January 9, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

I want to wish you a healthy and safe New Year. Events around the world—from escalating conflict with Iran to extreme weather conditions in Australia and Indonesia—remind us how much is at stake in this presidential election year. May the darkness of this moment serve to strengthen the resolve in each of us to work for positive change in 2020. 
Looking back on 2019, I’m so proud of the work we accomplished together as a community. Here’s my Top 10 Moments of Pride from 2019

10) Enhancing public spaces by working to create an "Adopt a Spot" program to promote volunteer stewardship—an effort that is still underway—and designating the West St. Bike Path as a park. I was proud to sponsor these two Council items that will help to maintain and beautify our public spaces.

9) Advancing a conversation about transparency in budgeting and fiscal responsibility with an alternative mid-year budget proposal. In December, I put forward an alternative mid-year budget proposal in order to call attention to the need for the City to provide better financial information for budget decision-making. I look forward to introducing items to the Budget & Finance Policy Committee to address this critical need.   

8) Convening a Homelessness Town Hall Meeting and continuing work to address homelessness. The crisis of homelessness is one of the most challenging issues facing our community, and I’m proud of the Town Hall Meeting we held in September to educate the West Berkeley community about the City’s approach. I will continue to listen to all members of our community and focus on achieving progress on this issue in 2020.

7) Raising awareness about the plight of children in migrant detention centers with our community rally, Close the Camps Now!/ ¡Cierren Los Centros de Detenci ón Ahora! Among one of the most barbaric acts of the Trump administration is the caging and mistreatment of children. I'm proud that we took a stand against this atrocity and raised thousands of dollars to support immigrant rights.  

6) Phasing out single-use disposable foodware. With the leadership of Councilmember Sophie Hahn, Berkeley became the first U.S. city to our knowledge to ban single-use plastic takeout containers that litter our streets and pollute our oceans and waterways while also encouraging the use of reusable takeout cups.

5) Banning natural gas in new buildings. With the leadership of Councilmember Kate Harrison, Berkeley became the first U.S. city to address the climate crisis by banning natural gas in new buildings as it becomes feasible to do so per the state building code, a move that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create cleaner indoor air quality and safer buildings. 

4) Working to empower families to add units to their homes by co-sponsoring a “Missing Middle” Housing Study. With the leadership of Councilmember Lori Droste, I was proud to co-sponsor a Council item to conduct a study for how best to enable a greater diversity of housing types (such as duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes) while protecting tenants in rent-controlled units and low-income homeowners.

3) Taking concrete steps to move toward our goal of “Vision Zero”—zero fatalities and serious injuries on Berkeley streets by 2028. I was proud to co-sponsor a Council item that established a Vision Zero Task Force, a group that recently released a draft Vision Zero plan. With the leadership of Councilmember Rigel Robinson, the Council also passed a package of items to become a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly city.

2) Unanimous approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement with BART to create homes—including at least 35% below-market-rate affordable homes—at Ashby and N. Berkeley stations to model how we can grow in an equitable, sustainable way. I thank Mayor Jesse Arregu ín and Councilmember Ben Bartlett for co-sponsoring this item, and I’m proud to have personally negotiated key elements of the MOU in order to ensure a community-driven process at all stages. More detail about the MOU is described below.   

1) Community Engagement. I’m most proud of listening to and engaging with so many members of our diverse community. In 2019, we shared 10 comprehensive newsletters that provided detailed civic updates with the community. We held 10 community office hours to have in-person conversations about problems and solutions. We responded to countless e-mail and phone requests for assistance from constituents and held numerous neighborhood meetings and outreach sessions, with door knocking being one of my favorite forms of outreach.  

I look forward to working with you in this new year to make progress on our shared vision of an equitable and sustainable community for all.  
Save the Date: January Office Hours & MLK Jr. Breakfast
January Office Hours:
Sun., Jan. 12th, 3:30-5 p.m.
1200 Tenth St.
All are welcome for an informal conversation about any City issues on your mind.

