I. 1900 Fourth, SB-35, and affordable housing
Q. What is SB-35 and how does it apply to 1900 Fourth?
A. The California legislature enacted SB-35 in 2017 as a response to California’s housing crisis and, specifically, the negative impact that the lack of housing production is having on the state’s economic vitality, environmental goals and social diversity.
Effective January 2018, SB-35 “establishes a streamlined, ministerial review process for certain multifamily affordable housing projects that are proposed in local jurisdictions that have not met regional housing needs.” On January 31, 2018, the California Department of Housing & Community Development determined that the City of Berkeley is one of many jurisdictions that is not meeting its affordable housing targets, and therefore projects that provide 50% affordable housing are entitled to streamlined, ministerial approval if the projects meet SB-35’s other qualifying criteria.
To qualify for SB-35 in Berkeley, projects are required to meet all “objective planning standards”, pay a prevailing wage for labor and use a “skilled and trained workforce” and provide 50% affordable housing at 80% of AMI. 1900 Fourth meets all of these requirements so must be approved under SB-35 within 180 days, or by September 4, 2018. (1)
Q. Is Berkeley currently meeting its state mandated affordable housing goals?
A. No. The Department of Housing and Community Development (“HCD”) determined that the City of Berkeley has only permitted 17 low income units in the current RHNA cycle, which is a less than 4% of the City’s required Low Income housing production. The 1900 Fourth Street project include 130 affordable units, so this single project will dramatically increase the City’s production of affordable housing and meet its RHNA goal.
Q. How much affordable housing is 1900 Fourth providing, and at what income level?
A. 1900 Fourth is providing 260 units total, of which 130 are affordable at the Low Income Level (80% of Area Median Income). Rents for these units are set by the City of Berkeley and are currently approximately $1,100-$1,450 for studios, $1,250-$1,700 for one-bedrooms and $1,400-$1,900 for two-bedroom units.
Q. What is the HAA and other laws supporting 1900 Fourth’s development plans?
A. The Housing Accountability Act, Gov. Code § 65589.5, also requires the City of Berkeley to approve the project for two reasons: 1900 Fourth complies with the City’s objective standards and criteria, and it is providing much more than the required 20% of units for lower-income households. The City is only allowed to reject a project under the above circumstances if there is a preponderance of evidence that the project would have a significant, unavoidable, and quantifiable impact on “objective, identified written public health or safety standards, policies, or conditions.” There is no evidence that the Project would have such impact, thus the HAA requires approval of the project.
Other State laws also prohibit the City from precluding housing development on this site.
-- California’s Housing Element Law (see Gov. Code § 65585(i), 65587(b), 65863 & 65913.1(a)), --- California’s Planning & Zoning Law (Gov. Code § 65000, et seq.);
-- California’s “No Net Loss” housing law (see Gov. Code § 65863(b));
-- And under fundamental legal principles that prohibit local governments from regulating land use in a manner that is arbitrary and capricious, discriminatory, or effecting an uncompensated regulatory taking of private property.
Q. When was the 1900 Fourth project first presented and what has happened to this point? Why SB 35 now?
A. West Berkeley Investors, LLC has spent the past five years and millions of dollars seeking approval of a different version of the development at 1900 Fourth that would have included fewer housing units and less public space. The gating issue the project has faced is the fact that even though the site is a vacant parking lot, it was “Landmarked” as a potentially significant cultural site because it was thought to be potentially near the West Berkeley Shellmound. Intensive archaeological, geological and historical research has since shown that the site is not the location of the West Berkeley Shellmound, and that the site contains no culturally significant remnants or any trace of any Native American burials or artifacts. Nonetheless, the project has been stalled under the CEQA process because decisions are slow in coming and appear being made on emotion, not facts, with the fear of political backlash from segments of the Berkeley community. The beauty of SB 35 is that it is enabling the project to move forward in a streamlined, objective process to provide much-needed housing on the site without further delays.
II. 1900 Fourth Project
Q. What is 1900 Fourth?
A. 1900 Fourth is a transit-oriented mixed-use project which includes 130 market rate apartment units, 130 affordable apartment units, 27,500 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail and restaurant space, a public open space park, and a community room open to the public for cultural and education purposes.
