Downtown Plan, Landmarks Committee Near Compromise

By Richard Brenneman
Friday December 22, 2006

While preservationists worry that a new downtown plan could give short shrift to landmark buildings in the city center, the planner hired to draft the document says not to worry. 

Matt Taecker told a joint subcommittee of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) that prevailing sentiment at DAPAC favors preservation. 

While DAPAC member Patti Dacey and LPC members Lesley Emmington said they were concerned that some of downtown’s smaller landmarks might be proposed as development sites in the new downtown plan, Taecker said, “I don’t think there are more than a few people at DAPAC who think that landmarks or structures of merit should be at risk.” 

Those are the city’s two principal classes of historic structures which the LPC can designate, both under the city’s current landmarks ordinance and under the new version passed by the council earlier this month and due to take effect in January unless backers of a proposed referendum on the measure generate enough signatures to take it to the voters. 

The joint subcommittee is working with Taecker and Architectural Resources Group, a San Francisco consulting firm. 

Meeting Monday night, the subcommittee devoted most of its session to a review of the historic buildings matrix and accompanying maps prepared under the supervision of ARG senior associate Bridget Maley. 

“I must say the matrix and the maps are not yet ready for prime time,” said John English, a retired planner and preservationist who had been a regular at DAPAC and LPC meetings, and has emerged as a de facto advisor to the group. 

The group’s recommendations will be considered at a joint meeting of its two organizational parents, and DAPAC will decide what to incorporate into the new downtown plan mandated by the settlement of the city’s lawsuit challenging UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). 

The university is planning 800,000 square feet of new off-campus projects within the city center. 

In a twist, the university announced this week that it will name a controversial new gym planned on-campus next to Memorial Stadium for Barclay Simpson, chair of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive board which is raising funds to build a major new museum and film complex on DAPAC’s turf on Center Street. 

As the meeting continued and more issues surfaces, members realized they needed another meeting of their own before they make recommendations to the joint DAPAC/LPC session scheduled for Jan. 17. 

In the end, the group voted to hold another session the week before the joint meeting. 

While much of the information Maley presented was drawn from surveys and other work prepared in connection with the existing downtown plan, the LRDP settlement enlarged the district’s boundaries—meaning that many buildings on the periphery of the new area weren’t studied in the same detail as buildings within the old boundaries. 

John English will act as an advisor when LPC members Emmington, Jill Korte, and chair Robert Johnson tour the area with Dacey or Wendy Alfsen from DAPAC. 

One results will be a map which will include buildings identified as significant in their own right, others which contribute to the historic character of the downtown, along with all pre-1941 structures, public and open spaces and “everything else.” 

“My hope is that the map will have a lot of white space,” said Johnson, referring to the color proposed for sites suitable for new construction. “We can do a lot of things without getting into the controversy of mucking around with historic buildings.” 


Photograph by Richard Brenneman 

Landmarks Preservaiton Commissioner Steven Winkel inks in a map that will help guide the creation of the section of the new downtown plan that will focus on historic buildings and their role in the city’s future.