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Letters to the Editor

Friday November 17, 2000

UC Students deserve more  

Recreation space 


I work in the University of California’s Planning Office, but I am also a long-time and permanent resident of Berkeley and a constitutent of Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

Mr. Worthington is wrong to focus on building housing on the Underhill block itself. This is a polemical position that is not grounded in either good planning or genuine service to his constitutents. 

From both a planning and neighborhood perspective, the best use for the majority of the Underhill block is as recreational open space for students, particuarly the thousands of students who already live on the surrounding blocks and the nearly 900 students who will live in new housing the University is planning to construct in the immediate vicinity. 

Currently, 30,000 UC Berkeley students have the use of only one recreational playing field (Kleeberger Field, north of Memorial Stadium).  

It is desparately important that students regain the large field space that used to exist on the Underhill block. This is exactly what the University is proposing. Underhill is the one site in the Southside where a large playing field can be built without without clearing land and buildings. 

When the old Underhill Field existed, it was used literally night and day by thousands of students who lived nearby and played soccer, touch football, softball, and other field sports there. 

Building a substantial amount of housing on the Underhill block would eliminate the opportunity to create a large multi-purpose field there. There are plenty of other sites in the immediate vicinity where the University, or private housing providers, can and are planning to build more student housing. 

If Mr. Worthington wants to do some tangible good for his student constitutents he should ask the City to pay some attention to student needs in its recreational and open space planning and its parks budget. 

Berkeley's “student neighborhoods” are completely underserved by city park facilities and, as far as I know, not one dollar of city funding goes to any recreation program targeted at the active young adults who are UC students. For example, Willard Park — the City-owned park that is closest to to the homes of a large number of Berkeley's student residents — is primarily designed and managed for the benefit of its non-student neighbors, with facilities for uses like young children's play and dog recreation that are least likely to be of benefit to undergraduate students. 

The City's proposed General Plan also contains no meaningful proposals for any recreational facilities or programs for UC students or new parks anywhere near the UC campus, although UC students represent perhaps one-sixth of the resident population of Berkeley, and probably a higher proportion of the city's physically active inhabitants. In fact, the General Plan goes in the other direction and demands that the University make its recreational facilities more available for non-student community use, which would create even more crowded conditions for students seeking recreation. 

I am not suggesting that the City take on all the responsibility — or even the bulk of it — for UC student recreation, but it should at least pay some attention to the recreational needs of those thousands of students who make their home in Berkeley. Support for the University's plan for a replacement recreation field on the Underhill block would be a good place to start. 

If any other resident community in Berkeley were being ignored in this way by the City, we would hear no end of protest. However, since those affected are UC students, the City is notably silent. 

Steven Finacom 



Citizen’s working group improves Southside Plan 


UC planner David Duncan, in his letter to the Daily Planet (October 28-29), mistakenly states that the Planning Commission's current efforts to put together the Southside Plan are “... contrary to the initial agreement between the City and the University.” 

In fact the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the University explicitly recognizes that the Southside Plan is an amendment to the City's General Plan, and that its adoption requires approval by the City Council, not the University. The MOU also states that “the Campus will acknowledge the plan as the guide for campus developments in the Southside area.” 

University staff had an unprecedented amount of involvement in preparing the first, staff draft of the Southside Plan. After that draft was made public, the Planning Commission — the agency officially charged with preparing the General Plan and all area plan amendments to the General Plan — took over. Hearing a great deal of citizen criticism of the staff draft, the Commission convened a series of “working group” meetings to evaluate and revise the staff document. 

The working group meetings were well attended by a diverse group of students, neighbors, developers, merchants, street artists, bicycle advocates and others. While the initial draft contained a lot of good background information, its policies mainly reflected UC and City staff priorities, while ignoring or failing to address adequately a number of important issues that concern Southside residents and stakeholder groups. 

Citizens were allowed to have only perfunctory involvement in the preparation of the first staff draft. At staff-run workshops, they were relegated to the role of audience members who were limited to three-minute testimonials with no opportunity for dialogue. By contrast, the working groups gave citizens the chance to get involved in detailed discussions of policies and proposed zoning changes. 

The draft Southside Plan that is now emerging from the working group process clearly improves on the first draft. It articulates a broadly supported consensus that addresses student demands for more housing close to campus, while recognizing the need to minimize traffic and other undesirable effects on neighborhoods. It calls for making housing the priority for vacant and underutilized sites. At the same time it supports the preservation of historic resources in the Southside. 

No doubt UC will not like every policy in the Southside Plan that the Planning Commission prepares and sends to the City Council. But the Planning Commission's charge is to act in the public interest, not to rubber-stamp University policy. The Commission will take UC administration concerns into account, but it will give equal consideration to the needs of students, neighbors, merchants, street artists, bicyclists, transit users and other stakeholders. 


Zelda Bronstein 

Planning Commissioner 


47-unit housing development is good for the city 


I am writing to correct the mistakes included in the letter from Edwin Allen Bish II regarding the Jubilee Courtyard Apartments at 2700 San Pablo Avenue. First and foremost, the proposed four-story design does not require any variances. The project is in complete conformance with the City of Berkeley’s zoning ordinance for San Pablo Avenue and the West Berkeley Plan. This is but one of the many reasons why city planning staff recommended that the project be approved. In response to Mr. Bish’s question "Why can’t Mr. Kennedy design a building that meets the current standards for this area?" We have and it does. 

Mr. Bish’s claim that the developers have said “take it or leave it” about the design of this project is simply wrong. The non-profit and for-profit project partners have met numerous times with neighborhood residents (although Mr. Bish did not attend). The developers have proposed three dramatically different design options for the site. However, we were unable to work out a compromise plan for the project due to the neighbors’ refusal to consider supporting a four-story building at the site.  

We believe that Berkeley cannot solve its housing crisis if new buildings on major commercial streets and state highways are restricted to the same height limit that applies in the city’s single-family neighborhoods. And we are not alone in this belief. 75 percent of Berkeley’s voters approved Measure D in an effort to preserve open space throughout Alameda County. The residents of this city know that if we intend to save our farms and parklands, we must provide housing for our children and grandchildren in our existing cities. The residents also know that we need to provide more affordable housing, more housing for the disabled, and more housing near transit. For all of these reasons the four-story project at 2700 San Pablo Avenue is the right thing to do.  

Jubilee Courtyard Apartments is supported by numerous groups including the Greenbelt Alliance, Urban Ecology, the Conservation Land Group, local community-serving churches, Affordable Housing Associates, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Resources for Community Development and East Bay Innovations, a non-profit that helps developmentally disabled individuals find affordable housing. 

We continue to believe that a four-story building at 2700 San Pablo Avenue is appropriate. All properties adjacent to or facing the site are zoned to allow four story buildings. The mixed-use neighborhoods to the west of the site allow three-story buildings as do the residential neighborhoods to the east.  

While it is true that 2700 San Pablo does not “respect” the vacant store fronts, abandoned gas stations and auto body shops that currently line this portion of San Pablo Avenue, it is clear that it conforms to and does not exceed the zoning and plan for the West Berkeley area.  


Christopher Hudson 

Project Manager