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Librarian Casts Dubious Eye on Library Gardens

By Jane Scantlebury
Tuesday January 06, 2004

The late Fred Lupke spent a great deal of his time and energy in the last two years of his life opposing the Library Gardens development, primarily because of the negative effect he knew it would have on the Berkeley Public Library, an institution he loved and used all the time.  

Fred appealed the first version of Library Gardens because of the effect the massing of the proposed building would have on the public library, by blocking light and views from our windows and inhibiting pedestrian access from the high school, among other reasons. But the effects of the first version of Library Gardens were relatively benign compared to the “revised version” that is going to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board for a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Old City Hall. 

After prevailing over Fred’s appeal and winning approval for a massive 176-unit, five-story housing development just to the west of the Berkeley Public Library on the site of the existing Kittredge (former Hink’s) parking garage, the developer pulled a massive bait-and-switch fraud, just as Fred feared he would. While the first version of Library Gardens had some negative effects on the library, it at least proposed to replace all of the 362 public parking presently located at 2020 Kittredge in a new two-level underground parking garage beneath the housing development. But after winning approval for the housing development, the developer, John DeClerq of the Transaction Corporation, “discovered” that the underground parking would cost too much to build. In early 2003, he came back to the city with a “revised version” that contains only 116 parking spaces, 110 of which are city-required parking for the 176 housing units and 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. The version going before the Zoning Adjustments Board this Thursday contains a total of only six parking spaces for the use of the public to replace the 362 that are there now, though in recent days (perhaps with the intent of reducing and dividing the opposition), DeClerq has started to suggest that he might be willing to provide more if someone else provides a million dollars or so to subsidize them.  

The fact that the housing component of the development is exactly the same size and design as that already approved means, in effect, that the only issue the ZAB will be considering this Thursday is whether the developer can eliminate the underground parking garage. Of course, as could be expected, this is very unpopular with every institution in the downtown: the library, the Downtown Berkeley Association, the Arts District, individual small businesses, and the Berkeley YMCA, all of whose patrons have used the Kittredge parking garage very heavily. All of these institutions submitted comments against the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report for the Library Gardens Project conclusion that removal of the parking would not cause significant environmental impacts.  

Nevertheless, in a country that values private property rights, many people even in the downtown are halfway persuaded of DeClerq’s argument that he and his partners should not be required to maintain or replace the public parking if they say they cannot afford to do so. Should not the owner of a parking garage be allowed to go out of business and develop his property for some other use? After all, with one major exception, the parking in the Kittredge parking garage isn’t actually required by use permits for downtown businesses. If it is mostly just parking for members of the public, should not the “public” (maybe the City of Berkeley) be required to replace it, if it needs to be replaced, not the owner of the Kittredge parking garage? It is this argument that I want to comment on here.  

DeClerq and partners say that, as private property owners, they have no responsibility to provide parking for the public and other businesses. What this argument overlooks is that the Transaction Corporation, the heart of the partnership that is proposing Library Gardens, has owned and still owns, downtown properties that have a close inherent relationship to, and dependence on, parking in the Kittredge (Hink’s) parking garage. In 1987, the Transaction Corporation purchased the entire block that included the Shattuck Hotel and the closed Hink’s Department store. The latter was then undergoing redevelopment as the Shattuck Cinemas, Mel’s Diner, other businesses. Now, as everyone who has lived in Berkeley as long as I have probably knows, the Kittredge parking garage had been built in 1947 by the Hink’s family to serve the patrons of their department store and other businesses in property the family owned. True, no use permit actually required this parking because zoning that applied to the downtown at that time was too rudimentary to consider the issue. But the fact is that the Hink’s (Kittredge) garage served specific properties by meeting their parking demand, and did not simply serve some undifferentiated “general public.” People who stayed at the Shattuck Hotel were directed to park at Hink’s and not elsewhere. People who shopped in the department store got to park in the Hink’s parking garage.  

Now, when the Transaction Corporation bought the Hink’s block, and a few years later also bought the parking garage from the Hink’s Family Trust, they took over the established parking relationship between the garage and their commercial property. Obviously, they profited from it both by having parking available for the businesses in the property they owned, and in being able to charge the patrons of these businesses to park in their garage. In my view, this makes the fact that the parking was not a “legal” requirement in use permits essentially irrelevant.  

In any case, the use permit for one major downtown property that the Transaction Corporation used to own, and probably still owns in part, does specifically require provision of parking in the Kittredge parking garage. The use permit issued on Jan. 20, 1987 for the 1,249-seat Shattuck Cinemas complex requires: 

To avoid parking impacts in the evening, the applicant should be conditioned to extend the valet service in the Hinks lot to include the evening operation. Notices should be posted in the theater lobby indicating that parking is available in Hinks. Newspapers and other printed advertising should include a notice that parking is available.  

Soon after issuance of this permit, the Transaction Corporation bought the Hink’s development that included the movie theater and therefore assumed the obligation of providing the use permit’s required valet parking in the Hink’s lot. . 

Now, of course, the Transaction Corporation wants us to forget all of this, and they’ve steadily taken steps to break off and bury the relationship between the businesses in their commercial property and their parking garage. First, they sold off the Shattuck Hotel as a commercial condominium. Next, they sold the portion of the Hink’s building that contains the Shattuck Cinemas to a new partnership, though it is rumored that they retain some ownership of the new entity. I wonder whether it was a condition of the “sale” that the new owners not protest loss of parking in the Kittredge parking garage? 

So after taking profits out by selling these properties, the Transaction Partners happily go on to develop the parking garage as a large housing development. Of course, all the businesses in the properties that depended on the Hink’s parking garage still exist and still create a demand for parking in the downtown. But the Transaction Partners pretend that meeting this demand isn’t their responsibility. It is the responsibility of the “public” —which means that you and I are expected to pay for it!  

To complete this miserable racket, the Transaction Partners are now apparently offering to replace some of the parking they are proposing to demolish, but only if someone gives them a subsidy of a million dollars or so to build one level of underground parking. (No details are available since DeClerq only recently proposed this in the Downtown Berkeley Association.) Of course, the Transaction Partners have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from making this “offer.” Even if no one can afford it, the very fact they’ve made the offer demonstrates their “concern” about the parking situation in the Downtown and helps to reduce opposition to their project. It also creates a dilemma for some large institutions like the YMCA that may be tempted to negotiate for some parking for their members rather than opposing the project outright. (It is kind of hard to do both.) And the Board of Trustees of the Berkeley Public Library, who previously opposed Library Gardens have now decided that they are “neutral” on the project, in return for an offer from DeClerq to guarantee parking in Library Gardens for the two categories of patrons who are most egregiously harmed by lack of parking near the library: disabled people and mothers with their children who are attending “story hour.” But these are small categories who will maybe occupy the six public parking spaces in Library Gardens, and DeClerq hasn’t disclosed what these parkers will be expected to pay… 

As for me, I’ll be down at the City Council Chambers on Thursday night, as I know Fred Lupke would have been, asking the ZAB to deny a use permit for Library Gardens on the grounds of its detriment to the public library, the YMCA and every institution in the Downtown.  


Jane Scantlebury has worked as a reference librarian in the Berkeley Public Library since 1986. She is a shop steward in her union, SEIU 535. She was a friend of the late Fred Lupke.