The City of Berkeley is being asked to extend and ratify a plan for Marin Avenue reconfiguration that will have a very large impact on Berkeley traffic patterns and safety. This plan was cooked up by the City of Albany with some input from Berkeley’s traffic and planning staff and support from Berkeley’s bike lobby. As I outlined in a communication of October, 2004, there is no public record of the Berkeley City Council ever really endorsing this plan or authorizing Berkeley city staff to participate in its formation. Only on Oct. 21, 2004 was this plan, already a done deal in Albany, submitted to Berkeley’s Transportation Commission (fondly known in some quarters as the Bike Commission) where it was, unsurprisingly, ratified. Now we are to finally have a full public airing of this matter in Berkeley, at a Jan. 18 public hearing.
I and many other Berkeley residents are deeply troubled by the Marin Avenue reconfiguration. Why are we troubled?
We are emphatically not troubled by any thoughtful and democratic effort to curtail speeding and improve safety on Marin Avenue. It is simply not clear that, given all the variables, the proposed plan is the smartest way to achieve this safety while maintaining the viability of Marin Avenue as a key arterial.
We are troubled by Albany’s lack of neighborliness and reciprocity in high-handedly curtailing the use of its streets by Berkeley automobiles and commuters. Do not Albany residents benefit hugely from their proximity to Berkeley? Do they not use our fine public library system gratis? Do they not send their homeless and special needs residents over the border for our excellent services? Do they not clog up our streets with their autos when there are football games or concerts to attend? Do they not allow mega-stores on our borders that bring traffic to Berkeley streets but tax benefits to Albany? And so on. Albany often behaves as a mini-Piedmont or faux-Orinda. Lucky Albanians, at least they have public officials who look after their interests.
We are troubled by the failure of our own city officials to consult with us in a timely and democratic manner.
We are troubled by the existence of a Berkeley fifth column of transportation planners and bike enthusiasts who, behind our backs, helped create a “fact on the ground” which is now very hard to reassess and undo.
We are tired of Berkeley always being asked, in the name of some greater good, to make sacrifices that effectively enable others to avoid their fair share of the burden. This is true with respect to services for the needy, affordable housing, and UC expansion, to name just a few areas. The Marin Avenue reconfiguration is yet one more instance where Berkeley residents are left holding the bag.
So what can be done at this late date?
I ask our City Council to clearly speak out and act on behalf of its own citizenry. The council should reject the plan to reconfigure the four or so blocks of Marin Avenue that are within our city limits. The council should refuse to contribute any further funds or staff to the Albany reconfiguration project. The council should ask Albany’s outside funders (the Bay Area Air Quality Management District) to withhold all funding until this matter is satisfactorily resolved. The council should reject a negative declaration and ask for a full CEQA environmental impact report for the entire project. The council should ask our traffic planners to expeditiously come up with a safety plan for Marin Avenue that best meets our own diverse traffic needs. The council should pursue legal and political action against the City of Albany. This action could include, if necessary, a lawsuit demanding that Albany undertake a full EIR for the Marin Avenue reconfiguration.
It’s time for Berkeley leaders to represent Berkeley interests. A good start has been made in our refreshingly tough stance with respect to UC expansion. If we can stand up to UC, we can certainly take on the City of Albany.
Barbara Gilbert is a civic activist and former District 5 Council candidate.