Page One

A view with some room downtown

Merrilie Mitchell
Friday September 07, 2001


On Aug. 24, you printed two different views on developing the Oxford parking lot located near the Gaia building. There is another very important view. I call it “a view with some room;” the no-development scenario. 

Big development is occurring all over town, and we need to save a few of our almost extinct, easy-in and out, open parking lots. Without them folks circle around in traffic, polluting the air, distracted, frustrated, and endangering pedestrians and bicyclers. That plus the fact that many people will not use underground or elevated parking because of the dangers and pollution within, hurts our city. The Oxford lot is easy to get to and should be kept as is, providing access to our downtown, and view corridors near intensive development. 

The city owns the Oxford parking lot, so we don’t have to give it away. Those that would, are the same folks planning to develop the city’s other open, easy-access parking lot on Berkeley Way, northwest of Shattuck and University. This lot would become high-density very-low-income housing with little or no parking. And so would the Kragen/(Grand Auto) site, and the Kelly-Moore Paint site, and so on. 

Guess what? I hate cars, but I have trouble walking or waiting for a bus downtown or on the major corridors of this city because the pollution, especially diesel, I find is intolerable. 

Traffic is getting worse, and high density “carfree” housing will make it still worse because there is yet no way to prevent car ownership. In Germany, where “carfree” housing has been built, people have devised ways to keep cars outside the project, even at great trouble and cost. 

Additionally, low-income people usually need cars more than middle income people who can rent or lease. 

My insatiable curiosity makes me wonder what Ecocity guru Richard Register does with his truck since he’s moved into the Gaia building. 

And how does Becky O’Malley gets around when she is not taking the bus to the opera? Does Planning Commission Chair Rob Wren have a family car to pick up groceries or take the kids to Tilden? 

Could we consider alternatives to what Planning Commissioners are recommending for the new General Plan, to guide development in Berkeley for the next 20 years? Sure we can! Why not? Send in your ideas. 

Here’s mine for downtown: 

Imagine breathing clean air, having only electric, solar and non-polluting vehicles permitted in the heart of the city. By some miracle we have saved our downtown city parking lots like Oxford and Berkeley Way, and use them for satellite parking, “car sharing,” and openspace for emergencies like earthquakes. Species of trees and plants which help clean the air and reduce global warming are planted in and around parking areas and in small spaces between and behind buildings, wherever possible. Developers must provide the required landscaping, quality openspace for tenants, and well designed areas for children living in family apartments. Just enough of Shirley Dean’s “Free Transit for Berkeley” proposal has survived obstruction by Kriss Worthington, for a nonpolluting “little green engine that could” shuttle, to run a loop downtown and to all three BART stations.  

Views have improved because the earthquake unsafe tallest building in the city, the Great Western Building, which hovers next to the Berkeley BART station, has been removed! In its place, sunshine streams down upon a lovely plaza with bicycle-friendly amenities.  

A monorail runs from this central spot straight up across Shattuck to UC Berkeley where it continues up the center of campus to the top. The air is clean, there is room to “breathe,” and you can even see the stars at night. 


Merrilie Mitchell