By Elliot Lewis
Avis Worthington, “Battle Of Ocean View Drags On”
Image: The Berkeley Barb, 1974
|The West Berkeley Industrial Park redevelopment project was an initiative the Berkeley City Council first proposed in the 1960s which planned the demolition of a residential area in West Berkeley in order to create space for industry. This is the story of the nearly thirty year long struggle, using a wide variety of tactics, that community members led to successfully defeat this project.
In his award winning book on the East Bay, American Babylon, Robert Self describes the industrial wartime production boom that occurred during World War II in the East Bay, and the accompanying efforts by business and civic leaders to maintain such growth in the postwar years through urban renewal and redevelopment efforts. These efforts would shape the social, political, and economic spaces of the Bay in the post war decades. A tension that emerged at the heart of the discourse concerning the redevelopment of urban spaces was the different ways different actors conceived of these spaces. As Self poetically writes, for capitalists, “property can be conceived of as space that produces capital,” space that is structured and protected with legal boundaries, yet at the same time, “space is also a primary component of social imagination” providing the fertile ground for community growth. Within this framework we can view the heated struggles that would emerge over redevelopment efforts in the postwar years throughout the Bay Area, from struggles in the Mission and Fillmore regions in San Francisco to the infamous “white flight” in Oakland. The city of Berkeley, often overlooked in such discussions due to its location in the shadow of its larger industrial neighbors, was rocked by the flows of capital into urban residential spaces.
One of the defining issues of Berkeley city council politics during the three decades following the war regarded land use issues in West Berkeley over what would come to be known as the West Berkeley Industrial Park (WBIP) redevelopment project. Long time land use attorney David Mundstock provides an extraordinary first hand account of the struggle over the WBIP during the 70’s, in a book he wrote and has published online here. This book goes into great detail concerning the legal and political minutia surrounding this fight, as well as various other aspects of Berkeley City Council politics in the 1970’s, and I would highly recommend this source for more information. The history Mundstock provides was essential to my research, and in many places, goes into greater depth than is appropriate here.
The story of the WBIP begins in April of 1955 when the Berkeley City Council passed the Master Plan of Berkeley, a plan that aspired to guide the future of Berkeley for the next 20 years. This plan speaks of the need to balance “Conservation,” “New Building,” and “Rebuilding” in order to preserve the unique character and beauty of Berkeley while attempting “to secure for Berkeley her rightful place in the long range development of the San Francisco Bay Area.” It is in this plan that a Special Industrial Zone is created between 6th St. in the east; 4th St. in the west; Camilia St. in the north; and Dwight Ave in the south.
A plan for the Industrial Park from the Master Plan
Image: Berkeley Master Plan
Even this early, before specific redevelopment plans materialized, local community members began organizing to oppose the rezoning in order to protect this residential area from the threat of industry.
West Berkeley Residential-Industrial Committee, “Save Your Property Flyer,” 1956
Image: David Mundstock's Personal Collection
These early protests were fruitless, as plans for industrial development moved forward, and in 1963 the West Berkeley Industrial Park proposal was first formed by Republican mayor Wallace Johnson and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. This project proposed the demolition of the houses in an eight block region of the previously created Special Industrial Zone (between 4th street, 6th street, Cedar street, and University Ave.) by the Berkeley Redevelopment Agency (BRA) so that this land could be sold to industry at below market prices in order to keep Berkeley a competitive location for industry in Bay. The project was approved unanimously by the City Council in 1967, prohibiting residential uses in the industrial park, and thereby planning to displace 229 people from 66 dwellings.
After applying for a seven million dollar loan from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the BRA began acquiring land and resettling residents of the zoned region. By August of 1970, residents living in and around the WBIP zone organized to form the Ocean View Committee (OVC), the name “Ocean View” being a historic designation of West Berkeley. The goal of the OVC was not to destroy the project entirely, but was rather to convince the city council to shift the industrial park to the area west of 4th street, which was already industrial land, much of which was undeveloped. The Ocean View Committee argued this position brilliantly in an administrative complaint filed in 1971 against George Romney, the Secretary of the HUD at the time. They claimed that due to the housing shortage in Berkeley at the time, the cost of the project to taxpayers, and the ultimate private benefit to industry, the project would only be a cost to the people of Berkeley. They conclude, “The purpose of the Ocean View Committee is to save all homes not yet destroyed, and to secure federal and city assistance to rehabilitate our neighborhood, which has been partially blighted by the disastrous activities of the BRA.”
But in 1971, ignoring the complaints of the Ocean View Committee, the BRA demolished the first five houses in the new WBIP zone. This demolition didn’t occur without a fight, with dozens of protesters meeting the bulldozers. Ultimately three were arrested for civil disobedience. For the next few years the project was stalled by the efforts of those on the OVC, which brought repeated complaints against the City Council, including a lawsuit in 1972 that forced the city to perform an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before proceeding, and the passing of a 1973 Neighborhood Protection Ordinance by the voters of Berkeley, that required public hearings before demolition permits could be issued. Part of the EIS concerned effects on local communities, and contained a study that interviewed locals, asking how they felt about different aspects of the project. The study found the majority of respondents felt the project would be a detriment to the city prior to “renewal.” Yet ignoring the wishes of local communities, the BRA continued to push the project forward.