Berkeley MLK Jr. Breakfast:
Mon., Jan. 20th
Doors open at 7:30 a.m. | Program begins at 8 a.m.
Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley
2495 Bancroft Way
Tickets available HERE
Council Unanimously Approves Agreement with BART to Create Homes at Ashby and N. Berkeley Stations
At the last City Council meeting of 2019, the Council unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement with BART to establish a process for cooperatively creating homes at the Ashby and N. Berkeley stations. I believe this was the right action to address the shortage of affordable homes in our community and grow in a sustainable way close to public transit. I also know that some of you have questions and concerns, and it continues to be my goal to be open, transparent, and community-driven through every stage of this process.

For background on state law AB 2923, which requires cities to zone BART properties for development, please check out this September 2019 BART webinar.

Below, I share frequently asked questions and detailed answers about creating homes at the Ashby and N. Berkeley stations.

As always, please feel free to be in touch if you have any further questions: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.
Q: What is the maximum zoned height that would be allowed at the N. Berkeley station?  
A: Some of you have shared your concerns with me about the so-called “place-type designation” that BART assigned to the N. Berkeley station in a transit-oriented development (TOD) guidelines staff report as “Urban Neighborhood-City Center.” This designation became codified in state law under AB 2923 and is therefore not something we have the ability to change locally.
N. Berkeley BART station. Photo: Pi.1415926535 (Creative Commons  License ).
Under AB 2923, the place-type designation establishes a “lowest permissible limit for height” that local jurisdictions can impose when establishing zoning for an eligible BART station. For “Urban Neighborhood-City Center” stations (including N. Berkeley), a City can impose a height limit of seven stories. Based on information provided by BART, it is not accurate that the City would be required to zone for a height that is taller than seven stories. I understand there is confusion about this point because BART’s TOD guidelines staff report describes a “minimum” of seven stories for Urban Neighborhood-City Center stations. However, in a letter we received from the AB 2923 co-authors in May 2019, it is clarified that Urban Neighborhood-City Center stations cannot have a “maximum height limit” that is lower than seven stories. Essentially, this gives us a very strong indication that seven stories is a maximum (not a minimum) height that the City can impose via zoning. Final clarification will be provided by BART in an AB 2923 Guidance Document to be drafted by February and finalized by July 2020.     

I also want to note that it is not necessarily the case that an actual project would maximize the zoning envelope of seven stories; it is possible that a development could be less than seven stories, as we have seen in conceptual design scenarios presented to Council in May 2019 and in visioning designs submitted by members of the community in October 2018. Factors that will influence the eventual height of the building(s) are the number of below-market-rate affordable homes and decisions related to parking.

BART’s AB 2923 Guidance Document will provide local jurisdictions impacted by the state law with more direction on how to comply with its zoning standards. I’m proud to have been personally involved in negotiating terms of our MOU agreement with BART, which include a requirement that BART specifically consider the case of the N. Berkeley station—and the lower density residential neighborhood surrounding it—when providing guidance on how we can comply with AB 2923.      
Q: What kind of development do you personally support at the N. Berkeley station?
A: I believe it’s in our interest to move deliberately to adopt zoning for the N. Berkeley station that complies with AB 2923, so we can be a leader and help to shape implementation of the state law. This is an opportunity for Berkeley to seize a more equitable and sustainable future by creating homes—including below-market-rate affordable homes—steps away from public transit with a design that fits into our neighborhood.
Councilwoman Rashi recognizes children for their N. Berkeley station artwork at the Dec. 10th City Council meeting.
I believe strongly that it is my role to listen to all members of our community and ensure that we have a say in the future of this site. Once we receive BART’s AB 2923 Guidance Document, we will have a much better understanding of the areas of flexibility that are available to us as a community. I worked to ensure that key elements were included in our MOU agreement with BART so that our community’s voice is heard at all stages of the process—from BART’s creation of its AB 2923 Guidance Document to the ultimate design of the project, as listed below. My hope is that these elements will position us to arrive at a consensus design that we can all feel good about.

