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Berkeley mayor: ‘I am committed to building housing on the Berkeley BART parking lot’

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East Bay city starts to see the light

North Berkeley parking lot.
Image via Google Maps

From eschewing apartments in favor of zucchini gardens to pipe dreams of issuing its own cryptocurrency, Berkeley’s track record on quashing the housing crisis is, at best, spotty. But that may be changing.

Although it’s a national leader on environmental and social justice issues, Berkeley’s progressive mindset comes to a halt when it comes to building shelter, affordable or otherwise, in a county besieged by skyrocketing rents and home prices.

The perfect example of Berkeley’s reticence? An eight-acre surface parking lot for 822 cars surrounding one of the city’s three BART stations. Neighbors have fought development on the site for years, saying that, among other things, development on the parking lot would tarnish their quality of life.

In recent months, the parking lot has become a flashpoint for discussion after the introduction of State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827, a new bill that meant to encourage California cities to build dire housing closer to transit.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín once slammed SB 827 as “a declaration of war against our neighborhoods.”

But now, he seems to have had a mild change of heart.

When asked about the potential of turning the parking lot into housing, Arreguín tells Curbed, “I am committed to building housing on the North Berkeley BART Parking Lot. Given our housing crisis and climate crisis, building transit-oriented development is a much better use of the land, with particular emphasis on affordable housing.”

The East Bay mayor goes on to say that, given the housing shortage, his city should explore development not only on the BART parking lots, but other publicly-owned sites as well.

“Building housing will increase opportunities for young professionals, families, students, and longterm residents to have a place to live, and help address our regional crisis,” he says.

While there is currently no official plan in the pipeline to develop said parking lot, the mayor held a “very productive” community meeting on March 15 attended by more than 300 residents.

“The overwhelming majority supported development on that site,” says Arreguín. “Now we will work with BART to design a community process to move the discussion forward.”

However, YIMBYs yearning for a gleaming high-rise to sprout like a phoenix from the pavement should perish the thought. When asked about a hypothetical rendering from East Bay for Everyone, Arreguín wasn’t as enthusiastic.

“It is also important to clarify that the picture of a 30-story tower on the parking lot was not an official proposal, and I think most Berkeley residents would agree that a skyscraper on that site is inappropriate and out of character with the neighborhood,” notes the mayor. “We can develop multi-unit housing in a thoughtful contextual way. I would like to see housing, particularly affordable housing, retail and open space on the site.”

In related news, two Bay Area lawmakers, Assembly members David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Tim Grayson, D-Concord, authored a bill that would help aid construction at BART stations (specifically on parking lots) by giving BART board of directors the power to be in charge of zoning on agency-owned land near stations.

According to KQED, “the BART board has taken no position on the bill.”