SQUEAKY WHEEL: Berkeley Commissions Get to Work

Toni Mester
Friday February 10, 2017 - 10:44:00 AM

With the new City Council installed, fresh commissioners and their veteran colleagues are rolling up their sleeves for a busy year.

At the Parks and Waterfront Commission on Wednesday night February 8, staff presented the new T1 web page with a story map indicating the location of 33 potential projects that may be funded through bonds approved by the voters in November.

The projects fall into three categories from planning to construction with an estimate of the cost for each project. A description of the projects was presented to the Council on December 22. 

To ensure public input, three community meetings will be held in March and April, dates and places to be confirmed next week. The T1web page will list the meetings. The two lead commissions are Public works and Parks and Waterfront but ten other commissions are making recommendations. 

Some of the projects are well known such as the Berkeley Pier and the Rose Garden, while other infrastructure repairs are out-of-sight but essential such as irrigation system upgrades and repair of the Aquatic Park tide tubes. Many community centers need to be fixed-up, and drivers to the waterfront will be relieved to find that bumpy lower University Avenue is on the list. 

Former Marina manager John Mann wrote a jingle about that road: “The bumps you feel/beneath your wheels/so regular and annoying/hide the remnants of/the pier that was/none felt worth destroying.” 

The design for downtown landmarks Old City Hall and the Veterans Building will be considered as well as green infrastructure (GI) projects like bio-swales and permeable pavement. 

City staff projects that $500 million is needed for infrastructure repair, so the approved T1 bonds raising $100 million will not cover everything this round. Not every favorite project can get funded, but public input will ensure that all needs and priorities are considered. 

West Berkeley residential zoning

Revision of the R-1A zoning is under discussion at the Planning Commission, after two referrals from the City Council in recent years. Numerous appeals and complaints have shown that the zoning is simply not working. 

The Commission will continue to look at the development standards at their meeting on Wednesday February 15 at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 7 pm. The R-1A zone regulates building on approximately fifty residential blocks west of San Pablo Avenue and eight others in Westbrae around Gilman and Peralta. 

One relevant appeal is scheduled at the Council for Tuesday night Feb 14, a two-house project squeezed into a narrow parcel at 1737 Tenth near Delaware. One neighbor and Friends of R-1A, our support group, have appealed, claiming detriment from the two-story back house. The mass of the buildings and the placement of two parking places in the middle of the lot overwhelm the open space on the ground and intrude on the adjacent properties. 

It remains to be seen whether Councilmember Linda Maio will continue to accept this grotesque land use, as she did when she approved 1016 Jones Street, between 9th and 10th Streets. Homeowners in the R-1A zone should look at that construction site to grasp what can be built under the current rules. 

The Planning Commission is considering ways to fix the problematic standards and close the opportunities for abuse by lowering the height of the back house, requiring a variance for changing the set-backs, creating greater separation between the houses, and establishing a maximum square footage for the back house, in the case of larger lots. The smaller lots would still have the opportunity to build an accessory dwelling unit according to the recently enacted ADU ordinance.  

How did the current unfair allowances come to be? I have written a history on the R-1A zoning that is available in the ZAB supplemental communications files concerning 2212 Tenth Street. It’s a work in progress, but my research points to a 1991 ordinance that established uniform heights in all zones R-1 to R-3 but bypassed the Planning Commission in doing so. 

The Southside Neighborhood Consortium is circulating an unpublished paper about aligning Berkeley with best planning practices that addresses the lack of design standards for second units and other problems. It should be available to the general public soon. 

In the meantime, a good turnout at upcoming second house appeals, not only 1737 Tenth Street but also the upcoming rerun of 1310 Haskell Street would add momentum to the reform effort. 

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley.