Housing quotas trigger planning discussionBy Richard Brenneman
The demand for new Berkeley housing embodied in tentative plans of regional government "boggles even the most ardent smart-growther's mind," Mark Rhoades warned last week.
As the city's planning manager, Rhoades is a favorite target of opponents of what planners call smart-growth philosophy, which emphasizes new housing growth within existing cities, typically along transit corridors.
The figures Rhoades was citing to members of the city Planning Commission were those embodied in draft guidelines prepared by the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG).
That draft calls for Berkeley to add 2,712 new housing units over the next seven years, compared to the goal of 1,269 ABAG had imposed for 1999-2006.
"We are continuing to work with ABAG on this, and we'll continue to do so over the next few months," Rhoades said.
"400 units a year over the next seven years is quite a bit," said Commissioner James Samuels. "The most we ever had was 150."
While the quotas are rarely met, a significant failure to come close can result in the reduction or loss of critical state funds.
Marks said another complicating factor would be the unwillingness of many residential neighborhoods to accept significant increases in density-which would then place most of the burden for new units along major transit corridors (about 40 percent of the total) and in the downtown (another 30 percent).
"Can you imagine the political pressure if we tried to double the number in the neighborhoods," he asked. "We are going to have to put very, very high numbers in the downtown and along the BART corridor."
Another complicating factor for adding units along BART is the lack of high-density zoning around the North Berkeley BART station and the mobilization of angry neighbors over plans to place a high-density project on the Ashby BART station's main parking lot.
BART is also a major factor in Berkeley's higher quota, Rhoades said, because the state-which sets the criteria for local government-is steering the regional agencies toward siting new housing "on significant infrastructure like BART."
Rhoades said the city's greatest concentration of jobs in downtown and in West Berkeley, and the three possible options are no density increase, a moderate change and a significant increase by building 10-story mid-rise housing buildings in the downtown area. Another problem is the need for very low- and low-income housing, said Rhoades.
Because of lack of funds, one way to increase the number of units for lower income residents is by approving projects for market-rate tenants, which are required either to include units for rent or sale of lower-income tenants or to pay fees that can be used to provide new or renovated housing elsewhere in the city.
But while the city has been able to fulfill its market-rate quotas, units for residents who make less than 80 percent of the area's median income haven't kept pace. Neither has housing for so-called moderate-income tenants, those earning between 80 and 120 percent of the median.
One of the reasons for the lack of moderate housing is that builders get bigger density bonuses-they're allowed to create even bigger buildings-if they include units for the low and very low income categories. "The moderates get short-changed," Rhoades said.
Berkeley has fulfilled 80 percent of its goals for very low income tenants and about 60 percent for the low income category-but only about 30 percent of the moderate income quota.
However Commissioner Gene Poschman called the moderate category "a shuck. It goes to 120 percent a year. In some ways, moderate is above market rate."
Commissioner Susan Wengraf asked if any city had ever met its ABAG goals.
"Emeryville," said Rhoades, "but we're close to meeting our overall goals."
Copyright ©2007 Berkely Daily Planet. Published 01/16/2007.