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Conflict continues over Civic Center lot

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Wednesday May 02, 2001

The refurbishing of a paved area behind the newly renovated Civic Center building has alarmed park advocates who have been working to create a car-free transition to the park behind the structure. 

Parks and Waterfront Director Lisa Caronna said the current plan is to use the 40-by-250 foot area between the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center building and Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park as a 10-space parking area and a drive through for garbage, recycling and delivery trucks.  

Caronna said there is currently no approved plan that prevents use of the area for parking. Before renovations to the Civic Center, Berkeley’s City Hall, there were 22 parking spaces in the same area. 

Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Carol Thornton said she was shocked to hear there would be parking. Thornton is on the subcommittee that has been working for the last three years on a master plan for the park, which she said did not include parking behind the Civic Center building. The park is on the National Register of Historical Places as part of an ensemble that includes the Veterans Memorial Building, Old City Hall and the Berkeley Community Theater. 

City agency approval of the master plan, including approval by the City Council, has been delayed pending the outcome of a focused Environmental Impact Report evaluating conflicts between the plan and the historical status of the area. An EIR is a state-mandated report which requires developers to mitigate certain impacts of their projects on the environment. 

“I have to say I’m surprised the city didn’t deem it necessary to discuss the parking plan with us,” Thornton said. “It flies in the face of the three years of work we put into the park renovation plan, which never included any parking in that area.” 

Former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Lisa Stephens, who also worked on the plan, said the renovation design called for a transition area that would blend the building with the park.  

“The single thing that everybody agreed on was to unify the park with the building by eliminating the parking and putting in a plaza area of scored cement and landscaping,” Stephens said.  

Capitol Projects Manager John Rosenbach said no new pavement was added to the area. The existing pavement was sealed by a process called slurrying, which cost about $3,500. Rosenbach said the area was refurbished because of a pending open house celebration for the building. 

“We are finishing up and we had to do something to restore the area,” he said. 

Thornton said if the drive through is used for garbage, recycling and delivery trucks, it could create a hazard to park users, especially small children, because the public restrooms for the park will be in a building adjacent to the Civic Center building and on the other side of the road.  

Rosenbach said he had not heard safety concerns from any city officials. Caronna said the issue should probably be addressed. 

Interim Director of Planning and Development Wendy Cosin said the use of the area will ultimately be decided by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the City Council.  

If the LPC denies parking in the area, its decision could be overturned by the City Council, which could raise a conflict of interest because nine of the 10 parking spaces will likely be assigned to the mayor, vice mayor and seven councilmembers.