BUSD Waits for Council Decision on Derby Street Closure By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday February 25, 2005

Despite a plea by the Berkeley High men’s baseball coach for opening the discussion of a baseball field on Derby Street, Berkeley Unified School District officials continue to keep that issue off the table until the City Council weighs in. 

Meanwhile, private planners hired by the district are preparing a second community meeting on the Derby Street properties for next Monday, Feb. 28, 7 p.m., at the Berkeley Alternative High School. 

At the close of last week’s Berkeley school board meeting, which lasted until 1:30 a.m., Berkeley High men’s baseball coach Tim Moellering asked the board “on behalf of Berkeley High school and the baseball team” to change the directions to the Derby Street developers “so that the closing of Derby Street can be discussed at the community meetings.” 

But less than seven hours after Moellering’s plea, Superintendent Michele Lawrence told members of the 2 X 2 Committee (represented by the City of Berkeley and the school district) that until the district receives a response from city officials regarding the Derby Street closure, the district will continue to exclude that issue from its community discussions surrounding the future of the Derby Street site. 

The Berkeley High men’s baseball team currently plays and practices at the city-owned San Pablo Park on Russell and Mabel streets. Some baseball team supporters have been pushing for the district to build a regulation-sized high school baseball field on two district-owned blocks surrounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Milvia Street, Ward Street, and Carleton Street. 

One of the blocks currently houses the Berkeley Alternative High School, the other holds abandoned classrooms and other buildings formerly used by the district. Building a full-sized baseball field on the two blocks would require the closing of Derby Street between MLK and Milvia, a site presently used by the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. 

While the school district controls the two blocks of Derby Street properties, the closure of Derby Street can only be done by the Berkeley City Council. The council has yet to take a position on the Derby closure. 

Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson said last month that he was working on a “land-swapping” proposal between the city and the school district that would provide for non-school use of athletic fields on the Derby Street properties in return for some form of increased use by the high school baseball team of the baseball diamond at San Pablo Park. Details of that proposal have yet to be released. 

Although Anderson said at the time that he was certain the Berkeley Alternative High School meeting would spark a discussion of the Derby Street closure by the Berkeley City Council, no such discussion has been held by the Council in its public sessions in the past month. 

Last month, under contract from BUSD, WLC Architects of Emeryville held the first of three community meetings at the Alternative High School to try to work out what they call a “temporary” solution to the use of the district’s BUSD Derby Street property while the issue of the street closure is being settled. Under the guidance of WLC staff, area residents and BHS athletics advocates jointly worked out four possible proposals for the use of the block holding the unused district properties. 

All of the plans involved leaving Derby Street intact, keeping the Berkeley Alternative High School in its present location, and included some combination of multi-purpose grass fields for use by Berkeley High School teams—though not a full-sized baseball field—as well as basketball courts. 

Marcia Vallier, principal of Vallier Design Associates of Richmond which is collaborating with WLC Architects on the Derby fields project, said that the planning group will present two alternatives based upon the four plans developed by the community at Monday’s meeting. Vallier said that planners will also answer numerous questions raised at last month’s community meeting about specific uses of the Derby Street fields by Berkeley High School sports teams.›