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General plan still considered lacking

By Ben Lumpkin Special to the Daily Planet
Friday February 16, 2001

As the March 1 deadline for public comment on the Planning Commission’s Draft General Plan draws near, some Berkeley residents are still criticizing the plan for not doing enough to reduce traffic congestion and control growth. 

“We don’t want to improve traffic flow on Ashby Avenue. We want to reduce traffic flow on Ashby Avenue,” said Ashby resident Becky O’Malley, criticizing the draft plan at a Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday night.  

A statement of community priorities intended to guide public decision making, the General Plan would replace the Berkeley Master Plan of 1977. The Planning Commission has taken public comment on the various iterations of the plan for the last year-and-a-half and hopes to submit its Draft General Plan to the City Council for consideration and adoption by May. 

The city released a Draft Environmental Impact Report detailing the potential environmental consequences of the Draft General Plan Wednesday. According to the report, prepared by LSA Associates, Inc., the traffic volume along Ashby Avenue during peak evening hours is among the highest in the city, with an average of more than 4,000 cars flowing past the Ashby and San Pablo avenues intersection in just one hour.  

The EIR predicts that, under the Draft General Plan, traffic at this intersection could increase by as much as 20 percent over the next 20 years. Many other intersections along Ashby could see increases in the 5-10 percent range during the  

same period.  

O’Malley said she and her neighbors already live with intolerable levels of noise and air pollution due to the street’s high traffic volume.  

According to the EIR, many other Berkeley streets that are already congested today would see traffic flows continue to grow under the Draft General Plan, including sections of Adeline Street, Alcatraz Avenue, Bancroft Way, Cedar Street, Dwight Way, Gilman Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Oxford Street. 

The city can mitigate this congestion with signal operation improvements, signal coordination, increased roadway capacity and programs that aim to reduce automobile travel in general, but the overall increase in traffic volume is all but inevitable, the report concludes. 

“This dismal EIR suggests that things are not going to get better and may very well get worse,” said Berkeley resident Gail Todd at the Wednesday night meeting.  

Andrew Thomas, a senior planner for the city, acknowledged at the outset of the hearing that Berkeley’s traffic situation “is going to get much, much worse” in the next 20 years. But Thomas said much of the increase would occur “whether you adopt this plan or not.” 

“A lot of it is regional traffic and there is not a lot you can do about it,” Thomas said after the meeting. Many commuters from neighboring cities use Berkeley streets to bypass congestion on the highways, Thomas explained. 

But O’Malley said this misses the point. The General Plan may not be responsible for increased traffic volume, she said, but it could do more to combat it. 

Todd said the Planning Commission should recommend removing some of the barriers installed in the seventies to divert traffic away from “residential” streets. Many of the larger streets the traffic is diverted onto are actually residential streets themselves, Todd said. 

“[The barriers] are creating little yuppie enclaves and the rest of us on these larger streets are supposed to deal with their garbage and pollution,” Todd said. 

Thomas said that elements of the Draft General Plan are aimed at reducing traffic congestion. The plan calls for increasing housing in the downtown area, for example, which Thomas said would allow more residents to walk to work, and more UC Berkeley students to walk to and from classes. 

“More and more people are driving to jobs or school because they can’t find housing, so traffic is getting worse,” Thomas said.  

But Berkeley resident and former Planning Commission member Clifford Fred said the draft plan calls for much of the new housing to be constructed by the university, thus seeming to endorse the its plan for enrollment expansion. Fred asked the Planning Commission to resist growth by the university. 

“Block after block, over the years, gets taken over (by the University),” Fred said. “What is needed is for the city to convince the university that it can’t keep growing in the city of Berkeley.” 

The Planning Commission will hold one more public hearing on both the Draft General Plan and the Environmental Impact Report at 7 p.m., Feb. 28, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. The Draft General Plan can be viewed on the city’s web site at, and the EIR should be posted on the site soon. A limited number of hard copies of both plans are available for review at the Berkeley Planning and Development Office, 2120 Milvia Street, Suite 300, Berkeley, CA 94704. 

Written comments on the plans can be submitted to the Planning and Development Office, or electronically to With general questions, call Karen Haney-Owens at 510-705-8137. 

The commission will review all public comment and draft amendments to the plans before submitting them to the City Council in May. 

“It’s going to be a big job over the next three months to wrap this up,” Thomas said.