Berkeley Ends Exclusionary Zoning

Add another city to the growing list who have banned exclusionary zoning. At the end of February, Berkeley, CA, adopted a resolution calling for the end of exclusionary zoning by 2022. The city council passed the resolution unanimously, suggesting that additional legislation and regulatory change to follow has strong support from the body.

This resolution is a significant victory for a city which, despite its reputation for being a left-leaning politically, has a legacy of entrenched support for single-family detached housing units. Berkeley was among the first municipalities in the nation to specifically designate a neighborhood for exclusively single-family home construction. Historically, proposals for duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes have been nearly impossible to pass. Since exclusionary zoning’s passage in 1916, the policy has segregated the community and prevented people of color from buying or leasing property in wealthy and white neighborhoods, especially in east Berkeley.

Advocates point to an increase in public engagement as essential to countering the vocal anti-housing-production NIMBY advocates. Specifically, students at the University of California-Berkeley, who are among the primary victims of the city’s lack of affordable housing, began to attend land-use meetings and strongly support proposed housing developments. For example, at a 2019 hearing about an 18-story apartment building, every student speaker backed the project.

Additionally, groups such as North Berkeley Now!, South Berkeley Now!, and East Bay for Everyone started educating and mobilizing non-students about Berkeley’s racist and elitist housing policies. Both groups expanded their work from building housing around BART (train) stations to a larger discussion about why so many Berkeley neighborhoods banned new apartments. Their use of lawn signs and Twitter resulted in more supportive Berkeley residents speaking up at city council and land-use hearings.

Other cities—Minneapolis, Grand Rapids, Cambridge, Portland, and Sacramento—have also successfully utilized these advocacy strategies to pass up-zoning legislation. All five cities built broad political coalitions around affordable housing and engaged in education efforts to enact these sensible zoning changes that will ease upward pressure on rents.

“Berkeley’s real message in passing this resolution is that grassroots organizing – both around public hearings and local elections – really matters,” said Randy Shaw, author of Generation Priced Out and a Berkeley resident who has long called for zoning reform. “It’s critical for housing advocates to continually work to expand support for inclusive and anti-racist housing policy.”