Election Section

Commentary: Creeks Task Force Off to a Good Start By HELEN BURKE

Friday June 03, 2005

Last fall the Berkeley City Council created a Creeks Task Force (CTF) to review and make recommendations to the Planning Commission and City Council about the Creeks Ordinance and overall City policy regarding creeks and culverts. The CTF is a broad-based, 15-member body, representing several diverse points of view. 

To prepare these work products, the Task Force faced a steep learning curve. They began meeting last Feb. 7 and met every week through April 4. The CTF is composed of one member each from councilmembers, one each from Planning, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Community Environmental Advisory commissions, and one representative each from the creeks community and a creek property owners group, Neighbors on Urban Creeks. Mayor Tom Bates appointed myself as chair. Planning Department staff support the work of the task force. 

The basic challenge of the Work Plan is to strike a balance between creek protection, creek property owners’ rights and new scientific information about creeks. Specifically seven key issues are to be addressed: 

• Definition of a Creek. The current definition of a creek is very broad, including depressions or swales and culverted creeks that run in the location of the original watercourse. The task force will look at what definitions other jurisdictions have used and what experts suggest to see what definition is appropriate for Berkeley. 

• Setbacks. The current ordinance includes a 30’ setback requirement for new development from the centerline of a creek. This was an arbitrary number in the original ordinance which seemed to make sense at the time. The task force will look at how this setback has worked in Berkeley and at what other jurisdictions use to determine what seems right for Berkeley. 

• Regulated structures. Currently the Creeks Ordinance regulates roofed structures within 30 feet of a creek centerline. That means that a homeowner is prohibited from building most additions, garages or covered porches within 30 feet of the creek centerline. The CTF will consider whether to expand regulated structures to include parking lots, kids’ play areas, and open decks and porches. 

• Daylighting. The city’s General Plan encourages daylighting where safely feasible as well as restoration of natural watercourses in a former culvert location. The ordinance is not clear on priorities for potential projects, criteria for determining feasibility or how such projects could be implemented. The CTF will look at these factors. 

• Maintenance and Repair. Culverts have been around a long time in Berkeley, and many are failing. Although the CTF is specifically prohibited from addressing the question of financial responsibility for failing culverts due to on-going litigation on this subject, the CTF will look at ways to evaluate the condition of culverts as well as possible sources of funding. 

• Mapping and Ordinance Administration and Enforcement. The CTF will review the current creeks map for accuracy and determine whether improvements can or should be made. The CTF will also address the administration and enforcement of the ordinance. 

• Overall Watershed Policy. Creeks and culverts are part of an overall watershed management policy in Berkeley. The CTF will consider the role of creeks and culverts in this broader context, including non-point source pollution. 

In April the Work Plan, budget and timeline were unanimously adopted by the CTF and the Planning Commission. On May 10 the Berkeley City Council approved the Work Plan and timeline by an 8-0 vote with one abstention. The 0.5 FTE request was tentatively approved by the City Council, and the $100,000 request for consultant funding was referred to the budget review process. 

The CTF meets the first and third Monday at North Berkeley Senior Center from 7-9:30 p.m. Meetings are open to the public, and public participation is welcome. All agendas, meeting minutes, the creeks map, the Work Plan, timeline and budget may be found on the CTF’s website: www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/planning/landuse/creeks/default.html. Secretary Erin Dando can be contacted at 981-7429. 


Helen Burke is chair of the Creeks Task Force.