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City Council names new planning director

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Monday August 06, 2001

Austin’s assistant planning director, Carol Barrett, will take the reins of Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development in the fall. The appointment was approved by the City Council at its July 24 meeting. 

“Carol Barrett is a seasoned professional who is extremely well regarded by her peers from all over the country,” said Acting Deputy Director Vivian Kahn. “Berkeley is very fortunate to get somebody of her caliber. She really knows her stuff.” 

Berkeley’s planning department has 70 full-time employees and is budgeted at $8.5 million for fiscal year 2001-02. The department is responsible for managing the city’s current and future development, while ensuring environmental safety, harmonious neighborhood development, aesthetics and functionality. 

Planning’s Division of Current Planning is often put in the difficult position of having to reconcile community needs and desires with state codes and local zoning laws. That job can be tough in Berkeley, according to planning officials, because there’s a high level of sophistication among residents and a tradition of civic participation. 

“People are passionate about their neighborhoods and developers are often passionate about their projects,” said Acting Director of Planning and Development Wendy Cosin. “People feel that way everywhere but in Berkeley it’s a little more.” 

The planning department’s subdivisions include Toxics Management, Current Planning, Advance Planning, and Building and Safety. The various divisions oversee a multitude of functions related to development projects such as issuing permits, inspecting projects at various stages of construction and planning and managing the city’s storage and disposal of toxic waste. 

Barrett has been working as a city planner since 1974. She has been with the planning department in Austin, Texas, for 10 years. Currently she is the assistant director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department.  

Originally from Miami, Fla., Barrett received a masters degree in city planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is well respected among her peers and was among the first class of College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a organization created in 1999 to honor the lifetime achievements of city planners. 

She recently completed a book entitled “Everyday Ethics for Practicing Planners,” which she said will be available by the end of the year. 

She and her husband Gary, have been married for 25 years. They have two sons, Craig, a junior at the University of Texas in Austin, and Andrew, a sophomore at UC Berkeley. 

Barrett will be taking over from Cosin, who was appointed to the post 18 months ago when then director, Liz Epstein took a four-month maternity leave. Epstein chose not to come back, which left Cosin at the helm while the city searched for a new director. Cosin will return to her previous position of deputy director when Barrett starts Sept. 10.  

Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development has been in the center of several land-use and development controversies in recent months including the proposed Beth El synagogue, school and social hall at 1301 Oxford St., the mixed-use, four-story development at 2700 San Pablo and the mixed-use, four-story development at University Avenue and Acton Street. 

Despite strong opposition from neighborhood groups, all of those projects were approved by either the Zoning Adjustments Board, overseen by the planning department, or the City Council The approval of the proposed projects has caused some neighborhood groups to suggest the planning department has become an advocate agency for developers by shepherding their proposals through the city’s planning process. (The proposal for 2700 San Pablo Ave. was withdrawn by the developer and will be reviewed a second time by ZAB, once a new environmental study has been completed.) 

In a telephone interview Friday, Barrett said communities that are experiencing development can often feel that city planners are being unduly influenced by developers. She said that it’s the job of the city planner to be candid with people and respectful of all points of view. But she said ultimately decision makers should rely on a framework of planning regulations and state codes. 

“Sometimes people are very familiar with community sentiment and their intense hope as a citizen is that if they can eloquently express their feelings and convey the shared value with their community they will be able to influence development projects,” she said. “But that is not always possible and out of frustration, people in the community sometimes feel that you’re in the developer’s pocket.” 

Barrett, whose father died when she was 3 years old, said she was raised by her mother, a church secretary, who instilled in her a strong sense of community service. She first became interested in city planning during a semester at American University in Washington, D.C. while an undergraduate at Stetson University. 

“I was able to get some hands-on experience working at the city, state and federal levels,” she said. “I became aware of how much thinking goes into what makes a city work. I was very attracted to the planning profession because it requires a lot of technical skills, but invites the community to participate.” 

Barrett said she is most proud of the neighborhood planning work she’s done in Austin. The city had not adopted a neighborhood plan since 1979 and she was assigned the job of working with neighbors, business and community services to put together comprehensive plans for six neighborhoods. 

Barrett, who is known in the Austin press as the “Governess of Neighborhood Planning,” said three of the plans have been adopted into the city’s zoning ordinance and the other three await council action. 

Berkeley will offer a different set of challenges. Austin experienced a growth spurt in the last 10 years. According to the U.S. Census 2000, the city of 650,000 people grew by nearly 200,000 over the last decade. Austin’s planing department has had to manage new growth into open spaces.  

Berkeley, with a population of about 100,000, on the other hand, saw a population increase of only 136 people in the last 10 years. There is very little room for development and the planning department mostly manages remodeling and in-fill projects.  

Barrett said she will spend her first days in Berkeley getting acquainted with the city’s culture. “My role is to be a good listener and reflective of the kind of comments that folks are going to be making,” she said.  

Barrett, who is regarded as a planner with a strong set of ethics, offered a shorthand version of one of her guiding principles.  

“I’ve often thought of what I would want written on my headstone,” she said. “ I would want it to read: ‘She tried to do the right thing’ and the right thing is to seek to expand choice and opportunity for all persons.”