The Battle Over Demolition
In 1975, 15 houses were selected by the city to be considered for demolition. Several of the houses were in decrepit condition, due to fire damage and vandalism. However, some of this damage could perhaps have been avoided, if rehabilitation efforts had been initiated earlier on. As Mundstock points out in his critical history, “it was always to the BRA's advantage to let the houses deteriorate and be vandalized, because the image of decrepit, burnt-out shacks standing in the way of a tax-generating industrial park undercut the preservation movement.” The city ultimately determined that 7 of the houses were “sub-standard,” which meant they could be demolished immediately, while 8 were merely “deficient,” meaning they could perhaps be rehabilitated. Yet possibly due to coercive pressure from the Mayor, the City Manager, who had the authority to sign demolition permits, ended up deciding to demolish all of the 15 houses anyways, effectively ignoring the inspection results.
This is when some of the more remarkable actions by members of the OVC took place. David Mundstock volunteered to take legal responsibility for trying to stop the demolitions, hurriedly filing an injunction to have the immediate demolition stopped, until the houses were considered under the procedures established in the NPO passed in ‘73. The case went back and forth through various appellate courts, being flipped several times, before finally being stayed by the California Supreme Court. Even after Mundstock managed to protect those 15 houses, the BRA destroyed two other houses, receiving demolition permits the same morning of the razing to avoid public outcry. This led Mundstock to take further legal action, to protect all the houses within the industrial park zone, for at least some time. As Mundstock himself writes about the whole debacle: “In summary, I obtained nine separate judicial orders preventing demolitions in violation of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, 3 from the Alameda County Superior Court, 2 from the Court of Appeals, and 4 from the California Supreme Court.”
It was the combination of such phenomenal efforts by individuals such as Mundstock, and others on the OVC that kept the WBIP from moving forward for so long. In a struggle such as this one, where the fight is about stopping development from occurring, an effective strategy of opposition can be to just delay the project, until it dies, due to a changing political and economical climate. Mundstock reflects on this aspect of the struggle in the following clip, from an interview I conducted with him:
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Interview with David Mundstock by author, November 14, 2016
Ordinances P and Q
The next tremendous action by the Ocean View Committee was an effort in 1976 to push two voter ordinances, P and Q, which if passed would severely hamper the WBIP. Ordinance P would replace the independent BRA board with the City Council, which would open up greater opportunities for compromise and change on the project going forward, as the independence of the BRA had protected the project from being held accountable to the wishes of the people of Berkeley. Ordinance Q was a stronger measure that would amend the Industrial Park plan to protect residential housing in the area, reversing the City Council measure passed twenty years earlier that zoned the area as Special Industrial and return it to its residential zoning. Measure Q would further create a citizens group to work with the City Council to help plan industrial development in the area. In an astounding victory, both P and Q were passed - not by a small margin either. Mundstock notes the measures, “carried nearly every single precinct outside the hills, receiving an impressive mandate, 58-59% of the vote.” This sent a strong message to the City Council, and provided unprecedented legal gains for those opposed to the project.
However, the next few months would see an absurd turn of events, what Mundstock aptly describes as a “Kafkaesque” series of bureaucratic movements through the courts by the City Council in order to shut down measure Q. After P and Q were passed by public vote, the BRA sued the City Council, on the grounds that under state law only the City Council had responsibility over redevelopment, not the voters. However, measure P was upheld, thereby making the City Council and the BRA into one body. Yet the suit against Q was upheld, leading to the situation of the City Council suing itself as the BRA. This put Mundstock and the Ocean View Committee in an ethically difficult situation, because as Mundstock puts it: “If the Ocean View Committee now withdrew from the case, we would waive our right to later object or appeal. If we stayed in and actively participated, we ran the risk of legitimizing a collusive legal farce.” In order to resolve the situation, Mundstock and the OVC tried to dismiss this case, on the grounds that the plaintiff and defendant cannot be one and the same. In a legal case, where the Ocean View Committee attempted to intervene in the case, to dismiss it, they argued:
“It is contrary to public policy for one person to control both sides of litigation...An action not founded upon an actual controversy between the parties to it, and brought for the purpose of securing a determination of a point of law, is collusive and will not be entertained... It necessarily follows that the same party cannot be plaintiff and defendant in the same lawsuit, even though he sue in one capacity and defend in another.”
