Public Comment

What's Berkeley Mayor Arreguin's Stand on BART Development Bill?

Zelda Bronstein
Friday August 10, 2018 - 01:43:00 PM

Ten Bay Area mayors signed the No on AB 2923 op-ed in the East Bay Times. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín wasn’t among them. Why not?

On August 5, the East Bay Times published a powerful critique of AB 2923, the bill that would remove zoning authority over BART stations in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties and land within a half-mile of those stations from the host cities and counties and give that authority to BART.

The signers included Fremont Mayor Lily Mei, Lafayette Mayor Don Tatzin, Albany Mayor Peggy McQuaid, Concord Mayor Edi Birsan, Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, Dublin Mayor David Haubert, Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday, Livermore Mayor John Marchand, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, and Antioch Mayor Sean Wright—plus Alameda County Supervisors Scott Haggerty and Karen Mitchoff, Pittsburg Councilman Salvatore Evola, and Pleasant Hill Councilman Michael Harris.

Why didn’t Mayor Arreguín join the other mayors? After all, the question of zoning authority over BART stations is presumably of great interest to the Berkeley public, given the huge turnout at the March 15 community meeting about development at North Berkeley BART; the substantial attendance at the August 2 community meeting about development at Ashby BART; and the heated public comment on AB 2923 at the Berkeley City Council’s May 29 meeting. 

At the May 29 meeting, the Mayor voted with the majority to oppose AB 2923 unless amended. The current text of the bill, which will be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, August 13, does not contain any of the amendments proposed by the council. Presumably, then, Arreguín opposes the bill—and all the more so, because the original item on the council’s May 29 agenda, which he co-sponsored with Councilmember Maio, opposed unamended AB 2923. 

During the council’s deliberations, Arreguín cited his record of opposition to recent state legislation eroding local say in land use. “I was against SB 35 last year, I was against SB 827,” he stated, “and I’m against AB 2923, because it is going to take the power away from Berkeley to decide as a community what our built environment is going to look like.” The record shows, he said, that he and the council strongly support affordable housing and transit-oriented development. But AB 2923 “will shut the city out of the [planning] process” for housing at the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations. “I think the state has overreached way too far…” 

Arreguín’s remarks jibed with points made in the East Bay Times op-ed: “As written, AB 2923 has numerous flaws”: 

  • Offers no guarantees that housing will be built faster or better
  • Reduces local input.
  • Ignores the success of recent transit-oriented development. Cities and BART already cooperate to build housing.
  • Expands BART’s “job” beyond transportation
  • Allows BART to acquire property using eminent domain and purchases—and invites speculation.
(These are the bullet points; for the full argument, read the piece). 

But Arreguín did not sign the statement. Was that because the other mayors go further in their opposition than he did? Their op-ed marked AB 2923’s additional flaws: 

  • Allows BART to eliminate parking
  • Prioritizes developer profits and BART revenue from land ownership over current riders.
  • Fail to address the East Bay’s need for more jobs.
The council has approved an August 25 public “visioning” event about development at the North Berkeley station. If AB 2923 becomes law, the city will be required to follow BART’s TOD Guidelines, which specify for North Berkeley BART a building or buildings at least seven stories tall, and the removal of all or most of the parking. So much for community input. 

Last Sunday evening, I emailed the Mayor’s office asking if Arreguín had been invited to sign the statement (it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t). If so, did he decline? And if he did decline, why? 

So far, no reply. 

The Berkeley public deserves to know where Mayor Arreguín stands on AB 2923, and why. All that talk about community empowerment—was it just hype?