berkeley Main Library. Both important Berkeley institutions were essentially ignored in the EIR. The Berkeley Unified School district has filed its separate appeal which explains problems in more detail. 


The building would be an energy disaster. It barely meets the now-obsolete LEED Gold standard, when, if Berkeley is serious about our climate action plan, all new buildings should be Zero Net Energy with gray water recycling and many more up-to-date environmental measures. 


These are only a few of the most obvious errors in this proposal. 

What you should do is cancel any mandate you might have previously enacted for giving Rhoades and his clients a special discount, and then send the project back to ZAB with questions about all of these problems. 

Very truly yours, 

Elisabeth P. O’Malley and Michael H. O’Malley 

District 8 Voters since 1973 

Berkeley employers from 1979 to 2008 





If you can, send your own letter by email before 5 today to council@cityofberkeley.info; write “2211 Harold Way” in the subject line.
Writing a personalized email to the councilmember for your district might also be very effective. 





Council District:
Linda Maio 1 lmaio@CityofBerkeley.info
Darryl Moore 2 dmoore@CityofBerkeley.info
Max Anderson 3 manderson@CityofBerkeley.info
Jesse Arreguin 4 jarreguin@CityofBerkeley.info
Laurie Capitelli 5 lcapitelli@CityofBerkeley.info
Susan Wengraft 6 swengraf@CityofBerkeley.info
Kriss Worthington 7 kworthington@CityofBerkeley.info
Lori Droste 8 ldroste@CityofBerkeley.info 

We’ll be posting any good letters we get copies of—there’s already a couple of excellent ones in this issue.