In a special meeting Thursday night, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously on two items that will begin the process of ending exclusionary zoning in the city.
Berkeley is required to reassess the city’s zoning every eight years to increase the housing capacity by almost 9,000 units, according to a recent Regional Housing Needs Allocation assessment. The first item passed at the meeting permits the development of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in single-family zoning areas where these developments were previously prohibited.
In 1916, the city introduced single-family zoning as a means of protecting affluent developers and homeowners from unwanted, non-white businesses opening in their neighborhoods, according to the meeting agenda. A UC Berkeley study cited in the agenda item stated that these mechanisms consequently produced the development of gentrification and displacement the city now faces.
“While zoning reform is not a silver bullet to remedying racial and economic exclusion, it is a necessary precondition to address housing segregation, lack of affordable housing, new housing production, homelessness and housing precarity, climate, displacement and gentrification,” said Stephen Menendian, fair housing policy expert and lead researcher of the study, in the agenda.
The second item passed ensures a mandate for public participation in developing Berkeley’s housing element through outreach efforts and meetings. However, during the public comment portion of the meeting, many community members were divided in their position for both items.
Some in support of the first item felt that “too much” community involvement in the planning process could create a barrier to development, with one resident calling it a “filibuster” on new housing. Those who opposed the item noted that the language of the item villainizes single-family homeowners.
“I want to act tonight in the same spirit in which I want to see the whole community come together in this process,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn during the meeting. “We are inviting the whole community to lay down the rhetoric and move forward in this process in a really collaborative and community-building way.”
City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani added prior to public comment that development in transit corridors should be prioritized to increase access to public transit and suggested that it is also an opportunity to combat climate change.
The unanimous passing of both items begins an 18-month process of updating Berkeley’s housing element, which includes details on how the city will be rezoned and where development will take place.
“The work we do is about keeping people in our communities, ending homelessness and addressing our housing crisis,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “This affects not only Berkeley but your whole state and our whole country.”