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Council sends clear parking message Daily Planet Correspondent

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Correspondent
Thursday October 26, 2000

The City Council soundly rejected the mayor’s civic center parking plan at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of a more comprehensive plan that includes education, housing and a strong emphasis on alternative modes of transportation. 

The comprehensive plan passed by a 7-1 vote with only the mayor voting no and Councilmember Diane Woolley absent. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who co-wrote the plan with Councilmembers Linda Maio and Dona Spring, said he was delighted the plan passed and was surprised it won by such a large margin. He said the difference shows the city is ready to try new solutions to the parking problem. “The mayor’s plan screamed parking, parking, parking. Our plan considers education, housing, commuter checks and cost to the city,” he said. 

Mayor Shirley Dean said the approved recommendation is little more than a motion to sit and wait. Dean was especially critical of the plan’s component that directs the city to wait for completion of the Transportation Demand Management Study. The study, which cost more than $50,000, will present an analysis of traffic trends and available parking and suggest possible solutions. It is due within seven weeks.  

“That’s such a smokescreen I can’t believe it,” Dean said. “The study won’t tell you how much parking you need or where to put it.” 

Dean said her recommendation called for a two-pronged approach that would encourage transit and develop a plan for providing parking. She said that something needs to be done quickly. “This situation is a house of cards and parking is getting tighter and tighter and tighter.” 

It is undisputed that there is a shortage of parking for city employees around the civic center and it will get much worse when City Hall is re-occupied in late January. The question before the city is what direction it will take to solve the problem. The mayor, while giving a nod to a Transit First Policy, said a 100 percent transit workforce is impossible to achieve and there will always be a need for some parking and the city should determine the need and provide for it. 

But the other council faction said it’s time for the city to take a more progressive approach. They want to increase incentive for alternate forms of transportation, launch an education program that stresses the importance of using public transit and look into the creation of more affordable housing, so hard-pressed city employees and teachers, can afford to live closer to work.  

Worthington said the proposed parking lot on Oxford Street is an example. “If we build a parking lot at the Oxford Street location we lose the opportunity to create housing on the site,” he said. 

Councilmember Polly Armstrong voted for the comprehensive plan although she took a cautious approach to it. She said people’s lives are complex and the city can’t eliminate parking without having systems in place that will provide for emergencies and other necessities. She suggested the city make cabs available in case a city employee has a home emergency and has to leave work. 

“It’s easy for transit supporters to say leave the car at home and take public transportation but life is more complicated than that,” she said. “We need to humanize whatever parking or transit plan goes into place.” 

Maio, a co-author of the plan, also voiced caution based on a recent report by the city manager. The report, which painted a bleak picture of available parking, analyzed current parking conditions while various construction projects are ongoing and looked at future parking availability once construction is complete.  

“According to the city manager’s report there will be a permanent shortfall of 142 spaces in the civic center area after all construction is done,” she said, “That’s a lot of spaces and something we’ll have to be very aware of.” 

The Berkeley Police Association left no doubt it wants more parking around the new Public Safety Building. At last week’s meeting 20 off-duty officers made their views clear during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well as participating in some Berkeley-style protest chanting in the hallway outside the Council Chamber.  

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, a succession of speakers got frequent applause from the 30 supporters in the audience, when they spoke against the creation of more parking. 

Carrie Sprague was singled out the previous week by police officers as contributing to the parking problem. Sprague is known to walk the neighborhood near the Public Safety Building with a clipboard recording the license numbers of people who are parked in excess of the two-hour limit. She was heralded by speakers at Tuesday’s meeting. One suggested a huge statue of a woman holding a clipboard should be erected in front of City Hall. 

Robert Wrenn, chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission, said it was time Berkeley stop talking about transit programs and actually put one in place. There’s language in the 1997 Civic Center Urban Design Plan that calls for the city to encourage Civic Center employees to take public transit. But it was never aggressively pursued. 

“Every time I turn around someone is suggesting another parking garage. It’s time we put the same energy into transit.” 

Worthington added that according to financial reports from the two city-owned garages in the area there is only a parking shortage around lunch time.  

“This is not about parking, it’s about free parking,” he said. “If anyone who works for the police department can’t find a parking space they bring me their car and I’ll find a space for it. They’ll have to pay, though.”