Yet, due to the significance of matter at hand, and the very intervening of the Ocean View Committee, which legitimized the trial (as Mundstock had feared) the dismissal was not allowed, and measure Q was killed. These legal proceedings were impossible for the Ocean View Committee to avoid, as absent this intervention, a direct appeal would not have been possible (as the Court would deem a failure to appear as a waiver of appeal rights), and the court’s decision would have stood by default. Hence the proceedings were essentially a legal sham that used technical maneuvering within the law, to carry out the destruction of a voter passed ordinance without hope for appeal- an action that clearly defies the spirit of the law, and the democratic legal process.
The Death of The Industrial Park
In 1977, the Ocean View Committee formed a Homebuyers Association, in an attempt to lobby the City Council to put the houses in the industrial park zone on the market, and they achieved a compromise, which protected some residential property in the area, to be sold on the market. In 1978, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association stepped in and pressed the City Council to consider the historical significance of the houses under consideration for demolition, further halting the project. This exemplifies the astounding diversity of parties that came together to use different legal means to effectively halt this project for thirty years. From civil disobedience, to voter ordinances, to appealing to the housing shortage in Berkeley, and finally the consideration of historical value of threatened homes, those opposing the WBIP took every possible avenue available to demonstrate to the city the destruction that would follow if the project went through.
After nearly 30 years of holds on the project, in 1979, the City was finally ready to sell a large portion of the industrial park to a company called ARA Laundry. However at the last minute, their efforts were scuttled by a brilliant act of investigative journalism, by Bill Wallace, for the Berkeley Barb, that revealed connections between the ARA and the mafia.
"Do Bribes and Mobsters Make Good Neighbors?" by Bill Wallace
Image: The Berkeley Barb, 1979
This article raised plenty of public outrage, and the Council decided not to go through with the deal. This would be the final deathblow for the West Berkeley Industrial Park Redevelopment Project, as the Council elected in 1979 would ultimately be opposed to the project. The immense stalling efforts of community opposition to the project had finally won out.
The history of the WBIP, and the OVC opposition to this project tells us much about strategies of resistance to the often destructive flows of capital through residential spaces. While each situation requires a different strategy, this case exemplifies the possibility of using the court system to push back against inconsiderate industrial development. However, just as much as the actions of the Ocean View Committee demonstrate the strength of the legal apparatus, the history of this struggle is also a reminder of the sometimes nefarious means by which those with power can abuse the court system to get what they want, as was clearly displayed in the overturning of voter passed ordinance Q. In the end, what allowed the struggle against the WBIP to prevail was the immense determination of all the community members involved. The persistent resistance, by those whose lives would be uprooted by the project, stalled development for thirty years, until the City Council, and the economy, no longer favored redevelopment. As Mundstock reflects on the success of the opposition:
“[The WBIP] had a kind of inertia going forward, even as its constituency dwindled to even less than the 1950s, when this was a republican project with a very conservative Republican city council majority, backed by the vast powers of the Chamber of Commerce. It was a different era, the project did not belong as something that continued on, but it had the power of inertia- something in motion, continues in motion, and that’s what it did. Lawsuit after lawsuit delayed it, but never killed it, and then it finally was killed, by a combination of factors, which included voters passing an initiative which said we want housing not the industrial park, a lack of a constituency for the industrial park, and a final attempt to sell a big block of land, which a great chronicle report Bill Wallace, exposed to be linked to the mafia. And that more than anything else was probably the death block, because if all they could do was sell land linked to the mafia, the council members supporting the industrial park essentially gave up, they surrendered.”
The death of the WBIP would have a lasting legacy in Berkeley, precluding destructive industrial redevelopment initiatives in the years to come. While land use issues still remain a pertinent point of political conflict today, the history of postwar redevelopment efforts certainly left a scar on the name of redevelopment, necessitating more careful consideration by developers of just who they might be displacing. To conclude, here is a clip of Mundstock offering some reflections on what he thinks is most important to remember regarding the WBIP, and how he has seen the ripples of it’s death, in contemporary discussions of redevelopment:
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Interview with David Mundstock by author
 Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and The Struggle For Postwar Oakland (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003), 26.
 Ibid, 18.
 Berkeley Planning Comission, Berkeley Master Plan, in Hathi Trust Digital Library, 1955, (Accessed 15 December 2016), 2-18  Berkeley Planning Commission, Berkeley Master Plan, 52
 David Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s: A History of Progressive Electoral Politics (Self-Published Online: 1985), Chapter 9,(Accessed 15 December 2016).
 Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 9
 Ocean View Committee vs. George Romney, Administrative Complaint, 1971, Box 1978.52, Berkeley Historical Society, 1.
 Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 9
 Department of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Impact Statement, 1973, Box 1978.52, Berkeley Historical Society, 100.
 Mundstock Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 9
 Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 10.
 Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 11.
 Redevelopment Agency v. City of Berkeley 1978 Cal. App. 3d 158 (1978).
 Mundstock, Berkeley In The 70s, Chapter 15
 Bill Wallace, “Do bribes and mobsters make good neighbors?”, The Berkeley Barb (1979), Independent Voices, (accessed 15 December 2016), 1-3.
 Interview with David Mundstock by author.