The public had a chance to weigh in on a preliminary draft of the Southside Plan and, as expected, debate focused on housing and traffic policies.
This was the first public hearing on the proposed plan. Another will be held on March 13, and two others have been tentatively scheduled during May, June and July. According to Senior Planner Andrew Thomas, the earliest the plan will be approved by the City Council will be in September.
The 20-year plan will set guidelines for development, traffic and transportation in a roughly 30-block area immediately south of campus. The area currently has about 12,500 residents, the vast majority of which are UC Berkeley students, according to Planning Commission Chair Rob Wrenn.
Included among the plan’s 11 goals are the creation of more affordable housing, enhancing pedestrian uses and conservation of the unique architectural character of the area.
The plan also seeks to designate certain areas for development, mostly along transit corridors, while restricting residential neighborhoods from growth that’s incompatible with the existing homes.
About 12 people addressed the Planning Commission and the majortiy discussed housing.
“There is still a housing crisis in Berkeley,” said Andy Katz, a member of the Associated Students of the University of California. “Students still pay 55 percent of their income for rent, the average housing search still takes two moths and the average rent is still $2,250 a month.”
Wrenn pointed out that the university has already approved, as part of the Underhill Area Master Plan, 1,000 new beds for students. “In addition, the Southside Plan could potentially allow for a population increase of 20 percent in the area,” he said.
The potential development would take place on parking and vacant lots as well on the sites of demolished buildings.
Several public comments called for one-way streets, such as Telegraph and Durant avenues and Bancroft Way, to be returned to two-ways. Proponents said two-way streets are more conducive to a small town feeling as well as being safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Cities and towns all over the world are reverting back to one-way streets.” said Southside resident Martha Jones. “In 1974 the streets were all two-way and there we had a much higher population.”
Jones said the one-way streets are dangerous because they attract more drivers who are able to drive at higher rates of speed. She added the existing situation is dangerous to drivers and pedestrians alike.
But Thomas said changing one-ways back to two-ways would not be without impacts.
“One of the advantages of one-way streets is that trucks delivering goods to the area’s businesses can double park and traffic still has plenty of room,” Thomas said. “Converting back to two-ways could mean huge traffic jams during delivery hours.”
He added that going back to two-way streets could mean the elimination of street parking to create more room for traffic. “But then you get into the whole parking debate,” he said.