The Case against R-1A

Victoria Fierce
3 min readOct 27, 2017


West Berkeley is trying to outlaw duplexes so we can have more McMansions. This is an unacceptable transgression, tantamount to direct class war.

What? Aren’t there already duplexes and apartment buildings in West Berkeley?

Yes. There are. Many of them are already illegal according to the city’s laws on housing. They are a “legal nonconforming use” — a subliminal state between worlds. When they too grow old and die, they’ll be knocked down. Turned into something else, just as long as that something else is a pair of single family homes.

Much of West Berkeley is zoned for “R-1A” uses. Here’s the law:

23D.20.020 Purposes

The purposes of the Limited Two-family Residential Districts (R-1A) are to:

A. Recognize and protect the existing pattern of low medium density residential areas characterized by reasonable open and spacious type of development in accordance with Master Plan Policy;

B. Protect adjacent properties from unreasonable obstruction of light and air;

C. Allow flexibility in the use of property for residential purposes by permitting two Dwelling Units on one lot under limited conditions.

D. In those portions of the District west of San Pablo Avenue, appropriately regulate the rear and side yards for the construction of a Dwelling Unit. (Ord. 6478-NS § 4 (part), 1999)

To summarize: the R-1A district currently allows for two units on one lot in certain circumstances. The city is looking to reduce this to only one unit on the advice of a small but vocal subset of the people who both live there and can make it to a 6pm wednesday night planning commission meeting.

East Bay for Everyone submitted a proposal that increased this to four units. It was a direct upzoning and ultimately — somehow, despite submitting it a month prior — never made it before the commissioners.

The next meeting is November 15th, North Berkeley Senior Center, 7pm. You should put that in your calendar to be there and give public comment on how bad this is and I will tell you why this matters.

The following table summarizes the proposed changes:

I’ll break it down so you don’t have to squint.

  • R-1A currently allows for two units per lot
  • Friends of R-1A want this reduced to one unit per lot
  • ADUs can still be built on either outcome, but the rules regulating the size of ADUs mean they’re only big enough to support one student or two really close friends.
  • Two units means two families, one unit and an ADU means one family and one lucky student.

Next Steps: R-1A will be heard at the Berkeley Planning Commission on November 15th. Email with your thoughts.

Here’s some suggested talking points:

  • The R-1A district already has a number of duplexes, triplexes, and apartment buildings; it doesn’t make sense to make those illegal to reconstruct if they burnt down or we had an earthquake.
  • Most homes in R-1A already sell for $1–$2 million long before these changes were proposed. Reducing the number of people who can live here is not about affordability, its about keeping families out.
  • The outreach for these changes have been insufficient. 90% of the neighborhood is not participating when showing up to the planning commission meetings is the only point of contact.
  • Downzoning will require a full EIR to illustrate that preventing new families from moving in does not generate extra vehicle trips from far flung suburbs.



Victoria Fierce

Hacker. Irritatingly loud. Volatile when wet. Organizer for @EastBayForward.