Berkeley’s Southside neighborhood, home to the University of California, Berkeley and its residencies, is on the cusp of transformative change. At the upcoming City Council meeting Nov. 14, we have an opportunity to embrace a vision of progress in affordable housing by adopting Item 13.
This proposal aims to amend the city’s zoning regulations in the Southside Plan Area and allow for denser apartment buildings near the UC Berkeley campus, a decision that could catalyze positive change for students and the broader community alike. This vote would allow an estimated 2,650 additional dwelling units to be built on Southside.
The push for upzoning is not new, and has been a central conversation throughout this fall’s city planning process. As the city grapples with housing shortages, skyrocketing rents and affordability crises, Berkeley has seen students and residents crushed by inaccessible rent and housing insecurity. Upzoning, a city planning and zoning policy that allows for the construction of buildings with greater density and height, typically endeavors to increase the use and development potential of land in urban areas.
As seen in the official Report for Item 13, “The Southside Plan” was adopted in 2011. Since 2016, the City Council has submitted five referrals aimed at boosting housing production and enhancing overall development potential in the Southside. These proposals involve the examination and formalization of new zoning regulations, intending to facilitate more efficient procedures and implement less restrictive objective development standards.
The certified 2023-2031 Housing Element Update was recently adopted, which includes two implementation programs associated with this initiative: 1) Program 27 — Priority Development Areas, Commercial and Transit Corridors, intended to increase housing capacity and production; and 2) Program 33 — Zoning Code Amendment: Residential, to study and establish residential objective standards to provide clarity and predictability, and to set a minimum density requirement measured in “units per acre” to guarantee a sufficient baseline capacity for meeting housing objectives and attaining compliance with the Housing Element.
Item 13 represents a vital step forward in revitalizing Southside and addressing the pressing housing needs of UC Berkeley students. It recommends, upon holding a public hearing, the conclusion to amend Title 23 of the Berkeley Municipal Code to increase residential development potential in the Southside Plan Area, per Program 27 and Program 33.
With insufficient construction of housing near campus, students are forced to crowd into sub-par apartments offered at exorbitant rents — if they can afford housing at all. Students compete with other residents for scarce units throughout the city, driving up the cost of housing for everybody. One of the most impactful policy changes we can make to end the student housing crisis is to allow thousands of units of high-density housing within walking distance of campus and other destinations, which is the effect of adopting Item 13.
The proposal most notably entails expanding zoning districts, allowing ground floor residential uses, raising height limits, revising open space requirements and removing building separation requirements, among other guidances.
The increasing high limit proposition focuses on blocks along Telegraph Avenue, Bancroft Way, Durant Avenue, Channing Way and Haste Street. These changes align with state housing laws, particularly the “density bonus,” which allows developers to exceed local zoning limits by 50% if they include a share of affordable units in the project.
A common opposing concern that the proposed Southside Zoning Implementation Program has been carefully analyzed for is potential environmental effects. Issues related to public services, transportation and wildfire protection have all been assessed, and the proposed changes align with the growth contemplated in the 2023-2031 Housing Element.
Importantly, the changes do not introduce any new or substantially more severe significant environmental effects than those analyzed in the Housing Element Update Environmental Impact Report. This ensures that our community’s needs for housing and development can be met while safeguarding our environment.
As members of the External Affairs Vice President’s office (EAVP) of the Associated Student of the University of California (ASUC) at UC Berkeley, we stand united in supporting the Southside Zoning Modification Project. We urge the City Council to adopt Item 13 as presented, as it is a critical step toward building a brighter future for UC Berkeley and the Southside community. We also encourage the public to join us in expressing their support to the City Council at the upcoming Nov. 14 City Council Meeting.
Any member of the public may attend the Berkeley City Council meeting on Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. in person or on Zoom, in which there will be the pivotal vote on Southside Rezoning, deciding whether to allow a greater housing availability near the UC Berkeley campus. The EAVP encourages the Berkeley community to become aware of this crucial report and give a public comment at the City Council meeting urging Council to adopt Item 13 of the Agenda as written. Additionally, residents and students can submit a written communication for the City Council’s consideration and inclusion in the public record.
Through the Southside Zoning Modification Project, we can create lasting reform, providing a solution to the housing crisis faced by students and residents alike.