The Daily Planet omitted the letter writer’s name when it published “Playing that density song” on May 29. We are reprinting it with the author’s name – ed.
Playing that density song
Another day, another soliloquy from Richard Register. Another moving tribute to the glories of density and the energy-consumptive dangers of sprawl.
I especially loved the timing of the most recent hymn to “diverse pedestrian and transit centers.” It was printed the day after a Zoning Adjustments Board public hearing on taking a retail space right at the corner of San Pablo and University and converting it to office space, which requires a variance.
The Zoning Adjustments Board voted for it, with one no vote and one abstention. Thirty-five of the merchants who own businesses at or near the corner of University and San Pablo signed a petition opposing the office space, because if you take a chunk out of the retail potential of a commercial area, the whole district gets the hit. People want to shop in a place where they can buy tuna, get their shoes fixed, grab a video, and pick up shoelaces without driving all over town.
The residents who signed the petition are the hard-pressed people living in perhaps the last honest neighborhood in Berkeley, and perhaps the oldest.
The area along San Pablo Avenue used to be a favorite drive decades ago because of its tree-lined views and pedestrian bustle, the place where retail, industry, and residential uses dovetailed and the rail lines brought everything and everyone together.
We recently lost our pharmacy, our shoe store, and our stationary store. One of our best antiques stores is about to have to leave, and would have loved the visibility of the retail space.
The two non-profits who may move in if the appeal fails are undoubtedly groups which give valuable service to the Berkeley community, but are in no way capable of generating the walking trade and filling the daily needs of an ever more dense “traffic corridor” constantly taking the weight of the large, dense housing developments which no one seems to care are only geared for the $30,000-and-over crowd.
Where was Richard Register and the Ecocity Builders when this latest small-scale assault on the potential for a pedestrian-serving neighborhood came down? Where were the consultants who gave us the crayons for our moment of participation during the University Avenue Strategic Plan workshops? The Green Party?
Somehow the crew that warbles for density is never around when the variances are handed out that reduce the liveability of the neighborhood, that piece by piece, shot by shot, reduce it to scrap.
The chains move in, the Mom and Pops move out, or sell out to chains. I listened to two representatives from the non-profit groups argue that they just couldn’t find anywhere else to move. I work in a non-profit, too, in a loft in the back of a showroom right next to a Bart Station which has two empty spaces which rent for less than the retail space in question. Office space is going wanting all over town.
The people in our neighborhood have a smaller chance today of the ice-cream store, the shoe repair shop, the gift shop, and the bookstore. But count on it, in another few weeks or so, you’ll hear that density song again.
Everybody’s playing it.
Beth El’s good deeds relevant to zoning
In his second letter to Daily Planet in the past two weeks against Congregation Beth El’s building project, Phillip Price says he can’t understand why Beth El’s contributions to the community should be part of the discussion about building a new synagogue.
I can’t figure out why this puzzles him.
If his proposed new neighbor on Oxford Street were an organization that does NOT contribute greatly to the community – or that some people believe does not contribute to the community – that would certainly be a central issue in the discussion.
The fact that Beth El is devoted to doing good deeds or “mitzvot” is just as relevant, because that makes it exactly the kind of place Berkeley’s zoning laws welcome into residential neighborhoods.
Mr. Price alleges that alternate building sites have been suggested to the congregation. As far as I know, there have been only two references to alternate sites.
One was in the Environmental Impact Report on the building plan, which found no appropriate alternate sites in Berkeley. The other was a statement – some might call it a demand - by a speaker at one of many hearings on the project suggesting that this long-time Berkeley congregation should move out of town, possibly to El Cerrito.
Mr. Price, no one supporting Beth El has ever accused opponents of the project of being “bad.” Obviously, there are good people on both sides of this issue. But there are clear and substantial differences in perspective.
Beth El’s perspective is that it can build a beautiful future landmark appropriate to the neighborhood while at the same time preserving Codornices Creek and other natural features of the site. The Environmental Impact Report on the project, the Zoning Adjustments Board, and hundreds of Berkeley citizens, including some neighbors of the site, agree with this perspective.
