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UC Plan Blasted at City Council Meeting

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 04, 2004

Any illusions UC officials may have harbored about how the rest of Berkeley views their Long Range Development Plan should have vanished after Tuesday night’s City Council session. 

In other matters, the council approved a request by residents of the proposed Thousand Oaks Heights Applicant Funded Utility Undergrounding District to lower the percentage of votes needed to authorize the $3.08 million project, and took action on several November ballot measures. 

But it was the UC issue that was the highlight of the night. One after another, a parade of angry residents and irate officials from across the political spectrum bared their anger at the university’s expansion plans, all agreeing that UC’s continued development will have a profound impact on the rest of the city. 

The item was for information-gathering purposes only, with no action scheduled by the council. 

While Councilmember Kriss Worthington likened the university to “almost an abusive parent,” his colleague, Miriam Hawley, cited UC’s failure to offer emergency evacuation plans in event of a disaster and Councilmember Dona Spring called on residents to write letters and raise “many voices out there, holding our feet to the fire.” 

But the strongest calls came from a parade of Berkeley residents lamenting the university’s impacts on traffic, taxes, parking and property values. 

Leading off were representatives from Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment (BLUE), a coalition of neighborhood organizations from across the city. 

Carl Freiberg recounted earlier broken promises by the university, as well as the refusal of school officials to extend the LRDP comment period beyond 60 days—a sore point with councilmembers and city staff as well. 

That was followed by a discussion between Peace and Justice Commissioner and former candidate Anne Wagley and Mayor Tom Bates, when the mayor let slip that he didn’t know that the university wouldn’t be paying the city tax assessments that voters would be called on to increase in the November elections. 

“The manager can correct me,” the mayor said, “but I believe [the university is] subject to the utility user tax.” 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz shook his head. 

“No?” ventured the mayor. “They’re subject to— What are they subject to?” 

“None of the assessments we have in the city,” Kamlarz responded. “No taxes are assessed.” 

It was a peculiar slip by a mayor who has made negotiations with the university over payments to the city one of the centerpieces of his administration. 

Noting that only 30 percent of the UCB budget goes to education and the rest to research and development, Wagley (who works at the Daily Planet) suggested that the city to seek a half-percent overhead on every grant to pay for fire, police, sewers and other city services, a move endorsed by Dona Spring and Linda Maio. 

While all comments targeted the LRDP and EIR as deficient at best, Bates and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak struck a more conciliatory tone. “I really think it does a disservice to this community just to bash the university,” the mayor said. 

But Councilmember Spring called the financial relations between the city and the university “an untenable situation, and we cannot continue to give the university almost a free ride. We have crumbling sewers and storm drains and our streets are wearing out faster than we can replace them, as are our sidewalks. There is a basic, fundamental economic disparity here.”  

Councilmember Betty Olds, a Spring adversary on many issues, joined her in singing the praises of the BLUE activists in criticizing UC. “I think it’s wonderful that you’re doing this,” she told the group. 

City Planning Director Dan Marks offered his own critique of the LRDP. 

Noting that university officials had labeled the document a “general plan,” he said that such plans “are put together with the help and involvement of citizens, It adds legitimacy to the document. We had 60 days to respond to their general plan. . .and we do not know how they will react. We do not know if they will change it in response to our comments. The sense that we get from the university is that they will not.” 

Further complicating the picture, Marks said, is that the university is preparing their LRDP at the same time they’re readying a second LRDP for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

“We question that approach,” Marks said. “The university owns both the lab and the university. It’s the same regents. . . They divided themselves in order to better conquer the City of Berkeley. . .and make it harder” for the city to respond. 

Assistant City Manager Arietta Chakos criticized the LRDP for the lack of details on the 2,300-2,500 parking spaces UC proposes to add, including 1,900 on property just off campus. 

Chakos said adding the new spaces violated the LRDP’s own precepts, which call for trip reduction and new parking strategies. She also faulted the LRDP’s transportation section for failing to adequately assess the impacts of the additional spaces. 

Grace Maguire, the city staffer assigned to evaluate the LRDP’s fiscal impacts, said she has prepared an analysis that takes into account the plan’s impact on various city services for presentation to the council at next week’s meeting. 

Several citizens offered scathing critiques of the university’s plans to build 100 units of “family suitable” housing in the Hill Campus. 

Though cited just across the Oakland city limit, neighbors on the Berkeley side said the project would severely impact traffic and parking on the narrow winding streets of the adjacent Summit Road and Grizzly Peak neighborhood. 


Thousand Oaks Heights 

On the Thousand Oaks Height Applicant Funded Utility Undergrounding District issue, council voted to drop the needed approval ratio of district property owners from 70 percent to 60 percent. If the district is approved by that new percentage of owners who cast votes in a special 45-day election period tentatively scheduled to begin July 20, electrical, telephone and cable wires would move from poles to underground pipes along Kentucky, Colorado and Florida avenues and portions of Vassar, Maryland, Michigan and Boynton avenues. 

Property owners would be assessed according to a four-part scale, with the highest charges—$32,011—paid by owners of homes with clear street window views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge and the lowest—$13,917—on vacant lots with non-spectacular vistas. 


Ballot Measures  

Following the LRDP session, the council ironed out language in the November ballot measure calling for publicly financed elections, with the revised version scheduled to reach the council at their next regular session. 

Members showed less unanimity when it came to reviewing the eight proposed taxes scheduled to go before voters in November. Councilmember Wozniak said he thought the proposed increases were too much, and proposed eliminating any revenues earmarked for new programs, a move Miriam Hawley supported. 

“What about the paramedics?” declared Mayor Bates. “It would be worth paying more to have paramedics available on every call.” The $1.2 million-a-year Emergency Medical Services Tax would place a paramedic in every station, up from the current three. 

“I’m particularly worried we’ll lose the youth programs,” Hawley said. Under the ballot proposals, that funding would be funded by a half-percent real estate transfer tax on home sales of between $600,000 and $1 million and a full percent on sales of more than $1 million. 

“They’ll be covered by 250 homebuyers at these inflated prices,” said Bates. 

Wozniak objected, saying increased housing prices would force more potential buyers out of the Berkeley housing market. He threw his support behind the proposed boost in the city Utility User’s Tax, which calls for a boost from 7.5 percent to 9 percent on all gas, electric, cable, telephone and cell phone charges. 

“I favor the utility tax because it promotes conservation and supports our Kyoto goals,” Wozniak said. 

Bates said he favored the real estate transfer tax “because it’s a runaway market and it won’t deter people” from buying. 

“We have to decide what taxes to put on the ballot” on June 15, Kamlarz said, with a first vote on the final draft due by July 13 and a final vote on the 22nd.›