Berkeley Lags in Creek Plans: By EVA BANSNER

Friday October 15, 2004

It is obviously long past time to think constructively about what the City should be doing to restore creeks and remove crumbling culverts. But it is obviously wrong to stampede into quick changes to the 15 year old creek ordinance under the cover of the most important national election in our lifetimes. 

We need to clearly identify the creeks we are going to establish as natural watercourses such as Codornices and Strawberry. Working for Hayward, I established open space designations on Ward Creek and San Lorenzo Creek in the 1986 General Plan. Berkeley is 20 years behind Hayward. 

If we had an open creek on Center Street, we could have regenerated our downtown as San Luis Obispo did theirs. We could have a market hall at BART concourse level on the B of A site looking down into Strawberry Creek. The sun would stream into casual dining areas and Berkeley institutions like the Cheese Board could be featured. Above we could have several levels of Berkeley’s best shopping: the Berkeley Hat Company, the Gardener… 

Instead we have invested in very expensive economic development staff who tell us the downtown won’t sustain commercial development. We have filled our little downtown with student housing and University support services that eat our tax base. Why are we so different from every other college town where commercial thrives, especially at a BART station second only to SF in ridership?  

If we started charting our culverts and storm drains and integrating and replacing the most hazardous sections, we would be on our way to averting earthquake deaths and destruction. Perhaps Contra Costa County is the best example in the Bay Area of the Public Works Department doing the long term planning to restore natural waterways and removing all culverts older than 50 years. They have demonstrated that this saves money long term from collapsing culverts and liability. We have a lot to learn from other jurisdictions who moved on the best practices in drainage as instructed by the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Why hasn’t our Public Works Department been given the direction and resources to start this work? 

Any kind of ad hoc task force is premature. Sending the Creek Ordinance to the Planning Commission is even worse. The Planning Commission failed to incorporate urban design and public safety implementable policies on culverts and natural watercourses in the last General Plan despite public testimony.