UC Berkeley shows city its newest plans for the
University Village project
UC Berkeley is several years into its plan to rebuild the aging University Village complex in Albany. Aged buildings, constructed to house shipyard workers during World War II, have been torn down and new apartment buildings erected in their place. Other buildings, built in the ’60s, are slated for similar upgrades.
The construction of new buildings at the village provoked a fair amount of protest from residents, who feared that rental rates at the traditionally low-cost complex would rise dramatically.
But it appears that the next phase of redevelopment at the village will not see any dramatic opposition – just a sigh from local activists who had hoped for something more.
The UC unveiled its new plans for the village Monday at the Albany City Council meeting. Their proposal, which is still in its very early stages, would involve the construction of commercial buildings and more apartments along San Pablo Avenue and Buchanan Street.
The presentation to the Albany City Council only conveyed the broadest strokes of the plan. The university has yet to begin the process of seeking developers for the site, and has no drawings or plans for specific buildings.However, UC officials promise to save some of the large eucalyptus trees that stand on the San Pablo side of the parcel, possibly to create a public park.
The area of the Village in question is the last remaining portion of the old Gill Tract – a 15-acre parcel – that is still devoted to agriculture. When UC bought the land from a horticulturist in 1929, the entire 100-acre parcel was a thriving East Bay nursery.
The UC plan is in tune with current efforts, at both the city and county levels, to reduce traffic and encourage human-scale development along San Pablo Avenue.
The city of Albany, which revised its general plan several years ago to address the question of redevelopment at the village, calls for precisely the kind of development that the UC is now proposing the avenue.
“We’re all looking at mixed-use development – commercial space, offices and residential units,” said Ann Cheney, Albany’s director of community development. “It’s part of an attempt to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk as much as possible.”
In all probability, the UC announcement marks the definitive end to a plan, long supported by food activists, to turn the remaining Gill Tract into a center for urban agricultural research.
In 1997, the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture, an ad hoc group composed of several well-known Berkeley groups, issued a proposal to develop a world-class center for urban agriculture on the tract.
Last year, BACUA held a series of meetings with UC officials to discuss the proposal. Members of the organization said Thursday that at the time, they thought they were on the verge of reaching an agreement. But halfway through the discussions, they said, it became apparent that the university had no intention of building the center.
Josh Miner, a former BACUA organizer, said that he suspected that the university was dealing with them in bad faith.
“There was a pretty dedicated group of people trying to work with the university on this issue, and their energy was – I think, intentionally – misdirected by the university,” he said.
Terrel Brand, a member of the BACUA steering committee, said Thursday that the Gill Tract was of historical importance in the movement for organic farming and alternative methods of pest control. Brand said that until the mid ’80s, it housed the UC’s Division of Biological Control, which was a pioneer in the field of Integrated Pest Management.
“The research at the Gill Tract was focused on completely non-chemical methods of pest control,” he said. “It’s a really important site for the development of IPM.”
“For the university to just dismiss this resource is just sad,” said Miner.
Though the Albany general plan does call for some preservation of open space in the area, it appears unlikely that the space required for a urban agriculture research facility will be left.