Project for 2211 Harold Way
on LPC Thursday Agenda
Ignores Climate Change, Housing Needs

Charlene M. Woodcock
Tuesday December 03, 2019 - 09:59:00 AM

An open letter to Berkeley Councilmembers

The elected and appointed city of Berkeley officials and staff need to confront the fact that Berkeley is far from meeting either our 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goals or our urgent need for affordable housing for Berkeley residents being pushed out by rising rents caused by the many new market-rate units and inflated property values.

It seems clear that we all need to think much harder about the consequences of our actions as climate disruption becomes an immediate reality. Building construction and demolition are both significant contributors to the climate crisis, so great care should be taken to approve only those new construction projects that will serve our needs and meet the most rigorous energy efficiency standards. There is no excuse for approving buildings that fail to meet these needs and especially a project that would demolish a significant cultural resource that is part of a landmarked block.

The 2211 Harold Way development project to demolish and replace the beautifully repurposed Shattuck Cinemas, the economic engine that brings hundreds of thousands of people downtown every year, with a large market-rate residential highrise is not acceptable. If this project met the LEED Platinum energy efficiency standard and provided at least 50% below-median-income housing, it would matter less that it would be greatly out of scale with the historic core of our city. It would tower over the adjacent buildings—our beautiful one hundred-year-old neo-classical Post Office, our Public Library, the YMCA building, the Walter Ratcliff-designed Armstrong College and Elks Club buildings. But if it served our needs, its intrusion into the historic building context would be tolerable.

However, the 2211 Harold Way project has no such intentions. The developer would pay an absurdly discounted in-lieu fee, thanks to former Mayor Bates, rather than provide any low-income units. And it would barely meet the obsolete LEED gold standard—this less than a month from 2020 when the state will be requiring zero net energy of new residential buildings, as Berkeley should have done years ago.

The Shattuck Cinemas provide Berkeleyans and visitors from other East Bay communities with the good movies, both popular and independent and foreign films, that we prize. The outcry from more than 5,000 petition signers of the 300,000 plus annual patrons of the Shattuck Cinemas forced the developer to include theaters in his plan, but if actually built they would be fewer and less commodious than the existing theaters. And he calls this his Significant Community Benefit—a lesser version of the resource he wishes to demolish. The thousands of people who come downtown to see films at the Cinemas will be deprived of this cultural and entertainment resource for the years of construction. What mitigation has been required to address this cultural loss? Even if theater space is included in the project, we will lose the Shattuck Cinemas for years and probably forever, as was the case with the Fine Arts building development. The people who come to the Shattuck Cinemas also patronize the downtown restaurants. With no Shattuck Cinemas, the city will lose much of that business as well. Because a previous city council was willing to sacrifice the theaters and other local businesses for a speculative market-rate residential development should not prevent the current city council, ZAB, and LPC from requiring this project to meet our needs instead of serving the interest of the investors who are finally funding it.

I hope you will take your responsibilities to current Berkeley residents and future generations seriously as you consider whether to allow this destructive, needless project. You can and should require the developer to meet the 2020 Zero Net Energy rule and commit half the units to below median income residents. The city has the legal right to change zoning and other requirements for a project until the building permit is granted. The project that would come from such requirements would much better serve our needs. And if the developer isn’t interested in serving our needs, he should not be granted permission to build in our downtown.