Berkeley's most successful real estate
developer says he has the answer for Berkeley's traffic, parking and
Three specific city streets could "easily" accommodate 4,000 new
units of housing, says prominent developer Patrick Kennedy.
"Berkeley could solve its housing crisis by building more housing
on Shattuck, University and San Pablo," he says.
Kennedy, responsible for much of the recent, noteworthy
construction in Berkeley, says he also believes increasing the
city's urban population will actually decrease traffic and parking
"I think dispersion is the (city's) problem, not overpopulation,"
he says. "If Berkeley had more housing Downtown, it would have fewer
people driving to school and driving to work."
The recently adopted housing guidelines of the city's General
Plan call for exactly that—more housing Downtown and along the major
transit corridors. Kennedy says he wants to be the one to lead the
new housing push.
He founded Panoramic Interests in 1990 and has since completed
nine projects in Berkeley, accounting for a total of 219 residential
Kennedy's company uses a "mixed-use" model of development. In
addition to housing, his last six projects have included a
restaurant, a youth radio station and an employment center for the
Kennedy's projects have become increasingly more ambitious. His
most recent is the Gaia Building, Downtown's first new high-rise
since the completion of the 13-story "Power Bar Building" in 1971.
The Gaia Building best represents Kennedy's mixed-use model, he
The bottom two floors of the building hold a cultural center,
which includes a 140-seat theater devoted to showcasing local
Kennedy was allowed to build seven stories instead of just the
five permitted by the city's zoning codes because of a "cultural
bonus" for building the theater.
The building also has a parking garage that stacks 42 cars into
14 spaces using hydraulic lifts.
A business-grade T-1 ethernet line connects each of the 91
apartments to the Internet. Kennedy says this will encourage tenants
to work from home—boosting the building's environmental reputation.
Many of Kennedy's opponents contend that he bends the city's zoning
The Gaia's rooftop combines a garden patio and observation deck
with Panoramic's business offices. Because of the elevator shafts
and the business office, it could be interpreted as an eight-story
building—one story more than Kennedy was allowed.
Councilmember Kriss Worthing-ton says Kennedy has received
approval for projects from the Zoning Adjustment Board and then made
changes after the fact.
"If he would simply follow the law, he would not be such a
controversial fellow," Worthington says.
Worthington's closest ally on the council, Councilmember Dona
Spring, says she agrees Kennedy has a "reputation for pulling fast
ones." She also says Kennedy alienates many of the residents around
University and San Pablo avenues because he ignores their concerns.
But she says she supports Kennedy's projects overall because of
their proximity to public transit and their cultural venues. She
said she appreciates that they add apartments to housing-starved
"I know a lot of students live (in the Gaia Building), and it's
very handy for them to be so close to campus."
Spring says she would like to see Kennedy provide more affordable
Twenty percent of the Gaia's apartments are below market rents
for those who meet low-income qualifications.
Berkeley law requires that 20 percent of all new apartment
buildings be set aside for low-income residents. Kennedy says that
restriction makes the economics of developing in Berkeley very
"I don't know many businesses that could give away every fifth
product at a loss and stay in business," he says.
Much of Kennedy's success thus far has been in assembling a large
enough coalition to squeak his projects past the many commissions,
neighborhood groups and elected officials.
Environmentalists have signed on because of his projects'
proximity to mass transit.
His last four developments have been within a few blocks of the
Downtown Berkeley BART station, which, along with the many AC
Transit bus lines that run past it, forms the city's public transit
The building's proximity to BART, several cross-town bus lines
and UC Berkeley allow many residents to live without a car. Only 19
of the building's 237 residents own cars, Kennedy says.
Tenants can rent a car on an hourly basis out of the building's
garage from the nonprofit organization City CarShare, which offers
two green Volkswagen Beetles out of its fleet.
Kennedy has also been involved in Berkeley's disabled community.
His ARTech building, under construction on the corner of Milvia and
Addison streets, will provide office space for Computer Technologies
Programs, a nonprofit organization that provides services to the
Kennedy has faced strong opposition from the Landmarks
Preservation Commission, which he says is "half-full of rabid
He blames them for obstructing potential development by
landmarking buildings to prevent construction.
Landmarks Preservation Com-mission member Becky O'Malley makes no
secret of her dislike of Kennedy.
Calling him "greedy," she says his buildings are
"undistinguished" and "add no charm to the cityscape."
Rather than new development, O'Malley says she would rather have
old buildings be remodeled for new uses, a process she calls
"Adaptive reuse is always more environmentally sound. It uses
less new materials. The highest form of recycling is reuse," she
She points to the Fourth Street area of Berkeley as a better
model of development—where old and new architecture were combined to
create the city's most popular retail district.
She also doubts the value of building in Berkeley's Downtown.
"The Berkeley Downtown is more apparent than real," she says.
"It's like the old joke about Oakland: There's no there there."