THE FUTURE of Berkeley's downtown will be debated at the ballot box on Nov. 2.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and others are backing Measure R, a philosophical ballot item designed to build support for a plan Bates insists will make the downtown "one of the great environmental places in the United States."
The City Council placed the measure on the ballot after council members rescinded a plan approved in 2009. Critics said that approach was flawed because it allowed for too many tall buildings and not enough affordable housing in the downtown area.
Measure R would serve as a guide to the council on future downtown land-use decisions, but it would not be legally binding.
It envisions a maximum building height of 60 feet except for two residential buildings and one hotel built to a maximum height of 180 feet and two smaller residential or office buildings of 120 feet.
New buildings would be required to meet international "green" standards for energy savings and emissions.
Builders would be required to offer car sharing, bike parking and transit passes to residents who would have to rent parking spaces separate from their apartments.
The plan would get more people living in and visiting the downtown area instead of driving to other areas and polluting the air, Bates insists.
Critics, including City Councilman Jesse Arreguin and some neighborhood groups, say the plan does not go far enough in preventing high-rise construction and would extend the downtown into surrounding neighborhoods.
We agree that Measure R is not the right approach.
Real change in any commercial area is driven by economic forces, and government legislation can do little to change societal trends that determine which businesses thrive and which do not survive.
Any visitor to Berkeley's downtown will see a score of attractive new apartment houses and complexes that have been built during the last decade due to demand for housing in what many consider a desirable city.
While the downtown boasts good restaurants, theaters and other destination attractions, many traditional Berkeley businesses like Cody's Bookstore have closed up shop or had to move away.
If the council is serious about keeping the downtown vital, it should concentrate on curing some of the area's chronic ills, like crime, aggressive panhandling and the lack of parking, all of which affect both residents and visitors.
City officials are elected to carry out the will of the people who elect them and that could change from year to year despite what is advocated in a voter-approved plan.
With no method of enforcement, we wonder why the council placed the item on the ballot at all.
Was it possibly to build support for a specific point of view that could be used as political ammunition against any future council that disagreed with the plan's approach?
Don't waste your time. Vote no on Berkeley Measure R.