Residents Blast Southside Plan For Hazards, UC Giveways: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday November 19, 2004

Residents who live just south of the UC Berkeley campus said Monday that a plan which incorporates new land use guidelines for their neighborhoods included too many concessions to UC Berkeley, and that the initial study of the planned environmental revie w ignored earthquake risks and failed to identify historic buildings. 

Their comments came at a public meeting on the Southside Plan, which the Planning Commission unanimously approved last July after six years of debate. The meeting, referred to as a scoping session, is required under California law before the plan undergoes a lengthy and expensive environmental review process that is estimated to cost the city $329,000. 

City planning staff and LSA Associates, the city’s consultant on the environmental study, conducted the meeting. 

The plan, which must be approved by the City Council, will set guidelines for development, traffic and transportation in a roughly 30-block area south of campus. The area is currently home to about 12,500 residents, more tha n half of whom are UC Berkeley students. The planning district runs from Bancroft Way on the north and Dwight Way on the south between Fulton and Prospect streets. 

After the Planning Commission agreed to changes sought by UC officials last year, the city had hoped that the university would adhere to the plan and chip in for the draft environmental impact report (DEIR), but the university has declined on both counts.  

UC Berkeley, as a state entity, is not required to follow the plan, but has pledged to use it as a guide. 

In response, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district includes the affected area, proposed that the city study a prior version of the Southside Plan that didn’t include concessions made to the university.  

“That was the people’s Southside Plan,” Worthington said. “The public deserves that to be a legal option for the city.” 

After studying that previous proposal, the city could legally then chose to adopt it instead of the plan approved by the Planning Commission. 

At the unive rsity’s urging, the Planning Commission last July agreed to redesignate three residential lots owned by the university for a mix of housing or administrative uses. 

UC Berkeley has chipped in for the costs of developing the plan as required under a “memor andum of understanding,” which both sides agreed to when residents opposed the university’s expansion of the Haas Pavilion, where the UC Berkeley basketball teams play. The agreement, signed in 1997, does not require the university to abide by the plan or pay for the DEIR. 

The DEIR must study the proposed Southside Plan, as well as three alternatives chosen by the city and an alternative that would preserve the current land use rules. Currently, LSA, which will draft the DEIR, has not outlined the altern ative proposals to be studied. That was one of several concerns presented at the scoping session by John English, a retired planner and South Berkeley resident. 

“For people like me who want to influence the process, it is really important to have an idea of what they plan to study,” he said. 

The Draft Southside Plan calls for more intensive office and housing development along Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way and reducing the size of new development on nearby residential streets. It also supports the i dea of a bus rapid transit system serving Telegraph Avenue. 

English called on the consultants to “fine-tune” the proposed zoning requirements so a new state law that takes effect next year granting developers additional density if they include affordable housing units in their projects doesn’t increase the intended size of new buildings. Additionally, he asked that the consultants study the historic significance of buildings in the area that have not yet been landmarked. 

Many of the residents in attenda nce said the plan, as proposed, would be a disaster in an earthquake. 

“An earthquake is a major life and death issue,” said Jurgen Aust, a certified planner. “This is the densest area in the city, not to plan for earthquakes would be negligence.” 

Reside nts also raised concerns that the city wouldn’t enforce new development codes and that the parts of the plan, like its call for attracting more families to the area but not providing additional parking spaces, were contradictory.  

The DEIR must address t he concerns raised at the meeting. Residents will get a second opportunity to comment on the issue at a Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Nov. 29. The deadline for the city to receive written comments is Dec. 6. City Planner Janet Homrighausen anticipated that a DEIR could be completed by the spring.