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Department of Planning & Development
Department of Planning & Development



Plan Concept & Vision

West Berkeley in 1993 is a successful part of the city. It is home to (among other things)
many growing manufacturers, a booming retail trade, important laboratories, and the
most ethnically diverse residential community in Berkeley. The mix of uses, building
ages, and building styles gives West Berkeley a unique character within Berkeley and
the East Bay. The West Berkeley Plan seeks to build on that success, maintain that
character, and help extend them to the year 2005.

Because West Berkeley is a successful area, the Plan seeks to guide its evolution, rather
than radically reshape it. The Plan envisions a West Berkeley in 2005 which remains a
mixed use area, although with relatively more retail and office uses along with a vital
manufacturing sector. It envisions a West Berkeley which maintains similar building
forms to those which exist currently, with some major development on minimally used

In one sense, the Plan seeks to save West Berkeley from the possible negative
consequences of its own success. Successful mixed use areas such as West Berkeley can
become so expensive and intensely developed that manufacturing and other uses which
cannot pay maximum rents and land costs are forced out. These areas thus lose the
very characteristics which initially made them attractive to many people. The SoHo
district of New York City represents an advanced case of this process. The West
Berkeley Plan--by designating relatively small areas where certain use categories (e.g.
light manufacturing, retail) are emphasized--seeks to preserve the mix in West Berkeley
as a whole. The Plan aims to guide and manage West Berkeley growth, so that growth
does not overwhelm West Berkeley's character.

The Plan does recognize that there are conditions in West Berkeley which need
improvement. The Plan calls for continuous improvement of environmental quality, so
that industrial and other development does not mean environmental degradation. The
Plan calls for strengthening the ties between Berkeley/West Berkeley residents and
West Berkeley employers, so that the benefits of economic expansion can be enjoyed by
those most in need. The Plan calls for improved sidewalks and bikeways, so that it is
easier and more pleasant to move around in West Berkeley without driving.

The Plan envisions some major physical improvements. These improvements are those
which would reinforce and strengthen important West Berkeley features. In the 4th and
University/Hearst area, a new long distance rail station would help anchor the retail
district. New stores along Addison Street would help entice people to a revitalized
Aquatic Park, now shielded from freeway noise by a soundwall. A new
bicycle/pedestrian bridge would cross the Freeway to the Waterfront from the
University/Addison Street area. The 7th & Ashby area could gain new streets leading to
Ashby Ave., making it easier to come into and out of the area. San Pablo Avenue
should have a more urban(e) look and feel, with new mixed-use buildings anchoring
key commercial corners, while the cleaned and repaired facades of older buildings
emerge more sharply. Other possible improvements, such as a light rail line along San
Pablo Ave., are more uncertain, and more dependent on the decisions of other agencies.

Although many of the Plan's Elements concern themselves with physical and economic
development, the ultimate goal of the Plan is to improve the quality of life for West
Berkeley residents and Berkeley residents generally. For example, the Plan's emphasis
on maintaining manufacturing jobs is based on the recognition that these jobs generally
provide the best combination of good pay and accessibility to the modestly skilled and
educated (a combination which last year's events in Los Angeles have reinforced the
importance of). A different example of the human importance of physical
improvements is air quality--improvements in air quality deriving from implementation
of Plan goals will benefit all West Berkeleyans and Berkeleyans generally. In yet a
different way, new facilities in Aquatic Park will make it a more useful resource for area
residents and workers.

The Plan's Elements and policies taken together form an integrated whole--a framework
for steady, "incremental" improvement based on the physical, economic, and social
foundation which is in West Berkeley today. Thus the Plan seeks to supplement, rather
than supplant manufacturing, to build additional housing generally without demolition
of existing housing. Yet the Plan also recognizes that there will be the need for constant
balancing of interests and for occasional trade-offs between different interests and goals.
Many Plan policies speak to the need for such balancing. The process of developing the
Plan itself represented a major exercise in reconciling different interests and issues. The
Plan takes a "both-and" approach, rather than an "either-or" approach wherever

In particular, a central premise of this Plan is that West Berkeley can maintain and
expand its manufacturing base, while maintaining and improving its environmental
quality. These goals need not be inconsistent, although there may be tensions at times.
In some cases, environmental quality can be improved through expansion of
manufacturing, such as when manufacturers who use recycled materials expand. The
Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) which West Berkeley is a part of
encourages this type of manufacturing. Similarly, there is no reason that an industrial
environment cannot be an aesthetically pleasing one, although its appearance will be
different from other types of areas.

Plan Purposes

The broadest Purposes of the Plan are stated below. The Plan is a complex document,
with 38 Goals--most of which have numerous Policies set forth under them. No small
set of overarching purposes could capture them. Nonetheless, the Plan is centered on
diversity and quality of life. The Plan celebrates and strives to maintain both the
diversity of residents and of business activity in West Berkeley, in the face of forces
which might sharply reduce that diversity. The Plan seeks to maintain and improve the
quality of life in West Berkeley in a wide variety of ways--whether it be reducing
pollutants in the air, minimizing traffic on the streets, or improving the appearance of
buildings in West Berkeley. The Plan Purposes affirm that the West Berkeley Plan is not
envisioned as a blueprint to transform an ailing neighborhood, but as a set of guidelines
to further energize an already vital one.

  1. Maintain the full range of land uses and economic activities--residences.
    manufacturing, services, retailing, and other activities--in West Berkeley.
  2. Maintain the ethnic and economic diversity of West Berkeley's resident population.
  3. Maintain and improve the quality of urban life--including environmental quality,
    public and private service availability, transit and transportation, and esthetic and
    physical qualities--for West Berkeley residents and workers.

The Structure of the Plan Document

This Introduction to the Plan outlines the Plan's history and its structure. This Summary
section outlines the Plan's overall vision and purposes, and summarizes key features of
the Plan. This is followed by a process section, which reviews the process of developing
the Plan. Then there are 6 Elements which address the major issues in West Berkeley:

  • Land Use
  • Economic Development
  • Environmental Quality
  • Transportation
  • Physical Form--Urban Design, Historic Preservation, and Open Space; and
  • Housing and Social Services

Each Element of the Plan follows a similar structure, although some Elements have
additional sections as well. The Element is introduced with a Strategic Statement--a
succinct summary of the broad concepts, vision, and direction of the Element. This is
followed by a Background section which discusses conditions, trends, and issues in the
area the Element addresses. The Economic Development Element includes the
Economic Development Rationale (an important section for the Plan as a whole). This
background information lays the groundwork for the Goals and Policies section which
follows it. Finally, each Element contains an Implementation section, laying out
concrete actions that the City can take to realize the Element's policies. Some Elements
(like Economic Development) also have additional sections addressing major strategic
issues in more detail. Other Elements (such as Land Use) have sections laying out
specific recommended development standards or regulations. The Land Use Element
does follow the general format, but also is largely devoted to the proposed land use
regulations--permitted and prohibited uses in each district, required development
standards, etc.

Highlights of the West Berkeley Plan (selected)


  • Creates districts designed to retain manufacturing;
  • Sets up concentrated retail "nodes";
  • Recognizes residential enclaves within the industrial/commercial area;
  • Focuses comprehensive environmental enforcement in West Berkeley on the 10 most
    important firms;
  • Supports creating a central, accessible location where the community can obtain
    environmental information;
  • Calls for reductions in the production, transport, and handling of hazardous
  • Seeks to focus economic development efforts on retaining and attracting appropriate
  • Supports West Berkeley's continuing role as an "incubator" of new businesses of all
  • Facilitates creation of space for expanding businesses by streamlining the permit
  • Proposes a variety of measures to reduce the use of single-occupant automobiles;
  • Demonstrates that West Berkeley is Berkeley's most ethnically diverse area, and
    supports efforts to maintain this diversity;
  • Supports creation of well-designed live work spaces in appropriate locations;
  • Makes widespread tree planting in West Berkeley an open space priority;
  • Stresses the need for urban, street focused development on all of West Berkeley's
    major streets with special emphasis on critical gateway streets such as University

Physical Development Activities 

  • Prioritizes the reuse of large, vacant sites (such as Colgate and Utility Body) as an
    economic development activity;
  • Highlights an improved train station at 3rd & University as a planning and
    development priority;
  • Supports installation of historic signs in locations such as the oldest areas of
  • Initiates feasibility studies on parking needs around 4th & University, 7th & Ashby,
    and 7th & Parker;
  • Supports the development of light rail transit on San Pablo Ave. Plan
  • Recommends serious consideration on new street links to Ashby Ave. (in West
    Berkeley) from the north;
  • Anticipates substantial development of the University's Harrison lands;
  • Facilitates expansion by existing manufacturers and other businesses.

Summary of the Elements (Major Sections) of the West Berkeley Plan

Land Use

Perhaps more than in any other field, the West Berkeley Plan will change the regulation
of land use in West Berkeley. The Plan creates a new set of land use/zoning districts for
West Berkeley, the first areawide revision of districts since the Special Industrial zone
was created in 1956. These new districts seek to better tailor allowable land uses to
existing ones, and to provide better guidance to businesses and developers on what
specific uses are desirable and what uses are not in specific West Berkeley locations.
The Plan seeks to preserve the mix of uses in West Berkeley as a whole by reserving
some areas for uses like manufacturing which might otherwise disappear.

The land use concept and districts are discussed in detail in the Land Use Element. A
new set of zoning districts in the Zoning Ordinance will have to be created to
implement the Plan. In general, the districts provide a gradation of districts--from
purely residential to several types of mixed use districts to strictly
manufacturing/industrial. Given the greater clarity of the new districts on which uses
are desired and permitted, and which ones are not, the permit process is generally eased
for conforming projects.

Economic Development

The Economic Development Element proposes policies to maintain and enhance West
Berkeley's multi-sectoral economic dynamism, and to channel the benefits of economic
activity to West Berkeley and Berkeley residents (through both employment and
business opportunities). The Element recognizes and prioritizes West Berkeley's historic
role as Berkeley's manufacturing and industrial sectors, particularly because of the
higher-quality, better-paying jobs they create. Yet in the framework of a multi-sectoral
strategy, the Element also supports West Berkeley's growing role in fields such as
retailing and advanced services. The Element also calls for the improvement of
neighborhood serving retail stores such as grocery stores in West Berkeley.

Environmental Quality

Maintenance and improvement of environmental quality is a central concern of the
West Berkeley Plan. Environmentally oriented strategies are found throughout the
Plan--from buffers between incompatible uses in the Land Use Element to (automobile)
trip reduction in the Transportation Element. The Environmental Quality Element is the
focus of this concern, and incorporates goals, policies, and strategies on topics ranging
from air quality to hazardous materials to noise. The restructuring of the hazardous
materials program that has already occured begins to address many of the concerns of
the West Berkeley Plan.

Physical Form

West Berkeley's urban environment is a uniquely rich one within the East Bay. The
sections of the Physical Form Element--discussing Urban Design, Historic Preservation,
and Open Space respectively--propose policies and strategies to maintain and enhance
this environment's urbanistic richness. This Element develops a policy framework for
physical form which will support and enhance the implementation of the Plan's land
use and other policies.

Urban Design

West Berkeley will continue to be rebuilt and renewed over the next 15 years. The
Plan's Urban Design policies seek to assure that this rebuilding will occur in a
pedestrian-friendly, street-oriented, urban manner, rather than an automobile oriented
suburban one. Concentrations of retail stores at major intersections and transit hubs--
which the Plan calls "commercial nodes"--are particularly important locations for
creating urban activity. Commercial and industrial corridors along major streets can
also begin to take on a more urbane appearance. In addition, sensitive design can help
ease transitions where different types of uses--such as industrial and residential--come
together in this mixed-use area.

Historic Preservation

The mixture of buildings from many historic periods over the last century (and more) is
an important part of what makes West Berkeley's urban richness. The Plan's historic
preservation policies seek to highlight historic buildings and sites, educate the West
Berkeley and general public about them, and preserve them to the greatest degree
possible in an evolving area. New approaches, such as the designation of "Heritage
Areas"--where residents and property owners would work together voluntarily for
preservation and historic education--can help highlight areas of West Berkeley with
special historic significance. The Plan also discusses and supports broader publicity for
the rich ethnic and industrial history of West Berkeley, as well as architectural history.

Open Space

The West Berkeley Plan's open space approach seeks to link West Berkeley's open
spaces into a network of green spaces and corridors. The Plan emphasizes an areawide
effort at tree planting which can soften and humanize West Berkeley, and bring
neighbors together for a common goal. The Plan also supports improvements to
neighborhood parks. The Plan incorporates by reference the draft Aquatic Park Master
Plan, placing special emphasis on improving access to this underutilized open space
resource. The Plan recognizes the importance of improving the pedestrian and bicycle
linkage between West Berkeley and Waterfront.


Reducing the dependency of the West Berkeley transportation system on single
occupant automobiles is the primary thrust of the West Berkeley Plan Transportation
Element. The Element also seeks to improve circulation within and into West Berkeley
(especially around 7th & Ashby, where new streets may be developed), and to reduce
traffic congestion on West Berkeley arterials. There is also a need to make West
Berkeley an easier place for pedestrians and bicycles to get to and through--an area
where action is already being taken. An expanded rail station at University Ave. could
serve as a centerpiece for West Berkeley transit/transportation efforts. Reinstallation of
light rail on San Pablo Ave. is an uncertain but exciting possibility.

Housing & Social Services

The Housing and Social Services Element celebrates West Berkeley's role as the most
ethnically diverse area in Berkeley, and proposes policies which will help maintain that
diversity. To maintain this, it will be necessary to maintain a stock of lower cost
housing--especially rental housing, but owner-occupied housing as well. The social
environment of this affordable housing, including safety, supportive social services, and
other services continues to require improvement. The Element also supports the
continued development of live-work spaces for those who want this housing form, in
appropriate locations under appropriate standards.

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