Berkeley and the 9,000 Housing Units

On Tuesday, March 15, 2022, 5 to 6pm, the City Council will hold a workshop on how Berkeley plans to add an additional 9,000 units of housing by 2031 to meet state-required goals. These plans will become part of Berkeley’s Housing Element, required to be updated every ten years. See below to join.

One proposal before the Planning Commission calls for allowing 3-story 35-foot buildings by-right, that is, without applying for a permit or without having to notify neighbors, in residential districts. Another proposal would allow up to 5-story 50-foot buildings with a simple Use Permit.  

While City staff have verified that Berkeley is already zoned for, and can meet the 9,000-unit requirement under Berkeley’s existing zoning rules, I believe we should look to upzoning in the City to ensure the benefits of new housing are distributed throughout the City. Making our cities denser is also one step toward protecting the climate, but only if

  • housing is built for all income levels. Otherwise, many essential workers (such as grocery store clerks, medical support staff, school teachers) have to live further and further from job centers, defeating our climate goals and reducing equity; 
  • Buildings do not block out the potential for roof-top solar panels. Just today, I participated in a meeting with Deputy Secretary of the Department of Energy, David Turk in which he emphasized how critical rooftop solar is to greening our electric system and reducing GhGs; and, 
  • Lot coverage is not so great that Berkeley loses its trees and open spaces —a vital and cost-effective way of reducing the “heat islands” that can plague cities and worsen global warming and local pollution.

Berkeley currently has over 4,000 solar panels on rooftops with the number expected to double in the next year. Increasingly, solar is not the province of wealthy home owners. Affordable housing developers, churches, schools and municipal buildings in Berkeley all have solar, many of them along transit corridors and located throughout the City, as shown in this map

Studies by the City of San Francisco found that even a 10% reduction of sunlight on a solar panel reduces its output by more than 50%. At a cost of $15,000 to $20,000 for an average rooftop solar installation, such an investment could be rendered nearly worthless (not to mention the increase in embodied carbon) by allowing building designs that would block sunlight from reaching the panels. Given the scale of the climate emergency, we cannot afford to lose any renewable resource.  Further, through net-metering, solar delivers local clean energy at the neighborhood level without the need for long-range transmission lines that spark deadly wildfires. Solar is the key to achieving cost-effective zero-net energy and fully electric buildings through energy storage. Expanding our housing stock and preserving and expanding local solar is not a zero-sum game. We can do both. Adding design requirements to new buildings to address the issue of solar panels and heat islands would be part of and, in my view, a necessary part of what is known as “objective standards.”  Cities as diverse as El Cerrito – a leader in providing housing, including meeting 118% of its affordable housing target — San Francisco and Santa Monica all have objective solar standards 

City planners have indicated they will consider adding objective standards to the planning process but to date have not yet addressed these standards.   If you would like to speak to upzoning neighborhoods while advancing objective standards to protect solar, prevent heat islands or address other concerns you can call into the Council meeting on the Housing Element on March 15.       

To access the meeting remotely: Join from a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, or Android device:  Please use this URL To request to speak, use the “raise hand” icon by rolling over the bottom of the screen. 

To join by phone: Dial 1-669-900-9128 or 1-877-853-5257 (Toll Free) and enter Meeting ID: 872 4879 3756. If you wish to comment during the public comment portion of the agenda, Press *9 and wait to be recognized by the Chair. 

–Kate Harrison, Vice Mayor of Berkeley

For more information.

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