Mayor Shirley Dean outlined her vision of the city’s future Tuesday, which included a citywide conversion to solar power, creating affordable housing and a controversial 500-space garage under Civic Center Park.
In Dean’s sixth State of the City Address, she touted accomplishments over the last six-and-one-half years such as the emerging Arts District, the completion of the Public Safety Building and the refurbishing of the Civic Center building. But she also took the opportunity to note a complacency and lack of focus gripping Berkeley.
“I remind you tonight, our work is not over, as we face a slowing economy and weave our way through another year plagued by ideology and political gamesmanship,” she said.
Dean said one of the goals of her speech was to call for political unity. “I wanted to inspire people to come together on what’s best for the city,” she said. “We can accomplish so much if we just take a deep breath and work together.”
In a surprise unveiling, Dean presented drawings of a plan that would transform the historic Civic Center area by constructing a 500-space garage under Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
The $22 million project would reroute Martin Luther King Jr. Way though a tunnel from Allston Way to Addison Street. Also Allston Way would be closed between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street. Included in the plan’s design, which was drawn up by Director of Public Works Rene Cardinaux, was the daylighting of Strawberry Creek along the southern side of the park.
The mayor suggested funding the project through a partnership between Vista College, Alameda County Superior Court and the city.
The plan, which is supported by the Downtown Business Association, is expected to face strong opposition from environmentalists, transit-first advocates and preservationists. In fact, despite the secrecy surrounding the plan before the speech, several audience members held up signs during the mayor’s address saying: “No Parking in our Park!!”
Dean said energy will be one of her top priorities. She outlined an energy plan, which she and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek brought to the City Council, to ease energy costs and reduce consumption.
Dean challenged Berkeley residents and business owners to reduce energy use by 20 percent. “Oakland has set a conservation goal of 10 percent, San Francisco of 7 to 10 percent. Berkeley can do better,” she said.
She also strongly promoted solar photovotaic power. Dean said she is working with local banks to provide low-interest loans to residents who convert to solar electricity. Currently the California Energy Commission is offering a $3,500 rebate for homeowners who install the systems, which cost an average of $10,000.
“Solar technologies are projected in the next few years to reduce carbon dioxide emissions equal to the amount produced by 850,000 automobiles,” she said. “Berkeley should be the solar capital of the world.”
Dean also addressed housing, which she said is the biggest problem Berkeley faces. She said she is committed to meeting the housing goals set for Berkeley by the Association of Bay Area Governments, which calls for the construction of 1,269 affordable housing units by 2006.
Of those, 354 units would be for very-low-income tenants, 150 units for low income, 310 units for moderate income and 455 for “above moderate” income tenants.
“This is why it is important to support the proposal to build housing over the air rights at the South Berkeley BART Station,” she said. “Teachers qualify as low and moderate income and should have a priority for this housing.”
Dean indirectly addressed the homeless situation in Berkeley by referring to a letter written by a Berkeley woman who was described as a liberal, middle-income nurse who has worked with the homeless. The letter recounted an incident in Live Oak Park in which a cake, baked by a 10-year-old girl for a birthday party, was stolen from a picnic table by a person who was supposedly homeless.
Dean quoted the letter as saying “My husband and I have to borrow money to pay the $5,000 per year property taxes to have (Berkeley) be the homeless, mentally-ill capital of California and send our daughter to a high school that looks like Beirut and has permanent substitutes.”
Dean did not offer any specific solutions to the problem other than to refer to last year’s State of the City Address in which she said: “It’s time to create a city that provides the highest quality of life for every resident in all of our neighborhoods, a city that celebrates its diversity and efficiently, delivers a rich mix of services and activities that sets our community far above the ordinary.”
She also discussed ongoing problems of violence at Berkeley High School. She spoke of a series of incidents in which students were beaten after cardboard boxes were put over their heads.
She said she was in favor of increasing the number of uniformed security staff at the high school to 17 from the current 10.
Dean also discussed other goals such as creating a “world class animal shelter,” the purchase of a hanging sculpture made from handguns confiscated by Bay Area police and the importance of retaining the Berkeley Symphony with an “one-time infusion of $120,000.”