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Library Gardens not insync with neighborhood

Josephine Arasteh Berkeley
Tuesday March 19, 2002



When the Berkeley Central Library reopens on April 6th, Library patrons will most certainly welcome all the improvements that have been made (A few months ago when I toured the building with other Foundation contributors, even then, in its unfinished state, the Library was magnificent.) But is anyone ready for other changes on Kittredge? Coming soon right next to the Library (on the site of the current Hinks parking garage) will be a mega-development, Library Gardens, the biggest non-University housing project ever built in Berkeley and more than twice the size of the Gaia Building. How big? Five buildings, four stories of apartments in each, all built over three levels of parking. It will have 176 units with 320 bedrooms in an area of just 1.5 acres. The parking structure will be much larger than Hink’s.  

This project did not get much public comment, perhaps because it is downtown, has few residential neighbors and thus is not a NIMBY issue. Yet it will have two prominent public-supported "institutional" neighbors, the Central Library next door and Berkeley High School on Milvia. (The property lines of BHS and Library Gardens are just 140 feet apart.) 

In late February the City Council dismissed without discussion an appeal of Library Gardens. The appeal showed quite plainly that essential environmental review for the project vis-à-vis both the Central Library and BHS had not been done. In the case of the Library, the environmental study did not assess the impact of the project on the functioning of the Library.  

However, the larger issue concerns BHS. The environmental review ignored entirely the new BHS buildings going up along Milvia just west of the project. Two buildings, a PE Building and an Administration/Commons Building, will extend in an unbroken line from Bancroft to Allston Way with a pedestrian gate between them at the foot of Kittredge. This gate will be a primary entrance to the BHS campus. In practical terms, large number of students will exit through the gate, cross Milvia, and walk up the street past the project to the Central Library and downtown. The combination of project traffic and vehicle drop-off and pick-up of students at the Kittredge-Milvia intersection will produce congestion hazardous to both pedestrians and drivers. Further, the Kittredge entrance to the new parking structure will be moved west toward the intersection.  


Aware of the inadequate environmental review of Library Gardens on BHS, I was appalled by John DeClercq’s recent open letter to the BUSD Superintendent urging her not to compromise BHS school safety in the current budget crisis, and even to increase funding to ensure student safety. Yet, as the major spokesperson for Library Gardens, Mr. DeClercq obviously gave no thought to the safety of 3000 BHS students when presenting the project’s environmental review.  

On April 6th when Library visitors look out the impressive bank of windows westward over Hink’s Garage toward the High School, they may not know that a massive apartment complex and a stretch of new high school buildings will soon obliterate their vista. They will be standing in a public building that was generously renovated by a voters’ bond measure and looking out toward new construction on the BHS campus, also funded by a voter bond measure. But in between will be a privately built residential complex out of sync with the neighbors. Library patrons, as well as BHS students and parents, may want to ask their City Council members what they had in mind when they dismissed the appeal without discussion or any attempt to get broad public comment. 


Josephine Arasteh