Key elements included in the MOU to ensure a community-driven process:
1)       BART required to consider N. Berkeley station in its AB 2923 Guidance Document. The MOU requires BART to “explore possible approaches to conformance with AB 2923 zoning standards in the context of the built form characteristics of a surrounding lower density neighborhood.”

2)       Community Advisory Group provides input to the Planning Commission on zoning. The MOU establishes a Community Advisory Group to provide input to the Planning Commission so it can adopt zoning standards that conform with AB 2923 for the Ashby and N. Berkeley stations.

3)       Joint Vision and Priorities Document. The Community Advisory Group will be re-established to provide input to the City and BART as the two parties establish a joint vision and priorities document to be included in eventual Requests for Proposal/Requests for Qualifications for potential developers of the BART stations.

4)       Public Participation Design Charrette to develop predictable form-based design standards. A design charrette is  an intense period of all-day design and planning that takes place with all interested parties in the room—in this case, City and BART staff, members of the public, and professional designers, among others. Working within the confines of the TOD zoning standards required under AB 2923 as well as the limits of financial feasibility, this process would allow all interested members of our community the opportunity to attend evening sessions in order to provide input on all aspects of the building and site design. In this way, members of the public would have an opportunity to engage with professional designers in an iterative process that balances our various community wants with legal and financial constraints. The public participation design charrette would be a funded effort that would position us to arrive at a consensus design that is then formalized through form-based design standards for a developer(s) to follow.  
Q: What is the timeline for breaking ground at the site? 
A: The MOU agreement approved by Council positions Ashby and N. Berkeley stations to be included in BART’s ten-year work plan for TOD. The MOU establishes a timeline for the City to adopt zoning standards that comply with AB 2923 no later than June 2021. It’s safe to say that any groundbreaking is several years away because of the need to conduct a station access study and undertake the public participation design charrette process.  
Construction of an apartment building. Photo: M ontgomery County Planning Commissio n (Creative Commons License ).
In regards to the station access study, AB 2923 requires BART to develop and fund a plan that maintains station access for at least the number of customers affected by any potential reduction in commuter parking spaces, with specific consideration for customers who live further than one-half mile from the station. The station access study will seek to ensure that TOD results in an overall increase in the number of people who use the BART stations. 
Q: I park at the N. Berkeley station, and I’m very worried about the potential loss of parking. Can you tell me more about the plan to address station access? 
A: State law AB 2923 requires BART to develop and pay for a station access study and to develop a parking replacement policy for auto-dependent end-of-the-line stations.
A pedestrian leaving the N. Berkeley station.
In the case of the N. Berkeley station, the share of riders that are parking at the station has decreased from 41% in 2008 to 25% in 2015, according to BART as displayed below. 
The N. Berkeley station is classified as an “Urban with Parking” station under BART’s station access policy established in 2016. In general, this means that BART will approach station access by encouraging modes besides driving and parking a private car. Investments will adhere to the following framework:

  • Primary investments will be made in enhancing the ability to bike and walk to the station. However, BART recognizes that not everyone has the ability to bike and walk, so other station access modes must be encouraged. 
  • To that end, secondary investments will be made in buses and shuttles.
  • Finally, accommodations will be made for taxis and transportation network companies like Uber, Lyft, and Gig Car Share.

