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Poshman’s shoes big ones to fill

Bob Howard Berkeley
Wednesday December 26, 2001


I wish Andy Katz the best of luck in his appointment to the Zoning Adjustments Board. (Daily Planet, Nov. 28) But replacing ZAB Boardmember Poschman can’t be done by appointment alone. 

To watch Dr. Poschman work at the ZAB, was to realize the world was not going to be run for the smooth convenience of developers and city staff. He could be a stick in the eye of councilmembers too, who might fight like tigresses to prevent slight incursions in their own district – but would only be too happy to see an asbestos stamping plant, or a heliport in yours, if it meant more tax revenue for Berkeley. (And if it was a towering lifestyle live-work in the far end of their own district...oh,what the heck.)  

Like a good professor, he would make big-time developers – or even people with the drawings in hand to do the Hollywood job on a tiny bungalow – defend their thesis. Of course, every man – and woman – with a plan seethed. After all, city staff told them they could do it, political contributions had been made, they’d sue, didn’t he know there was a housing shortage, how else could it pencil out? The smooth ones just waited to get to the council for an overturn – which they often got (if they perhaps took just a little bit off the top). Or a remand to the ZAB, with an order for boardmembers to throw out their reasoning, and come up with a more pleasing verdict. Or applicants could put together the few dollars necessary to file a suit (though courts have long held that cities have the right to control development), then watch a court-shy legal department come up with points and authorities why the city should buckle.  

Dr. Poschman was – and will continue to be, I hope – the Seventh Samurai, willing to take up the lance for aggrieved citizens and neighbors not versed in every jot and tittle of zoning or planning regulation, fighting against inappropriate or outsized projects. In his gentlemanly, and often humorous way, he was quite happy popping over-inflated balloons, plans that on a grand scale, or only in a micro-neighborhood, reduced the charm and liveability that people in Berkeley have at least some small right to.  

Wherever rents are dear and money cheap, developers will never be in short supply. If one should implode in bankruptcy, there will always be a man with a plan who turns up at the ZAB, proposing their vision of Berkeley as the New Calcutta, nests and warrens of tiny rooms above street level, with a worthy Mother Theresa renting cheap on the ground. Neither will we run short of city planners to shepherd projects through, and to realize they are part of the evolution of a city.  

Yes, it’s tough here. But in spite of the Daily Planet article reporting on a difficulty in recruiting planners to Berkeley, if the economy keeps sliding, anyone with a city job will realize their good fortune. (And there are exceptions – but on the grand scale, what sort of a challenge is it to “plan” in places like Emeryville, or San Francisco? Just leave your rubber stamp on the desk; developers and expediters will handle the rest.)  

I do worry that there’s a limited supply of people like Gene Poschman though. If Andy Katz is one of them, we will be lucky. There’s no rent stream out of this deal, no capital gain, no back scratching by politicians, no city legal staff anxious to pave the way, and no city pension at the end of the day. There is an amazing amount of tsouris, aggro, consumption of paper, expenditure of shoe leather, and late hours. You could end up needing an operation.  

I wish Dr. Poschman a successful medical procedure (mark the correct hip with a felt pen), followed by a speedy recovery. Then I hope he does a Michael Jordan. He’s simply too valuable to be absent from the evolution of our city. 


Bob Howard