November 9, 2023

Policy Champion – Elizabeth Redman Cleveland, Chief Strategist for Sustainable Growth, City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development

Elizabeth Redman Cleveland is the chief strategist for sustainable growth with the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development. She led the city in changing its land use definition of Research and Development in 2022, making it more inclusive to reflect the work Berkeley startups are doing in labs and offices. She has worked tirelessly to bring together many different departments within the City of Berkeley to introduce and advocate for Keep Innovation in Berkeley, a legislative package that aims to ease procedural and zoning barriers to retain and foster innovation. The Biocom California policy team has worked closely with Liz on both initiatives. She has a deep knowledge of the industry and understands better than anyone that having clear guidance and working toward streamlining processes will help keep and grow the life sciences in Berkeley.

Liz, tell us a little bit about yourself:

I am the chief strategist for sustainable growth with the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development, a team within the City Manager’s Office. I also manage the Berkeley Startup Cluster, a collaboration between the City of Berkeley, UC Berkeley, Berkeley Lab, and local business associations and startup accelerators to ‘make Berkeley a more vibrant, accessible, and equitable place for startups to launch and grow.’ My work spans a range of industries and business types; for example, I work regularly with green businesses, women entrepreneurs, biotech startups, manufacturers, and other technology companies and industry networks. I also cover a range of topics, from running our #DiscoveredinBerkeley business marketing campaign, to organizing networking and educational events, to managing our department’s communications strategy, to informing local tax and land use policy.

In general, I use my past cross-sector experiences and skills to develop partnerships, engage stakeholders, conduct research, facilitate conversations, and manage projects that ensure socially and environmentally responsible economic growth in Berkeley.

While my current focus is local, I have worked on industry cluster and policy development projects in multiple U.S. states, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and bring nearly two decades of experience outside the public sector to my current role in local government.

What led you to work on ‘Keep Innovation in Berkeley’?

Berkeley City Councilmember Rigel Robinson’s office reached out to my department, the Office of Economic Development (OED), to provide input on his Keep Innovation in Berkeley referral, given the years of work my office has done working with tech, biotech and other innovation industry businesses. It was an opportunity to share all the learnings we had gathered in previous years while supporting innovation companies as part of the Berkeley Startup Cluster’s mission to make Berkeley a more vibrant, accessible and equitable place for startups to launch and grow. In fact, the Berkeley Startup Cluster’s workplan had a specific objective to help create more high-quality commercial office spaces and wet labs in Berkeley, and Councilmember Robinson’s work on this topic provided the opportunity to address many of the inconsistencies and challenges associated with Berkeley land use regulations that can make it hard for companies to feel confident that they will be able to build out (or grow into) a Berkeley lab or R&D facility in a timely, cost-effective manner.

The referral’s recommendations are not modeled after one specific city’s land use policies, but rather we looked at many other nearby cities where R&D is taking place as examples. Some of these included Emeryville, Alameda, Hayward, San Leandro, San Francisco, and San Diego.

What roadblocks have you encountered working on this policy and how could they be overcome in the future? What were some resources or people that helped you ultimately achieve this policy change?

The biggest roadblock is that OED, despite contributing inputs to the policy referral, is not the department responsible for implementing the land use policy changes that have been requested by the Council referral. Creation (and implementation) of new land use policies is the purview of the Planning Department and Planning Commission, which are currently busy addressing many other high-priority projects (e.g. related to transportation, housing, specific plan updates, and other state requirements).

Thus, OED understands that the Planning Commission doesn’t even have this topic on their agenda to consider for the remainder of this year (or next), so we are likely at least two years from the policies being changed in such a way that will make it quicker and more straightforward for R&D companies to locate in Berkeley commercial corridors beyond the areas where they are already explicitly permitted in West Berkeley.

The Keep Innovation in Berkeley policy changes haven’t happened yet. But we have successfully worked with the Planning Department, Councilmembers, and many members of the local innovation ecosystem to update the city’s land use definition of ‘Research & Development (R&D)’ to be more reflective of the broad array of R&D uses utilized by companies today, which was one step in the right direction.

What is it about this industry that makes you want to support it?

The life science industry is solving some of world’s most significant societal and health problems and provides high-quality jobs for people with a broad range of skills, from those with Ph.D.s to entry-level positions in shipping and receiving or sales to those with technical skills, such as those needed for equipment maintenance. We love knowing that the research and innovation required to help people live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives is happening in our city— and seeing biotech or other R&D companies occupy underutilized spaces, whether those be industrial facilities in West Berkeley or vacant offices near the UC Berkeley campus.

What is it about Berkeley that makes it a good place for life science to grow and thrive?

Berkeley affords a great quality of life for its residents and its workers, providing access to an incredible number of restaurants, public parks, and cultural amenities. Employers can find a highly educated population and connect with researchers on the cutting edge of science at UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Companies located in Berkeley are in close proximity not only to these preeminent research institutions but also the nearby Bay Area life science hubs in Emeryville, San Francisco, Alameda, and the greater East Bay. Plus, with all the new R&D facility investment that has taken place in recent years, there are plenty of office and wet lab spaces of all sizes for companies to conduct research and bring their products to scale.

What other policy opportunities are there that the city could pursue to help life science?

In general, OED seeks to support the creation of policies that make it easier for us to achieve our mission to help businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, and community organizations access services, feel welcome in Berkeley, and thrive. Specifically, with regard to life sciences, we’d like to work on any policies that improve clarity on our business licensing and permitting processes, such that businesses operating or investing in Berkeley can feel confident that our city will be a good place for them to operate and grow.

With all the new R&D facilities either currently leasing, under construction, or being planned, we’d like to work to get these facilities occupied and/or built so that we’ll have more life science jobs in our city!

How can the industry or Biocom California help Berkeley flourish?

Biocom California should continue to host events in Berkeley that bring together the smart minds behind our innovative industries, advocate for policies that increase the ease of doing business in Berkeley, and help connect life science companies with the resources they seek, whether those be physical spaces, human capital, equipment, or new technologies and IP. The industry, with Biocom’s support, should continue to innovate, invest, hire and pursue goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion, so they contribute to equitable development in Berkeley. For example, we’d love to see more life science companies host tours of their facilities for local high school students as part of the STEM CareerX Day series we organize in conjunction with the CSU Institute for STEM Education, or sign up to share professional experiences or mentor students during the STEM accelerator program we will do next spring with RePicture for local university students!