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Letters to the Editor

Saturday June 02, 2001

Corp yard still noisy, polluting 



Almost a decade has elapsed since a small group of West Berkeley residents living around the city’s Corporation Yard came together to protest the impacts of the vehicle maintenance facility on the community. This public outcry was directed towards the maintenance facility’s traffic, fueling station, and the almost complete absence of any environmental protections.  

Topping the list of community concerns were issues of air quality, chemicals and hazardous waste storage, and storm water pollution controls. Public Works argued that management was actually environmentally pro-active and blamed the  

operational impacts on the rundown eighty-year old facility. However, local residents found out firsthand that the facility’s age was just part of the problem.  

In April 1992, while on a tour of the facility, the community witnessed a street sweeper illegally dumping the liquid portion of its street collection into the Yard’s storm drain, a clear violation of the Clean Water Act. This public incident, though quite embarrassing for city staff, reinforced the neighborhood’s contention that the time had come for changes in both the facility and its municipal maintenance activities.  

Over the next several years, Public Works met regularly with the neighbors to address the operations of the vehicle facility. However, few changes actually occurred. Residents should have realized early on in the community process that the Yard meetings were being used to silence public discussion.  

Neighborhood involvement was reduced to little more than a series of public relations meetings while Public Works waited politely for residents to talk themselves out and go away. And so they did, but the environmental compliance problems remained. 

The 1992 sweeper dumping incident also revealed to the community that such Corporation Yard activities require a Federal discharge permit. Moreover, Berkeley was, and is, a member of Alameda County’s storm water program. One of the program’s central components is that of municipal maintenance activities and best management practices for environmental protection. The county program responded by both reprimanding Berkeley and encouraging the city to move forward in modernizing its maintenance operations. The choice, since that time, has been Berkeley’s.  

Unfortunately, the city’s choice, like other county storm water members, has been to view this area of capital improvement as a very low priority. This has only reinforced public criticism that the county’s storm water program amounts to little more than revenue enhancement for the city. 

Two weeks ago, the Corporation Yard was cited for polluting the storm drains in the Yard. The Notice of Violation made public the fact that there had been prior notices for corrective actions dating as far back as 1995. The citation, written on a rainy day, was linked directly to the antiquated and inadequate protection and containment of sand, asphalt, hazardous wastes, equipment and contaminated soils on site. It should be noted that the Yard’s EBMUD discharge permit is currently out of compliance for this same reason. From a management perspective, this long-term Public Works failure to comply with environmental regulations is outrageous.  

Last November, Berkeley’s Public Works celebrated being the first city in the state to receive an accreditation for excellence by the Public Works Association. It’s not surprising that the accreditation team, as it toured the Corp Yard, apparently overlooked these obvious shortcomings. It should be remembered that environmental protection is a relatively new mandate for Public Works activities here and across the nation. The time has come to fully capitalize an upgrade of Corp Yard activities and storage areas. Let’s do it right. Being responsive to environmental protection and compliance requires real commitment and cash. It’s really not an option. Today, it’s the law! 


L A Wood 



Don’t build parking under Civic Center 


Mayor Dean’s proposal to put underground parking beneath Civic Center Park at Martin Luther King Jr. Way is a bad idea that will increase congestion, waste taxpayer money and damage the environment. Claiming the scarcity of downtown parking justifies the proposal, the mayor implies that those opposing the idea are acting punitively toward drivers. Although I drive and would welcome additional parking I oppose the mayor’s proposal. During construction the project will decrease the availability of parking, increase traffic congestion, disrupt the Farmers Market, destroy trees, reduce access to the park, increase noise levels, and pollute the air with diesel exhaust and particulate matter.  

Construction is the problem, not the solution. Excessive downtown construction has eliminated dozens of parking spaces. Parking and access to several businesses, are suffering as a result the library retrofit and Gaia project. When completed new construction seems to shrink available parking. This was the the case when the mayor and City Council voted to spend a quarter million dollars on downtown “improvements,” that destroyed dozens of trees and added concrete “bulbs”, which eliminated parking spots on University Avenue. 

While an underground garage would add some parking to the downtown area we need to ask at what price. How much would it cost taxpayers? How many trees would be destroyed? What impact would it have on the Farmers Market? What effects would trucks, bulldozers, cranes, jack hammers and tons of building materials have on noise levels and the environment? What effect would the garage have on the park above? Trees, plants and grass that are sustained through contact with the earth would instead be planted atop a concrete structure that would permeate the soil with fumes from auto exhaust. How would this pollution affect the health of young children that play in the park? What type of vision is this for a park that sits aside a Farmers Market, and is the annual staging area for Earth Day festivities and dozens of other celebrations?  

The solution to scarce parking is not to hide the problem underground. In the immediate future a moratorium on excessive downtown construction would preserve precious parking space. Construction blocks visibility and access, causing retail stores and restaurants to loose business. Berkeley should create a system of frequent shuttle busses to major shopping areas. The City Council should work with BART and AC transit to give proof of mass transit travel, and encourage merchants to provide private incentives to people who bicycle or utilize mass transit. Dedicate one street for the exclusive use by bicycles. 

Long term solutions such as the creation of a City-wide AC transit pass are an excellent idea. But the Council must wake up to the reality that AC transit provides deplorable service. Simply stated, if buses ran frequently and served commuters well, fewer people would be using automobiles.  

The Council should also place a bond measure on the ballot to build a comprehensive Berkeley-wide light rail system. By raising funds to go it alone Berkeley may prod AC transit into acting on the long talked about plans to create a regional light rail system.  

For too long drivers in this City have been pawns in a political game that reduces the availability of parking. Those who favor development use driver frustration to gain support to create parking facilities.  

Those who oppose automobiles think punishing drivers by reducing parking will force them to abandon their cars.  

Both approaches have failed miserably. Long term planning that reduces the need for automobiles, rather then quick fixes like building more parking, or punishing drivers by making it difficult to park, is what’s needed to reduce automobile traffic in the City of Berkeley.  



Elliot Cohen