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City Blamed for Roberts Center Report Miscues By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday March 29, 2005

A key state official with a vital say over the funding of the planned Ed Roberts Center says he can’t make his decision and placed the blame this month on city officials. 

The Ed Roberts Center, planned to rise above the site of the Ashby Bart Station at 3075 Adeline St., is supposed to be the crown jewel of universal design, a building equally accessible to all with disabilities. 

Located at a crucial transportation hub in a city famous for embracing activism, it will house a wide range of training and service programs and the offices of disability rights activist groups, located in an easily accessible locale. No one has questioned the need for the center nor its location. The only bones of contention have been scale and the appropriateness of the architectural plans for the surrounding neighborhood. 

Before federal funds can be allocated to the project, the state Office of Historic Preservation must sign off on a statement about the project’s potential adverse impacts on nearby properties included in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. 

Though final approval of the federal appropriation has yet to come, no federal funds can flow to the project until the state agency signs off on the project. Federal law requires that before the Department of Housing and Urban Development can release funds to such projects, the relevant state agency must evaluate the impact on any properties in the immediate area of potential effects (APE) that are included in or might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. 

And therein lies the city’s failure, State Historic Preservation Officer Milford Wayne Donaldson informed Tim Stroshane of the city Housing Department in a March 9 letter. 

In a Feb. 2 letter from the city claiming that the project wouldn’t have any adverse impacts on the architectural heritage of the surrounding neighborhood, the city acknowledged that nationally eligible properties might lie within the APE—but then made no effort to identify them. 

“I do not believe that the city has made a reasonable level of effort regarding the identification and evaluation of historic properties,” Donaldson wrote. Until the city does that, Donaldson said any evaluation by his office would be premature. 

Citing papers by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and historical consultants Page and Turnbull, Donaldson wrote that the area around the site may include “one or more National Register eligible districts.” One focuses on the neighborhood’s development structured around the turn of the 19th century streetcar networks and the other on the profusion of Colonial Revival houses in the area. 

Donaldson also faulted the officials for failing to present the issue to the Landmarks Preservation Commission until January 2005. At their January meeting, commissioners gave the project their blessings, finding no adverse impacts on the surrounding area.  

The tempest remains confined to a bureaucratic teapot until the federal appropriations measure makes it all the way through the legislative process and wins a signature from President Bush.