Mayor Promises Help for West Campus Neighbors By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday June 07, 2005

An aide to Mayor Tom Bates promised Thursday to help neighbors of BUSD’s West Campus who have fought plans to move some district services and added parking lots to the University Avenue site. 

Calvin Fong, Bates’s assistant for transportation, housing, and development issues, surprised many at last week’s meeting by announcing that the mayor will work with BUSD to find another site for the Building and Grounds Department and its vehicles and equipment. 

The Berkeley Unified School District’s master plan for West Campus, proposed by Superintendent Michelle Lawrence, includes moving administration offices and service functions, including the district’s Building and Grounds Department, kitchen, and a small warehouse to the West Campus property from the seismically unsafe Old City Hall and buildings on Oregon and Russell streets. 

Throughout five BUSD community planning sessions at the West Campus site, neighbors have voiced consistent opposition to the Grounds Department, kitchen and warehouse at the site. 

Fong said Bates would also work on moving the kitchen and warehouse to another location as well. Fong later acknowledged that it was possible that efforts might not lead to moving the uses from West Campus, but said the mayor was committed to doing his best to bring that about. 

School Board member Terry Doran said he didn’t disagree with Fong’s concerns, but supported the district’s master plan for the site. 

“I am concerned about meeting the needs of the district, but I’m not wedded to any particular way of doing it,” he said. 

He said he didn’t have any objection to moving the contested functions to another site, “but we haven’t been able to find another solution, and that’s been frustrating.” 

“I feel we’ve made some progress,” Kristin Leimkuhler, a neighborhood activist who has helped organize opposition to the plan, said after the meeting. 

But even with Fong’s announcement, neighbors said they were still concerned with traffic and parking issues. 

Planning Commissioner David Stoloff, another project neighbor, said the district and its chief consultant, David C. Early, had included far more parking spaces than the city would normally allow. 

Stoloff chided the district for including “a shocking amount of parking” (170 spaces, nearly one per employee) on a site with excellent access to public transportation. 

“This is inconsistent with green planning,” Stoloff said. “The school district is so out of sync. It seems to me you can do with much less parking.” 

Early, whose firm has led the public sessions and produced the master plan, agreed when a neighbor accused the district of fast-tracking the project. 

“It’s happening at a quick pace because Superintendent Michelle Lawrence wants to get her employees out of unsafe buildings,” he said. 

“I agree that an acre and a quarter of surface parking is a misuse of the site,” said Stephen Wollmer of PlanBerkeley.org, a citizen group that monitors development along the University Avenue corridor. 

“The only other projects where you see one-to-one parking are condominiums,” Wollmer said. “One-to-four is more usual.” 

Several neighbors objected to the concentration of parking on the southern portion of the site, from Addison Street toward Allston Way between Browning and Curtis streets. What is now largely an open field with a small amount of parking would become two parking lots separated by a daylighted Strawberry Creek.  

Neighbors said they weren’t happy with the additional traffic cars would bring, nor with the speed at which the increased traffic would flow down Curtis. 

“People don’t drive 25,” said neighbor Stacey de Carion, “it’s more like 45. Why not improve our quality of life and give us something more than a parking lot?” 

One solution, she said, would be to move the building and grounds facility offsite, using the additional ground space for other parking, freeing up the rear parcel. 

For Carlotta Campbell, a Curtis Street resident, Thursday’s meeting was her first. She said neighbors of the site had not been given adequate notice about the community meetings. 

Besides the increased traffic and potential pollution it might bring, Campbell said she would regret “the loss of one of the few green, grassy areas” in West Berkeley. 

Fong said Friday that he agreed with neighbors. “Frankly, the BUSD’s design with parking in the back alongside both banks of the daylighted creek is pretty egregious.” 

Fong said an alternative plan submitted by the West Campus Neighborhood-Merchant Association (WestNEMA) was preferable to the district plan. 

Richard Graham, a critic of the district’s master plan, said that Early’s firm has done its job, and now the process moves to the school board. 

“We have to get ready for the school board, which is where any changes are going to be made,” Graham said. “We are very glad that the mayor is looking for an alternative site, and we want the community to be included in the process.” 

One of the key questions remaining is what agency will govern development at the site, the City of Berkeley or the State Architect, which has oversight of all instructional buildings. 

City and district attorneys are presently trying to hammer out a solution, said Early. 

The district has between $9 million and $11 million in bond money for site repairs and construction, said Early, but no final cost estimate had yet been established for the project.  

The plan now heads to the Board of Education, which is scheduled to take up the project at its June 29 meeting.