Q. What community benefits does 1900 Fourth include?
A. In addition to providing much needed affordable housing, 1900 Fourth will be built using prevailing wage labor and provide training for workers as required under SB-35. The project will also provide public open space along Hearst Ave. and a community center open to the community for cultural and education uses. It will be built using sustainable design and construction principles and will be GreenPoint Rated, using the latest standards in energy and water conservation. Compatible, high quality architecture will complement the Fourth St. experience and serve as a prominent gateway to Berkeley on University Avenue. Finally, providing housing in transit-served locations like 1900 Fourth reduces congestion and is Smart Growth.
Q. Why is the 1900 Fourth site the right location for housing?
A. 1900 Fourth is an ideal location for housing production given its access to transit and excellent walkable environment. The site was zoned for housing under the Berkeley Zoning Code and is also identified as a “Priority Development Area” by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Building housing near transit prevents urban sprawl and allows people to live near jobs, reducing commutes and protecting the environment.
Q. What are the environmental and transit-friendly aspects of the 1900 Fourth project?
A. 1900 Fourth will incorporate sustainable design principles by providing transit-oriented housing at a prime infill location, meeting “Build It Green” certification requirements and incorporating water efficiency measures within the development and through the landscape and urban design. It is a prime example of Transit Oriented Development including adjacency to the Capitol Corridor train station and numerous bus lines. It also features bike parking spaces for residents and the public, bike share facilities, and free transit passes for apartment residents. Through its comprehensive sustainability components and transit friendliness, 1900 Fourth will be an energy efficient property contributing to a significantly lower impact of greenhouse gases compared to apartments designed just a few years ago.
Q. What kinds of wages and jobs will be generated?
A. 1900 Fourth be built with prevailing wage labor and will create an estimated 200 temporary and 100 permanent jobs in the City of Berkeley.
Q. How much parking does 1900 Fourth provide?
A. 1900 Fourth provides ample parking above and beyond the requirements of the City of Berkeley. For the housing, 190 stalls are provided, where none are required under State law. For commercial, 100 stalls are provided where 56 are required by City Code. In addition, 140 bike parking stalls are provided.
Q. Who is the development team proposing 1900 Fourth?
A. West Berkeley Investors LLC is the development entity behind 1900 Fourth, managed by Danville, CA-based Blake Griggs Properties. Blake Griggs and its principals have decades of experience in creating thousands of units of housing primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a private real estate firm known for creating high-quality commercial, residential, retail and mixed-use projects in infill markets in California, with a focus on the San Francisco Bay Area. The company website is www.blakegriggs.com. Blake Griggs has also established a core team of experienced consultants consisting of Rhoades Planning Group, TCA Architects, BKF Engineering, MJS Landscape Design; and top legal team from the San Francisco offices Holland & Knight and Morrison Foerster.
III. "Landmark" Status and West Berkeley Shellmound
Q. Why were the two blocks in Western Berkeley designated “Landmark” areas by the City?
A. The “Landmark” designation of two blocks -- 1900 Fourth and a block next to it -- was enacted in 2000 based on the best evidence available at the time about the location of what was then thought to be just one West Berkeley Shellmound. However, historic US Coast Survey (1856) and US Geologic Survey (1957) maps brought to light in the 1900 Fourth research effort other new information such as the discovery of intact Shellmound remnants on the Anthropology construction site across from 1900 Fourth, and suggests that the “Landmark” boundary should be reconsidered with these updated findings. To the City’s credit, the “Landmark” designation has been successful in requiring detailed research at the 1900 Fourth site. While no culturally significant material was found at 1900 Fourth, it suggests that a different and larger area should be “landmarked” so that future development of other sites undergoes similar research before they undergo new development.
