OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Superior Court judge on Tuesday reworded part of a Nov. 4 Berkeley downtown zoning ballot initiative, after finding a reference to reduced height limits to be "not accurate," and the use of "significant" to describe new requirements for certain new buildings to be "not neutral."

But Judge Evelio Grillo upheld the rest of the wording approved by the Berkeley City Council in June, finding references to changes in historic resource determination, energy-efficiency standards, permitted uses, parking requirements, prevailing-wage requirements, and hours for serving alcohol to be "accurate and neutral," or at least "adequately" so.

Jesse Arreguin and four co-plaintiffs, acting in their capacity as registered Berkeley voters, had sued to change the wording of the initiative. Arreguin, who is a Berkeley city councilman, had accused the compiler of the ballot language, Mayor Tom Bates, of partisan advocacy in cherry-picking details and failing to mention supposed community benefits, and thus casting the initiative in a negative light.

Bates, in an interview with this newspaper in early August, had characterized Arreguin's criticism as "a lot of hot air."

The council-approved ballot question had read, in part:

"Shall an ordinance amending Zoning Ordinance provisions for downtown Berkeley be adopted to: reduce height limits; impose significant new requirements for new buildings over 60 feet ...?"


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Grillo ordered that part changed to:

"Shall an ordinance amending Zoning Ordinance provisions for downtown Berkeley be adopted to: establish new requirements for new buildings over 60 feet ...?"

The rest of the wording is unchanged: "Shall an ordinance ... eliminate current historic resource determination for Green Pathway projects; establish a Civic Center Historic District overlay; amend LEED requirements; change parking requirements; restrict some permitted uses; change prevailing-wage requirements for workers in specific categories; and reduce hours of operation for businesses selling or serving alcohol?"

Arreguin could not immediately be reached for comment about the ruling.

In an email statement, Bates said: "I do not object to the judge's changes in the ballot question, which are relatively minor. The text remains an accurate and neutral summary that gives voters a clear description of a complicated, 28-page initiative that has left many people confused."

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.