Developer Zell Backs Berkeley’s Measure R

Oct. 1, 2010

The ballot measure would increase downtown density, and environmentalists think that’s good

Zusha Elinson

A big real estate developer is bankrolling a ballot measure to make Berkeley’s downtown denser and more environmentally friendly.

Equity Office Residential, which owns and develops property in Berkeley and around the country, has pumped $25,000 into the campaign for Measure R, as first reported by the Berkeley Daily Planet. The donation has given fodder to opponents of the plan, which would raise height limits and encourage transit-oriented development in Berkeley’s downtown.

“I think its very telling about what’s really going on,” said City Council member Jesse Arreguin, who opposes Measure R. “It’s not necessarily the environmentalists or the community leaders that are paying for this. Instead, it’s the developers who stand to profit from it.”

The Yes on Measure R campaign has raised a total of $32,000 thanks in large part to Equity Office Residential, which is owned by real estate and newspaper mogul Sam Zell. The No on R campaign has raised less than a $1,000. (Take a look at the donations here.)

Voted onto the ballot by the Berkeley City Council, Measure R (Read the text here) is the result of a years-long process to plan the future of the city’s downtown. The measure has won support from environmental and smart-growth groups like the Sierra Club and the Greenbelt Alliance. They say it will help cut down car-commuting greenhouse gas emissions by concentrating new housing near BART and bus lines.

“It allows for new density downtown,” said Helen Burke, a Sierra Club member. “Generally, the Sierra Club feels that by having some new density in urban areas it prevents sprawl in the outlying areas.”

Measure R would allow two residential buildings and one hotel to be built as high as 180 feet or 17 stories and two office buildings to be built 120 feet high. It would also give developers a fast track through the planning process if they agree to pay for community benefits, like affordable housing and local hiring. It also calls for a more pedestrian-friendly layout with parks, plazas and open space.

Opponents like Arreguin say it would build up downtown too much.

“I do not believe that we need to build buildings at 17 stories downtown to build the units we need,” said Arreguin, who is running for reelection.

Arreguin said he believes that 10 stories should be the height limit downtown.

Marla Wilson of the Greenbelt Alliance, a group that supports infill development around the Bay Area as a way to cut down on suburban sprawl, said Measure R will mean less commuting and less pollution.

“You can easily live that green lifestyle where you don’t have to drive to run every errand,” said Wilson.

As the state encourages more infill development in cities in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from commutes, developers and environmentalists have more and more been lining up on the same side of issues like Berkeley’s Measure R.

“There’s all kinds of people standing up for smarter growth,” said Wilson, “and it makes sense that some of those people will be developers.”

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http://www.baycitizen.org/elections-2010/story/big-developer-zell-backs-berkeleys-r/

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