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Crosscurrents logo 2021

East Bay Express: Berkeley at a crossroads

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East Bay Express

On a recent weekday, Fourth Street between Bancroft and Allston ways in West Berkeley was mostly abandoned. Unlike the upscale stretch of shops and eateries on the other side of University Avenue, this section of Fourth Street, a former hub of West Berkeley's once bustling industrial and warehouse sector, is now an empty reminder of glory days gone by.

Doug Herst, who owns the property on both sides of this area of Fourth, once operated a successful manufacturing business here. Peerless Lighting, his family business, designed and produced energy-efficient lighting fixtures. But faced with stiff competition from overseas companies using cheap labor, the West Berkeley Peerless Lighting manufacturing plant closed in 2006.

Similar scenes, of course, have played out across the United States over the past several decades, as the nation's manufacturing base has eroded and jobs have fled overseas. West Berkeley is no different. Over the past decade or so, this area of the city has lost 1,500 jobs — jobs that, in all likelihood, are never coming back.

But Herst has a vision for how to bring this bleak strip of Fourth Street back to life. He wants to turn it into a vibrant live-work community, featuring an artists' colony with fifty affordable lofts for working artists, amid about three hundred units of workforce housing. The condos and apartments would surround artisan shops and green-tech businesses, including Peerless Lighting's still-thriving research division, so that residents could walk or bicycle to work. Known as Peerless Greens, the development also would include rooftop solar panels, and both a community garden and hanging gardens for residents to grow their own food.

"It's going to be a wonderful project," said Berkeley Councilman Darryl Moore, whose district includes the Peerless Greens property. "It really fits with our Climate Action Plan. It's about reducing greenhouse gases, while also bringing in jobs."

Read more at EastBayExpress.com.