Opposition to Ed Roberts Campus Masked in Historic Design Complaint By SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday December 07, 2004

I read in this very paper that the proposal to build the Ed Roberts Campus, the South Berkeley facility that will house a consortium of organizations serving the needs of the disabled, could be held up due to challenges from the California Office of Historic Preservation.  

Apparently, the state office does not concur with the city’s determination that the project will have no impact on historical resources in the area. Approval by this agency is critical in order for the project to receive federal funding.  

At a recent meeting of the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment Board, representatives from the neighborhood, which is located on the east side of the Ashby BART station, turned out again, as they have been doing for the past several years, to protest the presence of the center in their community. 

I did not attend the meeting, but I have attended many past meetings regarding this issue. At other gatherings homeowners in the quadrant bordered by Ashby and Alcatraz avenues, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Shattuck Avenue, protested that the proposed project would cause parking and noise problems. They suggested that it be built on the other side of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, by the MacArthur BART station, or somewhere else, just not near them. 

They argued that someone other than the City of Berkeley owned the airspace above the BART station, that cars with disabled plates and placards would suck up all their parking spaces, and that people in wheelchairs could be victimized by criminals and transients who hang around the transit hub and its adjacent parking lot. They suggested that housing disability-oriented organizations in one building smacked of ghetto-ization, and that BART is not wheelchair friendly and therefore having the campus built over the station would not be of much use to people traveling there from other parts of the East Bay. 

I don’t recall anyone saying that the building design did not fit in with the historic nature of the neighborhood, but now this is being used as another possible excuse for holding up the project. “We have a wonderful diversity of designs in our neighborhood,” someone said at the recent Zoning Board meeting. “The one thing we don’t have is anything that resembles this design. It doesn’t fit in.”  

I don’t live very far from this part of South Berkeley. A quick walk up the street from my house puts me in the neighborhood and has me passing the hideously purple Black Repertory Theater, the ugly South Berkeley United States Post Office, a variety of apartment buildings, washhouses, cleaners and pizza joints, a church and the turreted building across the street that houses Marmot Mountaineering and several other businesses. Residents are right on when they say there is “a diversity of designs” in this community. It looks a lot like all the other neighborhoods that surround it, including mine. 

I sympathize with the home owners. I don’t like the inconveniences that construction causes. I put up with a similar situation in that Oakland Children’s Hospital is less than two blocks from my house and often in the throes of remodeling. But you know what? I wouldn’t deny the people who use that facility a parking place in front of my home. And I wouldn’t have the gall to say that the hospital takes away from the historic ambiance of my neighborhood, even though it is big and ugly and it has a helicopter landing pad, and my house is an adorable, perky 1907 Victorian. 

I think it’s time that the people who live near the proposed building site of Ed Roberts Campus fess up. They just don’t want it in their neighborhood, and they will clutch onto any excuse not to have it. NIMBYism is alive and well in a lot of places, including this self-proclaimed, liberal-leaning, historically modified South Berkeley ‘hood.