Some 20 members of Neighbors on Urban Creeks attended the Oct. 19 City Council meeting determined to maintain our positive stance of preserving the environmental benefits of creeks without conflict with the reasonable enjoyment of our private property. We were hopeful of a supportive council response to the over 600 people who signed our petition, and the more than 125 people who subsequently sent in letters emphasizing that the task of revising the Ordinance should be given to the Planning Commission. We also had support for our position from nationally known planning and legal authorities who pointed out that the Creeks Ordinance involved land use issues and that legally they must be reviewed by the Planning Commission and from city staff.
We were stunned to find out at the City Council meeting that Mayor Bates, and Councilmembers Hawley and Maio were sponsoring a so-called “compromise” proposal. We only found out about this proposal when members of other creek groups spoke about it during the public comment period. No one from Neighbors on Urban Creeks had even heard about it before then and other members of the council were just receiving it.
One member of the group who sees themselves in opposition to Neighbors on Urban Creeks, handed one of our members a copy of the proposal. Mayor Bates stated the proposal was available on the web. However, this proposal was NOT available on the city’s agenda website where citizens would normally find material to be discussed at the council meeting. It was only available on the mayor’s website. The Bates-Maio-Hawley proposal is dated Oct. 18, but Councilmember Hawley said it was not finalized until the afternoon of Oct. 19. To date, no one has offered any explanation as to how and when this proposal was put together, and how it was distributed to some and not to others.
The Creeks Ordinance is arguably the biggest land use matter confronting this city in decades. The city must understand that the owners of the 3,000 -plus properties citywide directly affected by this ordinance, many of whom have been long-time dedicated stewards of our creeks, demand a voice in determining our future. Instead of ensuring a balanced, cooperative process, the Bates-Maio-Hawley proposal gets everyone started on the wrong foot because: 1) owners of property directly affected by the ordinance are not guaranteed an equal, or even any, voice on the task force as each member of the council will appoint someone to the task force in December, after the election; 2) the Planning Commission is given a minor role since they have only one appointment to the task force which is not even required to be a commissioner, and review by the commission occurs after task force recommendations have been made; 3) public input is called-for after the task force has completed its work; 4) the all-important topics of financial responsibility for repair of culverts, the 30-foot set-back requirement, definition of a creek, and culverts as creeks are not specifically included for discussion; and 5) an adversarial environment is created from the beginning with the provision requiring that creek protections expire if revisions are not completed in one year.
The alarmist language used by other creeks groups is inconsistent with their stated desire to work cooperatively on a task force with people who may not share their point of view. The Creeks Ordinance was first approved, and subsequently revised and discussed, with only these other creeks groups. In light of new information about how the ordinance actually affects people throughout this city, the council must correct that initial mistake by bringing the process of revising the ordinance out into the open where it can be examined by people representing many different views about what should be done. The Planning Commission is the best vehicle for doing that.
Neighbors on Urban Creeks stands for a Creeks Ordinance that can be supported by everyone. While daylighting is a goal to be considered, daylighting the process of how we get there should not even be in question. Along with the fairness of giving an equal voice to those most affected, it is the very foundation of creating good public policy. Neighbors on Urban Creeks has written a proposal that guarantees that: different viewpoints, including those of property owners on culverted creeks and the stewards of open creeks on their properties, have an equal voice; an open process with public input when it counts most; a major role for the Planning Commission but also allows for full participation from the Public Works, Parks and Recreation and Community Environmental Advisory Commissions; the important topics of creek definition, setback, costs to property owners of enforcement, and city financial responsibility for the maintenance and repair of culverts will be addressed. Further, Neighbors on Urban Creeks predicts that the work in our proposed process can be completed at a lower cost to the city. We have placed this proposal on the agenda for all to see before the Nov. 9 City Council meeting through the sponsorship of Councilmembers Olds and Wozniak.
Neighbors on Urban Creeks asks you to come to the meeting and help us forge a process that will create the kind of solution that everyone in Berkeley can support.
Neighbors on Urban Creeks: Barbara Allen, Katherine Bowman, Diane Crowley, Shirley Dean, Genevieve Dreyfus, Cecilia Gaerlan, Vonnie Gurgin, Martha Jones, Jill Korte, Jerry Landis, Mischa Lorraine, Terry Mandel, Robin McDonnell, Miriam Ng, Jana Olson, Bob Schneider, Trudy Washburn