By Zelda Bronstein : berkeleyside – excerpt
Zelda Bronstein is a former chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission.
In his July 19 op-ed published on Berkeleyside, Garret Christensen slammed Berkeley City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jesse Arreguín for opposing Governor Jerry Brown’s Trailer Bill 707. Christensen called the legislation “an important state affordable housing bill” that “Berkeley and its councilmembers, especially those with aspirations of becoming mayor should welcome…with open arms.” “[I]t is truly baffling to me,” he declared, “why anyone who calls themselves a progressive is opposed to the governor’s proposal.”
In fact, Trailer Bill 707 is opposed by many people besides Arreguín who call themselves progressives— for example, the representatives of the 60-plus organizations, including Public Advocates, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, Jobs with Justice San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and SEIU 1021, who signed a July 8 letter urging the state legislature to reject the bill.
Brown’s proposal, they wrote, “gives developers the power to force approval of projects “’by right’ without public or environmental review.”
For Christensen, the lack of public or environmental review is a boon that would eliminate “Berkeley’s extra layers of approval requirements.” What he deems “extra” is anything beyond the “objective zoning standards” specified in the bill.
The problem: zoning is an essential but limited land use planning tool. A development could meet a city’s zoning and still displace existing tenants, small businesses, and jobs. By removing the right to negotiate with developers over such issues, Brown’s bill puts communities, especially disadvantaged ones, at the mercy of the real estate industry. Meanwhile, as the letter cited above notes, “privileged communities…can merely maintain or redesign zoning restrictions to keep out affordable housing.”
In any case, the amount of affordable housing created by Trailer Bill 707 is piddling, as Christensen himself intimated: “If a multi-family housing project includes a certain percentage of affordable units (the exact percentage depends on the level of affordability, but ranges from 5% to 20%) and meets the city’s zoning laws, the city must grant the permit.” In other words, as much as 95% of the new housing authorized by Brown’s proposal could be unaffordable.
Moreover, a proposed development could meet a city’s zoning and still damage the environment. That’s why Trailer Bill 707 is also opposed by the Sierra Club.
Christensen acknowledges that “[t]here is some environmental opposition to the bill…, since infill developments including the requisite amount of affordable housing would be exempt from CEQA [California
Environmental Quality Act] review.” But in his view, “these concerns are misplaced, since any honest accounting shows much lower carbon and water impact from allowing people to live in a denser, transit-rich city like Berkeley instead of making them commute from a far-flung car-dependent suburb.”… (more)
Comments are appreciated on the source as well as on social media sites. This is the most important campaign in the state. The more to remove local control over deciding how to build our cities by removing the options we have now to oppose projects we don’t like. This includes good ones as well as bad ones, but if this goes the state has taken away our options to control our environment. The only way to overturn this is to put new politicians in office who want to decentralize power and protect our rights to choose how we live.