The City of Berkeley welcomes and encourages public participation in the planning and development process. There are many ways in which to get involved. Most planning and development processes in Berkeley involve one or more commissions, taskforces, boards or another public body appointed by the City Council. One way to get involved is to apply to be a member of one of these appointed bodies. Link to City Clerk’s Commissions’ page.
The City’s development is guided by policies adopted by the City Council, such as the General Plan. The development of these policies almost always begins with a City Commission, task force or other process where the public is invited to participate. Public workshops are a common form of public engagement. Any upcoming workshops are shown on the Planning Department’s web page. At every meeting of an appointed commission, Board or taskforce, there is time set aside for the public to comment on any subject not already on the agenda for a public hearing. Please click on Commissions/Boards/Taskforces and then on a particular body for a schedule of its meetings. Finally, prior to recommending changes to ordinances or adopting new policy documents, there is a noticed public hearing on the recommended changes where public testimony is welcomed.
Development Project Review
Some types of development and uses are allowed “as-of-right,” meaning that no public review is required so long as the proposed project or use conforms to the requirements of the zoning ordinance. However, many proposed development projects or new businesses require some level of “discretionary review,” meaning they are subject to public notice to neighbors and a public hearing. When a project is subject to discretionary review, there are often numerous opportunities for public participation.
- Pre-Application Review and As-of-Right Projects: The City encourages anyone proposing development – large and small, home remodels or an office building – to begin by contacting their neighbors and tell them about the project. This is not required but strongly encouraged. You may be contacted by a neighbor or developer to hear about a project and we encourage you to get involved at the earliest possible time. Changing a project to respond to neighbors’ concerns is easiest at the beginning. Please note that not all development projects are subject to notice to neighbors. Although we encourage applicants to talk to neighbors even when a project is not subject to any discretionary review, it is possible that you may not find out about an “as-of-right” project until a building permit is issued and it is under construction.
- Application Review. Prior to submitting a development application subject to discretionary review, applicants must erect a yellow sign on the property proposed for development. After the yellow sign is erected, there will generally be an application on file in the Planning Department. Please note the address on the yellow sign, as this is how the project is tracked in the Department. You may find out more about the application by reviewing the list of Pending Zoning Projects or by coming into the Permit Service Center and reviewing the zoning file.
- Design Review. Some projects are subject to Design Review by the Design Review Committee. These are scheduled and noticed public meetings where comments may be taken during the public comment period, but are generally not public hearings. Please see Design Review Committee for a schedule of its hearing and a copy of its upcoming agenda.
- Public Hearings. Some projects can be approved administratively by the Zoning Officer. Others are approved by the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) (Use Permit) after public hearing. Any Administrative Use Permit can be appealed to the ZAB which will then decide, based on the merits of the appeal, whether to set the matter for public hearing. It is important to note the timelines for appeal of AUP’s, as failure to appeal within the timelines means that the project is approved and no further public process can occur. For Use Permits and for AUP’s which are set for public hearing after appeal, the public has an opportunity at the public hearing to voice concerns to the ZAB.
- Appeals to Council. ZAB actions can be appealed to the City Council. Again, meeting appeal deadlines is essential. The appeal should provide as much information as possible as to the basis for the appeal as the Council may choose to affirm the actions of the ZAB based on the written record, and not hold a public hearing. For those appeals scheduled for public hearing by the Council, the public will have another time to voice their concerns and the Council can take whatever actions it sees fit to take.
A majority of the Landmarks Preservation Commissioners or a petition with 50 signatures can “initiate” a structure to be a City of Berkeley Landmark or Structure of Merit (Landmarks Preservation Commission). The property owners’ approval of such initiation or designation is not required, nor is notice required prior to initiation. Once initiated, the designation process requires a significant amount of work from community members in documenting the historic significance of a structure prior to the LPC taking action on a proposed designation.
Once a property is initiated, a public hearing is required prior to any action to designate a property as a landmark or structure of merit. Either designation or failure to designate by the LPC can be appealed to the City Council.