By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
Aiming to bring more jobs and business to Berkeley's industrial area, the City Council Tuesday night voted to allow research and development companies in areas designated "protected space" for artists and small manufacturers.
The Council passed the legislation on a 6-2 vote, with Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin voting no and Darryl Moore absent.
The new zoning law ends six months of debate at the council over whether the city should continue to protect small manufacturers and artists or allow other businesses that could potentially drive up rents and force others to leave for cheaper places like Oakland.
As part of the new zoning law, the council agreed to limit research and development firms to 270,000 square feet in areas the city calls "protected spaces" where artists and small manufacturers work. The limit will expire in five years and the city will make a report on the effects that research and development firms have on other companies after 50,000 square feet has been filled.
That limitation was first proposed by a group called the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies Association which wanted a 100,000 square foot cap.
In seeking to remove the protectionist language from Berkeley zoning law, the city's Office of Economic Development said the area lost 2,754 manufacturing jobs over the last 20 years.
"Instead of employment growth, there's been employment loss," said Dan Marks, director of planning and development during a City Council meeting in January.
"Protecting manufacturing space does not protect those jobs. We've had many Berkeley (research and development) startups move to other locations because they were unable to expand, and the building stock in the area has declined."
But at Tuesday night's meeting, small manufacturers opposed to removing their protections disagreed.
John Curl, co-owner of Heartwood Custom Woodworking on Eighth Street in Berkeley and a member of the artisans and industrial companies association, likened the protections for artists and manufacturers to protections of natural resources.
"If you destroy the fishing area, fishing is dead," Curl said. "And I'd like to remind you that many visionary people of the 20th Century have had protections. We believe there is going to be a movement of reindustrialization in the United States and we need to protect these spaces. To set it up so that all this space is deregulated in five years is dangerous."
Some of the six council members who voted for the new law and the complete deregulation of the area in five years said they did so reluctantly but did it in the spirit of compromise.
"I want a cap (on the amount of space allowed for research and development) and I don't want a sunset clause on it," said Council member Linda Maio whose district includes some of the industrial area. "But we're not going to get everything." Council member Susan Wengraf disagreed.
"I am ideologically opposed to a cap," Wengraf said. "I think it sends a bad message. This law represents a lot of hard work over a long period of time. But most importantly it is the beginning of a really exciting time to see what's possible in west Berkeley for innovation." Although he voted for the plan, Council member Max Anderson said he was not happy with deregulating the area.
"I have a deep concern about deregulating this thing five years out," Anderson said. "It throws open the whole thing at what may be a very critical point. We could have oligarchical or monopolistic behavior in this area. I don't think we're in a position to deregulate it."
Mayor Tom Bates said he is not in favor of limiting research and development to 270,000 square feet, but reminded the council it can make changes later if the sky falls.
"I don't think it's perfect but nothing is," Bates said. "And we can alter it if necessary. And we get a report after 50,000 square feet is converted so we can see how things are going."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley