BRT, Parks, Southside Evoke Heated Response

By Richard Brenneman
Friday February 15, 2008

Southside Berkeley residents came to the Planning Commission Wednesday to call for more parks and protest Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). 

And one, attorney Christopher Lien, came also to repeat his call for regular attendance at commission meeting by a City Council member—as mandated in the commission’s own enabling statue. 

Last month Lien presented the commission with a copy of the city ordinance establishing the commission, which in-cludes the requirement that a councilmember attend its meetings and serve as liaison. 

When Lien asked what actions had been taken to comply, Principal Planner Alex Amoroso replied, “I’m not sure there’s been any action.” 

Commissioner Susan Wengraf told Lien, “My understanding is that the city clerk is in the process of researching the question,” adding that the council has never designated a representative. 

“This is very troubling to us because it seems to us you are not taking your mission seriously,” Lien replied. 

But it was another city ordinance, Measure L, the 1986 initiative that mandates the city to acquire and maintain two acres of parkland for every thousand residents in each census tract, that drew the attorney’s attention to the commission’s review of the Southside Plan. 

Since the plan was enacted as a city priority ordinance “and after paying taxes for 22 years,” he said, Berkeley’s 11,000 Southside residents still don’t have a single acre of parkland, much less the 22 acres mandated by law. 

Michael Katz tied in another controversy to the plan, AC Transit’s proposal to install a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service down Telegraph Avenue from Bancroft Way to San Leandro. 

Katz says his earlier advocacy of the project had been based on a light-rail version of the system, and he has changed his stance. Instead of clean rail, he said, the transit service will run diesel-fueled buses, empty for much of the day, alongside the BART system “to take advantage of a federal subsidy.” 

Bruce Kaplan, manager and co-owner of Looking Glass Photo & Camera on Telegraph, said the elimination of parking along the heavily traveled street would be a disaster for Southside businesses. 

Scott Tolmie, a south Berkeley resident, said notices hadn’t been given to many residents and businesses, including Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. 

BRT, he said, would create havoc for car and truck traffic. 

Doug Buckwald tied together the plan, BRT, missing parks and another item on the agenda: UC Berkeley’s plan to build a three-story “infill” addition to its law school, replacing its southern park-like courtyard with a building to house classrooms, storage and a restaurant. Two underground floors would be topped with one floor above ground, capped by a planted roof. 

The project “violates the basic principles of the Southside Plan,” he said, and violates the spirit of Measure L by taking away a publicly accessible space of greenery. 

John English, another Southside resident, said he was saddened to see the loss of the courtyard. 

Michael Walensky, a Blake Street resident, faulted the plan’s partition of land- use zones, which he said could lead to major apartment projects being built adjacent to single family homes. 

“I’m calling on you to protect us,” he said. 

Linda Burden said the student population of the area had risen dramatically since the plan was first drafted, “and most of these students have cars.” She also urged commissioners to “Honor Measure L. Don’t permit more development until we have some of these parks we’ve been paying for for 20 years.” 

Bob Viener asked commissioners to modify zoning boundaries south of Telegraph. “We want less density, not more,” he said, adding that he agreed with the critics of BRT’s proposal. 

The plan’s original draft was created in 2000, three years after the joint city-UC Berkeley effort began. 

The Planning Commission draft was completed a year later, then amended in 2003. The project has since bogged down in the drafting of alternatives to be considered in the environmental impact report required by state law. 

Principal Planner Alex Amoroso said planning staff will conduct a more thorough review of the plan prior to the launch of the environmental review process. 

As for BRT, the proposal will be the subject of an April 9 joint session of the city’s planning and transportation commissions.