The question before DAPAC Wednesday night was whether to give the elephant in the room its own corner or simply treat it as part of the furniture.
The committee charting the future of downtown Berkeley also showed signs that it wanted to take responsibility for writing a key section of the document away from city staff and assign it to the group’s own members.
The metaphorical elephant much discussed Wednesday is UC Berkeley, and the “room” is the Downtown Area Plan (DAP) now being drafted with the assistance of the advisory committee—hence the “AC” in the acronym—which faces a November deadline for completing its work.
The new plan will be created specifically to address the university’s plans to add 800,000 square feet to its already considerable off-campus presence in the heart of the city, the result of the settlement of a city lawsuit challenging the university’s long range planning document for its growth plans through 2020.
City Planning and Development Director Dan Marks and Matt Taecker, the planner hired to work on the new document with university funds from the settlement, presented a draft outline of the document Wednesday.
“There’s no UC element, and that boggles my mind,” said Gene Poschman, a city planning commissioner who is often regarded as city’s preeminent “policy wonk.”
An element is a specific section of a plan focusing on a specific facet of development, and elements often cover such areas as transportation, design, land use, public safety and historic preservation.
“What UC said to us from the beginning was that they want to be treated to some degree as the rest of the city,” said Marks. “They don’t want specific development standards for UC.”
“It’s a joint plan,” said Jennifer McDougall, a university planner who has attended DAPAC meetings as an observer. “I don’t know why if it is a joint plan that there would be a special UC element.”
“A UC element would be largely duplicative of other elements of the plan,” said Taecker.
When committee member Linda Schacht joined the call for a UC section, she raised the pachyderm analogy “because it’s really the elephant in the room. It’s a great elephant, but it’s an elephant,” she said.
When other members joined the call, Marks implored the committee to hold off on a formal vote pending further discussion. “UC feels they are part of the city,” he said. “They fit in everywhere in each of the sections” and shouldn’t be singled out.
Jesse Arreguin, who along with Poschman was the target of a recent council ordinance imposing term limits on key city commissions, joined in the call for a UC element, noting that the committee had already formed a subgroup dealing with UC plans for the old state Department of Health Services building west of the campus and north of University Avenue.
In response to Marks’s pleas, no vote was taken Tuesday, but Jim Novosel, one of the committee’s newest members, seemed to sum up the prevailing sentiment.
“It’s like we’re a city next to an ocean,” he said. “And if we were next to an ocean we would not ignore it,” noting that the university is, in fact, not part of the city but a legally separate jurisdiction.
No vote was sought, though one reason may have been the absence Wednesday of some of the most stalwart members of the bloc which has repeatedly steered the committee in new directions against the wishes of staff and chair Will Travis.
Poschman pointed out another element typically found in plans that was missing in the staff outline—housing.
“The housing element to me is one of the hearts of the plan, if not the heart,” Poschman said, focusing on the nature of housing as well as who can and cannot afford it.
“Good point,” said Marks.
“There’s also no economic development element,” Poschman said, though Marks said the same concerns were dispersed throughout other sections of the outline.
An ongoing theme throughout recent discussions has been sustainabilty, and members agreed with Juliet Lamont that the plan should not only contain a separate sustainabilty element, but that each of the other elements should include a section addressing the issue as it applied to they particular concerns they address.
Lamont also called for a special section in the land use section of the plan focusing on the development of Center Street between campus and Shattuck Avenue, a concern echoed by Novosel.
“Our job is to give you the ideas we believe in,” said Novosel, an architect and former planner. “How do we want UC to develop along Oxford? How do we want Center Street to develop? I really want to talk about what I’m going to be leaving for my children.”
Committee member and Planning Commission chair Helen Burke recommended that the Center Street section should include the results of her commission’s task force on the university-backed hotel planned for the northeast corner of Center and Shattuck Avenue.
Billy Keys and Maria Gallegos-Diaz both called for giving more emphasis to public safety, which had been addressed last in the outline and conjoined with social services, and Arreguin argued that social services might be better addressed in the absent housing element.
The committee has a massive amount of work remaining if it is to complete its task by November—a date specific in the settlement of the city/UC lawsuit. If the committee takes longer, the university can penalize the city by subtracting funds from the total stipulated in the agreement.
“The only way to speed up the process is for DAPAC to organize itself into subcommittees” and starting writing out specific elements, said Burke. Dorothy Walker, a committee member who is also a retired UC Berkeley administrator, raised the lone voice of disagreement.
Burke also called for public hearings so that Berkeley residents could express their concerns before DAPAC finishes its work, a suggestion backed by Arreguin, Lamont and others, though Novosel said the hearings that the document would receive before the planning commission and city council would be sufficient.
The committee is currently scheduled to focus on land use and transportation over the course of its next three meetings.
“We need to hear from the public,” Burke added.