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By Tim Hansen
Friday October 13, 2000

Olson right: Gaia is too high 



Carrie Olson is right about the height of the Gaia building. If you go down to City of Berkeley Current Planning and ask for the plans, you can measure it for yourself. From the ground to the top of the roof it scales out at 116 feet. While you're there, you might want to look at a few other features. Start by counting the number of stories. I count eleven stories. 

You might then go over to zoning and ask to look at the zoning file for 2116 Allston Way (Gaia building). Be prepared, it is a big file. Go through it and find the use permit. There are three of them. You want the amended use permit dated 7/17/98. On the first page see that Kennedy only got permission for 7 stories. This is a long ways from the 11 we just counted.  

Also notice, on the same page, that Kennedy only got permission for a building height of 87 feet. At this point you might want to ask for the head of Current Planning to find out what is going on. Be prepared for a lot of half truths and misinformation. Ask for a copy of the letter dated October 2, 2000 responding to questions raised by Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) and by Clifford Fred. While you are at it, get a copy of the last use permit and a copy of the proposed building's elevations and floor plans. This is the easy part. Now the work begins. 

You will need a copy of the zoning ordinance which was in effect in July 1998 (BAHA has a copy) and a copy of the 1994 Uniform Building Code (find a contractor and ask). These are the rules Current Planning must follow for the Gaia building. Start with the zoning ordinance and look up the definition of “Story.” It is section 22.42. Now look at the plans and count the number of "stories" again. You will still come up with eleven. 

Look at the letter from the City dated October 2, 2000 and notice that they don't talk about the definition of story but they do talk about “height.” 

Look at zoning section 15.2.(b) which talks about height. Note that it starts with "Subject to other provisions of law.” The number of allowable stories is one such provision. Ask yourself why the City's October 2nd letter doesn't talk about stories. 

Pull out the 1994 Uniform Building Code and go to Section 507 - Mezzanines and compare this to the definition quoted in the October 2, 2000 letter. 

They are quite different. The letter makes it look like 50% of the room can be covered with a mezzanine, while the 1994 Uniform Building Code definition makes it clear that only one third of the room can be covered. Clearly the definition in the 1994 Uniform Building Code is the intended definition in the Use Permit, so lets go with that. Look at the floor plan for the retail space and confirm that isn't a mezzanine, that it is really two floors. 

Also, look at the “seventh floor loft” space and see that it also is really two floors.  

Since you are looking at the floor plans, look at the offices on top of the lofts. Back to the zoning ordinance, section 22.42 definition of story to see that penthouses used for purposes other than shelter of mechanical equipment or shelter of vertical shaft openings in the roof shall be considered a story. Count these offices as a story also. Look at the space for the elevator. Since it is not just to enclose the mechanical equipment, it also is a story. All in all, I count 11 stories. Something very wrong is going on here. 

Why should we care? We should care because over 290,000 square feet of office space has been permitted in Berkeley in the last 10 months with more foreseen in 2001. This is enough office space for about 2,000 workers. 

Where are these workers going to live? If the City of Berkeley and Piedmont developer Patrick Kennedy really believes there is a housing crisis, then why are they building more office space. As we saw, the tenth floor of the Gaia building is not housing, it is offices. 

We should care because the shadow studies shown to the public were for an 87 foot tall building. (These are in the zoning files you got the use permit from.) These studies indicated that Constitution Plaza would not be in the shade in the mornings. Shadow studies for the new 116 foot building will show that the buildings shadow will cut completely across the Plaza to the buildings on the West side of Shattuck Ave. This is very bad. The taller building doesn't add a single unit of housing, but it does substantially reduce for the roof top open space and it hurts the housing crisis by adding more office space. If you are downtown, on Alston and Shattuck, take a look at the Gaia building. The top of the wood forms for the columns are at about 68 feet. The building is going up another 48 feet to 116 feet. I think it is unacceptable.  

We should care because the process mandated by city law was not followed. Back to those zoning files. Try to reconstruct what went on. I believe that what you will find is that after the public part of the process, Current Planning and Kennedy entered into some back room dealing. 

The results are 116 feet and 11 stories. These actions by Current Planning greatly hurts the public process. How are we to know that the 5 stories, 50 feet that Kennedy is proposing for 2700 San Pablo won't end up 80 feet and 7 stories? Back to the zoning ordinance, see section 23.0 and 24.0 about enforcing the code. See section 1.20 of the Berkeley Municipal code for the penalties. Since Kennedy's building permit for 2116 Allston is not within the law it is clearly null and void. Construction should cease while Kennedy submits plans that are within what the City granted him in his Use Permit. Finally, it should now be clear why Kennedy is attacking candidate Carrie Olson in the press. He is trying to silence her criticism of the Gaia building process. It should also be clear why we need her on the City Council.  


Tim Hansen