It’s important to note that the use of the word “Landmark” has been misconstrued by some observers as a legal prohibition against development. This has been the gating issue faced on this project so far under the old CEQA process. This ideological position is in direct contradiction to the overall intent of the “Landmark" ordinance. The City of Berkeley has already confirmed the intent of the “Landmark” is not to prevent development. In a brief filed in Alameda Superior Court, the City stated that the shellmound “Landmark” boundaries are only “approximate,” and further: “It is important to emphasize…that the City’s decision to designate the West Berkeley Shellmound as a City “Landmark” does not in itself prevent any developer or use of the property effected. Rather, it requires additional review. That is, it will require that appropriate further investigation be done.” Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Motion for Writ of Mandate, at pp. 2-3, 620 Hearst Group v. City of Berkeley, Case No. 834470-2 (Alameda Cty. Sup. Ct. Aug. 20, 2001).
Q. What were the results of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL and geological research at 1900 Fourth?
A. In depth archaeological and geological and ground penetrating radar studies show that the site was once low marshland prior to being filled in as a parking lot in the early 1900s. This is consistent with the historic maps. No evidence of the West Berkeley Shellmound has ever been found on the site. (2)
Q. The developer’s research included in the EIR includes old re-discovered maps. What did the maps reveal?
A. Undertaking the most thorough research for a development site in this area of Berkeley, the development team found historic maps prepared by the US Coast and Geologic Survey (1856) and US Geological Survey (1957) that had been overlooked in other research efforts. The maps clearly outline two shellmounds that were still intact in the 1800s on sites next to 1900 Fourth, but not on the property. The maps also corroborate with the geological investigation conducted for the site that proves 1900 Fourth site was low marshland at the outlet of Strawberry Creek, and would not have been habitable. This explains why there have been no findings of any historic remnants. This fact is noted in the findings of the Draft Environmental Impact Report that the City of Berkeley conducted for the project. The maps can be found at:
-- USGS (1957): (https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/Prodesc/proddesc_437.htm).
-- US Coast Survey (1856): http://historicalcharts.noaa.gov/historicals/search (Note, search first to filter for Calif., then use the filters to select T-Maps from 1860 only. The correct map is the “San Francisco Bay, CA” map. Zooming-in reveals mounds plotted on the map.)
1. See, e.g., Gov. Code § 65589.5(a) (because “[t]he excessive cost of the state’s housing supply is partially caused by activities and policies of many local governments that limit the approval of housing,” it is the Legislature’s intent “to increase the approval and construction of new housing for all economic segments of California’s communities by meaningfully and effectively curbing the capability of local governments to deny . . . housing development projects” that comply with zoning and General Plan standards); Gov. Code § 65589.5(j) (“[w]hen a proposed housing development project complies with applicable, objective general plan, zoning and subdivision standards and criteria,” the project must be approved unless it would have an unavoidable impact on public health or safety).
2. Dr. Allen Pastron (lead archeologist for Archeo-Tec, Inc.), A Report on Archaeological Testing Conducted within the Spenger's Parking Lot, Archeo-Tec, Inc., June 2014 ("Archaeological Report"), at pg. 41 (there is “no evidence whatever that the West Berkeley Shellmound was ever located on the Spenger's Parking Lot site”); see also 1900 Fourth Street Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (“DEIR”), at pp. 74 & 79 (independent analysis by City of Berkeley’s consultant, LSA, affirmed the Archaeological Report’s methodology, confirmed that historic maps show that the shellmound was not located on the project site, and concluded that the Project would have no significant unmitigated impacts on cultural resources); Dr. Allen Pastron, Review and Assessment of the Boundaries of the Prehistoric Archaeological Site Commonly Known as the West Berkeley Shellmound (CA-ALA-307) and the Spatial Relationships of this Prehistoric Site to the Proposed 1900 Fourth Street Project, Archeo-Tec, March 10, 2017.
See also, DEIR, at pg. 79; Eric Swenson and Core Dare, Holocene Geology and Land Filling History 1900 4th Street, Berkeley, California 94710, Eric Swenson and Core Dare, Geosphere Consultants, Inc., January 31, 2017.
See also, DEIR, at pg. 80; Dr. Allen Pastron, Review and Assessment of Newspaper Articles associated with the West Berkeley Shellmound (CA-ALA-307) and the Spatial Relationship of this Prehistoric Site to the Proposed 1900 Fourth Street Project, Archeo-Tec, Inc., March 10, 2017.