Commission Completes Arts and Culture Plan

Friday April 30, 2004

After adopting a few last-minute amendments, the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission Wednesday night wound up its five-year effort to create an Arts and Cultural Plan for the city. 

Only commissioner Bonnie Hughes abstained from an otherwise unanimous vote to adopt the 31-page document. “I think it needs to be edited,” Hughes said. “I don’t like to send anything to the City Council that’s not as eloquent as possible.” 

Eloquent or not, the new document fulfills a requirement in the Economic Development Element of the city’s General Plan, adopted in 2001-2002, which called for an Arts and Culture Plan establishing citywide goals and strategies to support and develop local arts, culture and entertainment. In pursuit of that requirement, the Arts Commission created an advisory committee and hired ArtsMarket, a consulting firm based in Bozeman, Mont., to conduct an economic analysis of the Berkeley arts scene. 

A series of public hearings and written submissions followed, leading to the seven pages of the document that constitute the legal language of the plan itself. 

Wednesday night’s action followed the last public hearing Saturday, where individuals and organizations offered their final comments and suggestions. 

One addition—to the segment on Arts and Culture Districts—came at the urging of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. The amendment calls on plan-related activities to support historic and architectural preservation “to preserve Berkeley’s rich cultural built environment.” 

That proposal passed on a unanimous vote. 

Another successful amendment came from Solano Stroll organizer Lisa Bullwinkle, who asked the commission to create uniform application procedures for fairs and festivals utilizing public space, based on the forms and peer review process the commission now uses for civic arts grants. 

Comments from Saturday’s session also led to another unanimously endorsed amendment, which calls on the city to consider a study on the feasibility of a revolving loan fund for nonprofit arts capital improvement projects. 

Another successful amendment came from the city’s Transportation Commission, which asks the city to encourage arts groups, galleries and fair and festival organizers to include information on public transit access in the flyers, ads, posters and ticket information. 

At that point, Commissioner Sherry Smith moved to send the plan on to the City Council with a recommendation for approval. 

Commissioner Jos Sances objected, saying, “We’re not covering some of the issues raised about West Berkeley.”  

Commission chair David Snippen countered that issues about preservation and enhancement of artists’ living, working, and performance space in West Berkeley “are zoning and housing issues beyond the scope of the arts commission.” 

“Isn’t there some way we can accommodate ourselves to the things they were talking about, that we should work with the planning commission to strengthen the West Berkeley Plan?” asked Commissioner Hughes. 

Commissioner Suzy Thompson noted that language in the plan “makes it sound like downtown is where everything is happening. Maybe the language should give equal weight to South and West Berkeley. The downtown Arts District hasn’t been there that long.” 

“We should have something that helps the city make changes to ordinances and zoning regulations that would help artists” by assisting in the creation of arts space “by facilitating the transformation of industrial and warehouse space to arts space,” Sances said. 

“Artists’ residential, studio and performing spaces all need to be protected,” said Hughes. “If you leave it too vague, people will interpret it like the cultural density bonus to mean anything they want.” 

The city’s cultural density bonus that permits builders to breach city height limits by adding space for cultural uses featured prominently in Saturday’s final public input session. 

Snippen had started Wednesday’s meeting with an announcement that he would be meeting soon with city planning staff to work out more specific language that would address that criticism. 

At Sances’ urging, the commission amended the plan to call for a city-wide inventory of existing arts facilities to ascertain what needs aren’t being met and calling on the city to facilitate creation of arts space by allowing property zoned for industrial and warehouse uses to be rezoned for arts uses. 

The amendment passed by unanimous vote. 

Another amendment, calling for eliminating the names of specific organizations in the plan, carried unanimously. 

The final amendment was proposed by City Councilmember Linda Maio at Saturday’s session and introduced by Commissioner Hughes Wednesday. 

The proposal called on the Arts Commission to work with the planning commission and city council to protect the city’s existing arts spaces and develop policies to protect and enhance permanently affordable arts space in the city. 

The language was needed, Hughes said, because nothing in the plan would prevent a developer from coming in and buying up existing property and erecting major developments that offered arts space on the ground floor. 

The amendment carried, but not unanimously. Commissioner Sherry Smith abstained. 

With the passage of the final amendment, the commission’s vote to adopt followed. 

The plan will now go to the City Council, possibly for its May 27 meeting.