On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will consider a major amendment to its development agreement with Bayer. As a long-time resident who lives within a block of Bayer’s campus, I’m enthusiastic about their plans for our community and wanted to share why it will be a boon for West Berkeley and the broader East Bay.
Bayer has been an anchor for the East Bay biotech industry for decades and employs approximately 1,000 people. The workforce is diverse, with nearly 70% of employees identifying as African American, Latinx or Asian American. The jobs are diverse too. More than 60% of employees have just a high school diploma, some college or an associate degree.
The proposed development agreement would streamline review procedures for most new construction, allow for some increased heights for buildings to house modern biotech manufacturing processes, offer a balanced approach to parking and public transit, and increase open space along the perimeter of the campus. It also commits Bayer to investing over $33 million in the community.
The new agreement could potentially double Bayer’s direct employment, supporting even more jobs among regional building trades, suppliers, vendors and businesses. The Bay Area Council Economic Institute found that for each Bayer employee hired, on average, another job is created in the region.
My support for this agreement is not just about good jobs though: Bayer has also shown a sustained commitment to investing in the next generation of workers. As part of its initial development agreement with the city, the company funded the launch of Biotech Partners. I saw the program’s direct impact on the lives of my neighbors and friends, many of whom were unsure about life after high school. Today, the nonprofit continues to provide paid internships and mentorship support to students from communities underrepresented in biotechnology.
The $33 million in community benefits, including continued paid internships for students, is another great reason to support the proposed development agreement extension. As a graduate of Berkeley High School, I have seen the value of quality employers willing to engage with young people and prepare them for opportunities in family-sustaining careers. The injustice of generational redlining and disinvestment in West Berkeley has created barriers to opportunities and decision-making. We need community members, employers and organizations working together to create healthy pathways for the next generation.
Growing up in the flats, I felt a sense of connectedness to communities along the railroad tracks. Our southern migration stories were rooted in a desire for a better life. That desire remains true today. That’s why throughout the development agreement process, I have been a vocal advocate for dedicating a significant portion of community benefits to reviving the West Berkeley Fund. I am thrilled to see that included in the final proposal: Twenty percent of Bayer’s community benefits will go toward grants that support resiliency in the neighborhood.
I am excited for what this agreement can do to re-inspire this spirit of connection and address the socioeconomic conditions of our neighborhood. The funding is an important step in supporting the ongoing efforts in our community to ensure this is a healthy, thriving place for families and individuals.
It has taken extensive community engagement to achieve this historic agreement. That’s part of what makes Berkeley special, and we need more companies such as Bayer that take their role as a member of the community to heart. Hopefully the Berkeley City Council will see that as well and support this renewed agreement between the city and Bayer.
Denisha DeLane has more than 20 years of community-engagement experience on a variety of social justice, health advocacy and social service initiatives.
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Author: Denisha Delane