Page One

Council Considers Creeks, Historic House, Foothill Bridge: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday November 09, 2004

When the final gavel falls at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, a 21-foot high pedestrian footbridge could be coming to Hearst Avenue, new building guidelines could be in place on University Avenue, an architecturally significant cottage could be set for an expansion and a blueprint for revising the city’s 15-year-old creek law could be on the way for all of Berkeley.  

But the council has already postponed ruling on the bridge, creeks and University Avenue and a consensus won’t come easily. 

The issue of how to regulate the roughly 2,400 homes that are within 30 feet of an open creek or underground culvert remains, perhaps, the most hotly contested issue the council has faced this year. 

Creek supporters want restrictions on new construction strengthened, a group of homeowners wants them weakened and two proposed compromises for moving forward haven’t even made it to a vote. 

At the last meeting, two weeks ago, the homeowners’ group Neighbors on Urban Creeks said they were blind-sided by a last minute proposal from Mayor Tom Bates and councilmembers Linda Maio and Miriam Hawley that called for a task force to study creek issues. 

Now, with the backing of councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Betty Olds, the group has proposed another plan. It will support an advisory committee on creeks if the council gives creek advocates and opponents the authority to appoint some of the committee members. 

“We want a guarantee that there is equal representation on the committee,” said Barbara Allen of Neighbors on Urban Creeks. 

Their proposal calls for creating a 12-member committee comprised of six members selected by Neighbors on Urban Creeks and six members appointed by different creek advocacy groups.  

The advisory committee would serve under the Planning and Public Works commissions and would be limited in scope to deliberating the current laws prohibiting new roofed development within 30 feet of a creek, the definition of a creek and whether culverts, which redirect creeks underground, should be regulated in the same way as creeks. 

Other issues would be farmed out to various city commissions, including the issue of whether property owners should be responsible for repairing and maintaining culverts on private property, which will be handled by the Public Works Commission. 

The compromise plan from Bates, Maio and Hawley would create a task force to review creek issues and make recommendations regarding the ordinance and city creek policies by May 2006. 

Juliet Lamont, a member of Friends of Five Creeks, favors the task force outlined in the Bates, Maio, Hawley plan, which she said offered a more “balanced approach” to dealing with creek issues. 


Jensen Cottage 

The council will consider an appeal to stop the proposed expansion of the Jensen Cottage. The home built in 1937 at 1650 La Vereda Road was designed by William Wurster, the architect for whom UC Berkeley’s Wurster Hall is named. 

Preservationists say that the home foreshadowed modernist designs that would become popular 15 to 20 years later and that the plan to increase the building’s size by about 65 percent would destroy its character. 

Last week they asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the building, but Planning Manager Mark Rhoades said the petition arrived too late because the Zoning Adjustments Board had already approved the request to remodel the house. 

The house is owned by Marguerite Rossetto, the mother of Wired Magazine founder Louis Rossetto, who owns a nearby home. Louis Rossetto said that his mother decided to remodel the house so that it would include a first-floor bedroom. He said his mother feared that she could break her hip if she tripped while walking downstairs from her bedroom on the second floor. 


Foothill Bridge 

UC Berkeley’s 16-year campaign to build a bridge over Hearst Avenue also comes before the City Council Tuesday. 

The bridge, which would connect La Loma Dormitory on the north side of Hearst to the rest of the Foothill housing complex, requires a city encroachment waiver. On three separate occasions city leaders have indicated their opposition. 

But this time, the university has sweetened the pot. In return for the bridge, it is offering $200,000 in pedestrian improvements along Hearst and has promised not to build a bridge until the city’s Design Review Commission approves the plan. Commissioners have unanimously rejected the current drawings. 

UC Planner David Mandel said the bridge, which was part of the original design for the residential community, is needed to improve pedestrian safety and to make La Loma accessible for disabled students. UC has already spent $600,000 on its attempts to win the permit and plans to spend another $600,000 to build the bridge. 

Currently no disabled student lives in La Loma, which is located on a steep gradient that requires a wheelchair user to take a half-mile route around the Greek Theater to get from the dormitory to the dining commons. Without the bridge, Mandel said, the university would be susceptible to a claim under the Americans With Disability Acts that its facilities were not accessible. 

But as in years past, the project faces opposition from several neighbors. Jim Sharp, who lives a few blocks from the proposed bridge, criticized what he said was university encroachment onto the north-side of campus, referring to the bridge as UC Berkeley’s “Arc de Triomphe.” 

In May, the Public Works Commission voted 6-2 to oppose the plan. The commission found that the $200,000 offer was insufficient and questioned if disabled students would chose to live in La Loma anyway because of its hillside location. 

The university is hoping for a strong student turnout at Tuesday’s meeting. Last week, the UC Residence Hall Assembly sponsored a pizza party to rally support among students. 


University Avenue 

A new set of zoning regulations for University Avenue could be approved Tuesday., a group organized around building on University Avenue, is asking the council to remove one section of the new rules that would allow for residential-only buildings. 

The incentive for developers to build residential only structures, they say, comes from a state law that grants developers of projects more space if they include a certain percentage of affordable housing units. Since the added density is based on residential space, they fear, developers would opt for the residential-only model. 

Stephen Wollmer of predicted that with the added density bonus, the residential-only buildings which are zoned to be no taller than three stories could rise to five stories. 

Gene Poschman, a planning commissioner, is backing the group’s claim. Last month, he submitted a report to the council showing that residential-only buildings on University Avenue would be over 90 percent larger than in other parts of the city. After receiving the report, the council voted to hold off approving the new zoning rules until city staff responded. 

Poschman and proposed reducing the amount of lot space a new building can cover, so that when a developer applies for the bonus space, it fills out the lot instead of potentially adding two stories on top of the building. 

That proposal runs counter to the directives of the University Avenue Strategic Plan, according to a staff report from Planning Manager Mark Rhoades. According to the report, added building setbacks would run counter to the strategic plan and “result in gaps in the development fabric of the avenue.” 

At its last meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-4 against conducting another study of residential-only buildings.