This prioritization does not necessarily mean total elimination of private car parking at the N. Berkeley station. We may consider dynamic management of available parking and other emerging technologies for better managing a reduced amount of parking at the N. Berkeley station. For example, BART has rolled out a new carpooling app for certain stations that makes it easier for carpoolers to find and pay for an available parking space. We must also recognize that the rapid evolution of mobility trends and technologies (dockless and electric-assist bikes and scooters in recent years, for instance) is changing how some riders access BART stations. I’m personally very committed to considering the needs of all populations, including seniors, individuals with disabilities, people who reside in the hills, and others who may have difficulty accessing the station due to the possibility of reduced parking. Two options I would like to explore further are expanding the Emery Go-Round shuttle and incentivizing use of the downtown parking garage for accessing the Downtown Berkeley station. Ultimately, the public participation design charrette for the N. Berkeley station will give us an opportunity to come together as a community to determine how best to address the issue of parking and to consider the tradeoffs of various approaches. Nothing is off the table and nothing has been decided yet.
To help meet this planning challenge, BART has applied for two grants valued at a total of $3 million, including a (1) CalTrans grant to conduct a comprehensive corridor-wide access study that includes all Berkeley stations as well as the El Cerrito Plaza station (where development is also occurring), and (2) a Federal Transit Administration grant to plan for improved walking, biking, and transit routes and transportation demand management programs, among other goals. I’m optimistic that these efforts will lead to better access to the Richmond BART line for all riders.    
Q: BART is already overcrowded during rush hour. How will it be able to handle increased ridership from residents living at stations?
A: I believe that the creation of new homes should be accompanied by investments in better public transit, so we can grow in a sustainable way. Over the next decade, BART will expand capacity through its Core Capacity Program , which includes three key components that will allow 45% more riders to cross the transbay tube at rush hour:
A BART train arriving at Rockridge station. Photo: ep715  (Creative Commons License ).
1) An expansion of the fleet to run 10-car trains at rush hour
2) A new train control and traction power system that will allow for a 25% increase in train frequency
3) New storage and maintenance yards to accommodate the larger fleet   
Q: Who will pay for infrastructure to support the creation of homes at the N. Berkeley station?  
A: When I asked this question of BART, this is the answer I received: "BART will work with the developer and the City to identify major infrastructure needs for either BART access or BART station improvements. BART will then work with the developer to determine the funding source for these improvements, including grant sources, the developer’s pro forma, or BART itself."
Bike parking inside Lake Merritt station. Photo: citymaus (Creative Commons License ).
"Typically, if a developer is affecting BART’s infrastructure, the developer is required to contribute towards the cost of these improvements; however, sometimes BART will put some of its own proceeds from the deal into these improvements if they are prohibitively expensive."

BART’s developers also pay something known as a Possessory Interest Tax when a project is built on a ground lease. The only exception is anything that is tax exempt under the law, such as affordable housing or non-profit uses.
Q: Why does the MOU agreement not set a goal of creating 100% of the units at below market rate, especially since the homes will be built on public land?
A: One of my main motivations for wanting Berkeley to be a leader in implementing AB 2923 is so that we can create desperately needed below-market-rate affordable homes at Ashby and N. Berkeley stations. We all know working folks—teachers, librarians, coaches, medical assistants—to name a few, who are barely hanging on or who have been priced out of the Bay Area.     
An affordable housing site in San Francisco.
The MOU agreement that was approved by Council sets a minimum goal of at least 35% of the units being affordable to extremely low, very low, and low-income households, as defined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even if we assume that BART leases its land for as little as a dollar, the costs associated with construction, infrastructure improvements, and subsidizing at least 35% of the units will require a significant public subsidy from local, state, and federal funding sources. In terms of financing the project, market-rate units are an important part of the equation because—all other things being equal—they cross-subsidize the creation of a greater number of below-market-rate units than would otherwise be created by available affordable housing funds alone.  

I do understand the desire to want to set a higher percentage goal for affordable units. The reason this was not done at this early stage is because there are still many unknowns, such as the total number of units that can be created at each site and construction costs at the time that we break ground. I can assure you that I will push to achieve as high a number of affordable units as possible. One option we may want to consider is meeting our minimum goal of 35% for extremely low, very low, and low-income households and then seeking to earmark additional units for moderate-income households who’ve been priced out of market-rate homes. 
Apply to be Considered for the Community Advisory Group 
We’re currently considering Berkeley residents to appoint to a Community Advisory Group that will provide input to the Planning Commission on implementing state law AB 2923 to zone the Ashby & N. Berkeley stations for development.

I encourage you to apply by the deadline of Sun., Jan. 12th at 11:59 p.m. by clicking HERE .

Diverse candidates with varied views, perspectives, and experiences are encouraged to apply!
Periodic Update on Managing RV Parking
Nearly a year ago—in March 2019—the Council established a compromise RV policy that sought to balance two priorities: (1) the valid health and safety complaints of residents, workers, and small business owners and (2) concern for low-income members of our community sheltering in RVs.
An RV parked in West Berkeley. Photo: Eric Panzer.
The City has received a wide range of health and safety complaints related to the high concentration of RVs in West Berkeley, including, for example, improper disposal of human waste into storm drains, blocked sight lines on streets, and reduced availability of employee parking within a reasonable proximity to businesses during early morning and late-night hours and associated concerns about personal safety, among other complaints. At the same time, there is a recognition that the proliferation of RVs reflects the regional shortage of affordable homes and related homelessness crisis. I believe we have an obligation to do as much as we can to help the most vulnerable members of our community.

To balance these concerns, the Council adopted an ordinance to add oversized RVs and campers to the list of vehicles not allowed to park overnight on the public right-of-way between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m. while also adopting “Implementation Guidelines for Managing RV Parking.” These guidelines ensure that enforcement of the ordinance would not commence until outreach is conducted and a program is developed so “priority populations” can receive a three-month “grace period” permit to park in a designated safe location with a possibility of permit renewal. Priority populations specified by the Council include families with children, people who work or study in Berkeley, and people who previously had a Berkeley home address within the last 10 years; other factors considered include health status, disability and self-care needs, age and household size. The intent in providing the permit period is to give RV households in need of assistance the opportunity to access supportive services.  

I am extremely disappointed to report that the City has not met its timeline of implementing the safe RV parking permit program by November 2019, a goal expressed by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley during a Homelessness Town Hall Meeting I convened in September 2019 . However, the delay is not the result of a lack of effort. City staff have spent considerable time and energy over the better part of 2019 investigating options for a 24-hour off-street safe RV parking site for priority populations. Staff investigated numerous public and private options and enlisted the services of a property specialist with a goal of identifying a suitable parking lot. To date, no viable site has been identified within city limits for 24-hour use due to a variety of issues such as expense, limited size, or being legally infeasible.

In light of these challenges as well as the need to ensure the health and safety of our community in a manner that is sensitive to priority populations, the City has identified a possible alternative approach: designating certain City-owned parking lots for overnight safe RV parking during non-business hours—similar to an overnight shelter model. East Palo Alto has piloted this approach and provides space to about 20 RVs for overnight parking. Here in Berkeley, outreach by a homeless services provider Bay Area Community Services has so far identified about 20 RV households that meet our criteria as a priority population eligible for a three-month permit, and I hope that we can provide these folks with a safe parking location soon. I’m currently working closely with the City Manager and the City Attorney’s Office so that we can make progress as soon as possible. This isn’t where I hoped we would be at this point—nine months after Council adopted its compromise RV policy—but I will keep working on this issue until we can do right by all members of our community. 

As always, please feel free to be in touch if you have any questions or concerns: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.
Mid-Year Budget Update

At our Dec. 3rd meeting, the City Council approved mid-year budget allocations. Please stay tuned for my next newsletter where I will provide more detail on the actions taken by the Council, including my rationale for introducing an alternative mid-year budget proposal. For now, you can read about the Council’s Dec. 3rd action related to allocating Measure P tax revenue for homeless services in Berkeleyside .
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website: www.rashikesarwani.com.

This site is also where you can find an archive of all of my newsletters to date.

To sign up to receive future newsletters, please click  HERE.
Seeking Assistance from the City
Here are key City of Berkeley resources to keep handy:

For illegal dumping , potholes, missed garbage pickups, or graffiti...
Call 311 or (510) 981-2489

For a public works emergency , such as a sewer overflow, traffic signal outage, fallen tree, or toxic spill...
Call (510) 981-6620

For a homeless person who appears vulnerable and in need of services or is demonstrating concerning behavior...
Call the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) (510) 981-5273

For non-urgent criminal activity with no suspect present...
Call the Berkeley Police Non-Emergency line (510) 981-5900

You can also download the SeeClickFix app to report an issue to the City.