On April 7, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) informed local residents of Superintendent Michelle Lawrence’s desire to move the Berkeley Adult School from its University Avenue location to the currently vacant Franklin School. The district wants the School Board to approve the move in July and begin construction in September 2003.
The proposed move received mixed response from neighbors who are still trying to digest the district’s rationale and the impact of the proposed move. But Franklin cannot, and should not, remain vacant. So, regardless of what kind of facility eventually goes there, our community’s concern is that the change be well thought out and integrated into our neighborhood.
Clearly, if implemented, this multi-million-dollar Adult School move will have a huge impact on the quiet neighborhood surrounding Franklin. The district’s figures show that 1,340 new people will be entering our community every day, including 455 evening students whose classes won’t end until 9:30 p.m. In a part of town where parks and recreational areas are sparse, the district intends to pave over at least one-half the Franklin playground for parking—eliminating ball fields, basketball courts and a track.
The daily influx of people, the long hours of operation and amount of activity associated with the Adult School will have a significant impact on recreational space, local traffic circulation, parking, noise, litter and security for the Franklin neighborhood. Residents want to make sure that careful and thoughtful plans are instituted to address the additional stresses the neighborhood will undergo.
The good news is that all the stakeholders are in good communication over the proposed Franklin change. The district, with Superintendent Lawrence and School Board members in attendance, have organized several well-attended community meetings to make their case and hear neighborhood concerns. Individual School Board members have also been meeting with community activists. City Councilmember Linda Maio has taken a leadership position from the beginning and her office continues to work vigorously with all parties. And both the Franklin neighbors and the current Adult School neighbors (many of whom want the Adult School to remain at its present location) are mobilized and actively engaging the process.
The bad news is the law appears to make BUSD a power unto themselves, virtually exempt from any of the traditional city review processes normally required before making a move of this scale. (Does anyone familiar with Berkeley’s permitting process believe a comparably sized shopping development or housing complex would be approved and break ground five months after announcing its intentions?) Yet, the district can seemingly make whatever unilateral decisions they want, essentially without review or recourse, and the city can do little beyond reviewing parking and traffic mitigations.
There is a better way to serve the community, the city and the school district. It’s a collaborative approach, where we work in partnership to determine what Franklin should become and how best to integrate it into our neighborhood. But we can’t do that by merely offering our observations and comments and then looking in from the outside as the district exercises all the power, as is the current model. We must be an integral part of that process, working together to determine the best course for all.
Here are two concrete steps that would help. First, open all district planning and design meetings to our neighborhood site committee and city representatives and make us an integral part of the planning process. Second, take the time to do careful, accurate and thoughtful traffic, parking, public transportation, recreation and other relevant studies. The few months lost while careful planning takes place are insignificant compared to long-term benefits gained by embracing community and city involvement in a full analysis of the proposed changes and their ramifications.
The stakeholders are currently in good communication and, I believe, there is sufficient good will to make this approach succeed. Let’s take it to the next level and implement a truly cooperative decision-making system that includes all the key players. The alternative is to leave all the decision-making power in the district’s hands. That’s not a process designed to make the best community-wide decisions and inevitably will create resentment toward BUSD at a time when they need our good will as much as we need for them to succeed.
Change is in the wind with the Berkeley Unified School District. This proposed move is the first of many that the district will be making at several sites over the next few years, when the Berkeley Adult School, the administrative center and maintenance yards, the Oregon campus and other schools currently operating in the district will likely change. Let’s make the proposed Franklin development the model for how we can work together for the good of all parties in the future.
Paul Shain is a Berkeley resident and Franklin School neighbor.