Neighbors, Councilmember Blast West Campus Plans By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday June 03, 2005

The Berkeley school district released its master plan for its West Campus site along University Avenue Thursday without major alterations, angering several neighbors who had demanded several revisions to the plan’s draft. 

The West Campus Neighbor-Merchant Alliance (West NEMA), a group formed in response to the Berkeley Unified School District’s planning effort, had demanded keeping more open space on the site and finding ways to reduce traffic and parking on residential streets. The neighbors also asked the district to move some services, such as the kitchen and the building and grounds facility to another site. 

City Councilmember Darryl Moore said he was “very disappointed that there is very little change.” He said he agreed with the alternative plan developed by West NEMA. 

“There was resounding neighborhood support for the West NEMA plan and its call to move the district kitchen and building and grounds facility to [the planned district bus yard on] Gilman Street, and for no parking south of Addison Street,” Moore said. 

Prepared by David C. Early in his role as head of Design, Community & Environment—the same firm that prepared UC Berkeley’s Long-Range Development Plan—the district plan retains features that neighbors denounced during a series of earlier meetings with Early and district officials. The master plan is now posted on the district’s website. 

Of the 12 buildings now standing on the West Campus site, Early’s plan calls for the elimination of five: the cafeteria, library, girls’ gym, a classroom building and two portable structures while calling for construction of one new building to house the district kitchen, building and grounds department and a district warehouse. 

The plan calls for a three-story addition to the south of the existing auditorium along University Avenue, plus a small child care/development structure on Browning Street and a future private mixed-use development to the south of the auditorium along University. 

Both the WestNEMA and district plans spell an end to the ball fields and tot lot at the corner of University Avenue and Curtis Street, earmarked as the site of private development in both plans, with the addition of the kitchen/ building and grounds/warehouse building in the BUSD plan. 

The district plan was scheduled to be formally unveiled to neighbors at a Thursday night meeting, after the Daily Planet’s deadline for today’s paper. Neighbors indicated that reaction would be harsh. 

“They did it again, just like we said they would,” said neighbor Sam Bridgham, who helped organize area opposition to the plan. “Pretty much the last thing anyone wanted on the site was the building and grounds facility. That was the key piece. And if they hadn’t included it, there would’ve been room for parking by the existing buildings.” 

“The neighbors are really gearing up for the June 29 (BUSD) meeting on the plan, where they’ll make a more extensive presentation,” said Kristen Leimkuhler. 

The neighbors’ alternative, available on their website (www.westnema.org), calls for maintaining open space on the large portion of the site, south of the existing boys’ gym between Curtis and Browning streets, except for a small preschool facility. 

In the Early plan, most of the existing green space is filled with a pair of parking lots and a daylighted stretch of Strawberry Creek. Opening the creek would be dependent on available funding. 

Neighbors are also angry that the plan includes access to parking lots along both Addison and Curtis after they stressed that they didn’t want more traffic in a residential neighborhood. 

Early and the school board said that the West Campus would incorporate all district offices and functions now occupying Old City Hall and annex, the so-called Oregon/Russell Street Site, and uses currently in effect at the West Campus site. 

The two main buildings at Oregon/Russell began as the gymnasium and auditorium on the site of the former Edison Junior High School and have been substantially altered, although portions of a 1915 design by noted Berkeley architect W.H. Ratcliff Jr. remain. 

Both Old City Hall and the Oregon/Russell site have been rated as seismically unsafe. While the district owns the Oregon/Russell site, the Old City Hall and annex are leased from the city. 

First leased in 1980, the district has announced plans to abandon the Old City Hall buildings when the current lease expires in 2009. 

Early’s potential conflict of interest as both advocate for the district and as head of Livable Berkeley was raised by site neighbors Rachel Boyce and Leimkuhler. A Daily Planet reporter followed with questions about Early’s provision of DCE office space for a Livable Berkeley committee meeting held, in part, to address the West Campus project. 

Early promised to recuse himself from any of the advocacy group’s meetings that dealt with the project and not allow any other meetings at his office. 

The district plan and its supplements plus detailed accounts of the public meetings and related documents and images are available on a page of the BUSD website, www.busd.us/westcampus 

For Bridgham, the West Campus struggle was the last straw, and now he said his family are planning to move to Durango, Colo. 

“We’re looking for a place where people aren’t at war with their city government and the school district,” he said. “If there was any single reason for the move, it’s because our elected officials don’t act like the public servants they’re supposed to be. Despite their rhetoric, there’s nothing progressive about them.” Ã