Council should demand changes to Beth El plans
The following is part of a letter sent to the city council on the question of 1301 Oxford St.
This letter is to urge you to vote against accepting the Beth El plans as they now are.
After almost a year and a half of writing letters, emails and attending meetings, I feel that my and other neighbors’ concerns have been barely acknowledged in this situation: namely the too-large building proposed, parking, traffic safety and the covered creek.
I have lived on Summer Street for 31 years. I know very well the ebb and flow of the traffic in this area. I am also well acquainted with Temple Beth El. My children attended camp Keetov. I have attended bar and bat mitzvahs at the temple. Many of my friends and acquaintances are members of Congregation Beth El.
I have nothing personally against the temple nor the people who attend it. But I do object to such a large building with such a large congregation in that space and in this neighborhood. I have no evidence that any good faith measures were made to look for other possible sites.
There is still no real regard as to the impact on the neighborhood of 250 plus people coming to temple on Friday evenings and for high holidays (more people then) and bar and bat-mitzvahs.
Although there are clearly many improvements to the proposed building plan which deal with noise, parking problems etc, there simply is not enough parking in this area to accommodate that many people. Many of us in the immediate surrounding neighborhood do not have garages, let alone driveways, due to the slippage and earth movement under our streets.
Here are my specific concerns and suggestions:
• The building planned is simply too large for the space and the neighborhood.
• If the driveway were built at the south end of the property many problems with the current design could be solved.
• Provide a shuttle for both religious and non-religious events.
Mary Ann Brewin
Letters to the Editor
Berkeley Daily Planet
The contributions of Beth El members to the youth, elders and people in need in our community are many and commendable, but what has this to do with paving an oak woodland in the Codornices Creek corridor, and driving hundreds of cars into a neighborhood searching for parking ?
There must be Beth El members, maybe their children, who would be thrilled to see steelhead trout swimming up the creek, to see owls perched in the oaks, to walk down Berryman Path and not see rows of parked cars. The natural beauty of 1301 Oxford can be preserved and enhanced by undergrounding the proposed parking and locating the access road south of the creek corridor.
The degradation of the Oxford/Rose/Spruce neighborhood by traffic congestion will be avoided by Beth El’s commitment to a fuel cell-powered electric shuttle service for congregation members who cannot reach the synagogue on foot, and who will feel fortunate to have transportation when in a few years gasoline will cost $5 a gallon.
Allowing Codornices Creek to be daylighted on Beth El’s property, allowing the oaks and bay trees to grow without the threat of being cut down, and minimizing traffic congestion and pollution would then be even more contributions by Beth El members to our community.
The Stadium Light issue really isn’t between permanent and temporary lights, but why is CAL or any school in California scheduling any outdoor athletic event at night?
Given the Energy crisis, free sunshine is about the only incentive California has to offer a broadcaster. High energy costs, coupled with potential blackouts should send Fox and other broadcasters and their revenue off to other states.
As a near-daily user of Berryman Path, a former member of Beth El temple, and a frequent creek cleanup participant, it seems to me that there’s a compromise solution to the Beth El / Codornices Creek controversy. It relies on the historical accident of Berryman Path being legally a street. Because of this, the path’s slice of land is unusually wide - 20 feet, while most of Berkeley’s paths are more like 10 or 5 feet. According to project maps (Alternative Parking 1 and 2), Beth El’s proposed parking and drive-through area just barely overlaps the 60-foot-wide creek corridor. So, my
proposed compromise: The city deeds over Berryman Path to Beth El. Beth El moves the parking area 20 feet north, daylights the creek, builds a 5-foot-wide walking and biking path next to the creek, and gives the city a permanent easement for public use of the new path.
Beth El would still have to make some other changes in their plan, for instance moving the fenced perimeter and building at least one pedestrian bridge over the creek. However they would be getting a large chunk of extra land for their trouble, which seems like a good deal. Also, this idea doesn’t solve any of the non-creek-related objections to the project, but my impression is that those objections are secondary and Beth El has already done a reasonable job of addressing them.
I hope all involved parties will consider this idea seriously.