Election Section

Commentary: Mayor Bates Drops the Ball: Secret Agreement Aids UC, Not Berkeley Residents By ANNE WAGLEY

Friday June 24, 2005

When Tom Bates was running for mayor in 2002, he spoke to many residents concerned about the impact of UC expansion on the city’s quality of life. He assured us that, with the connections he developed in Sacramento during his years in the Assembly, he would be able to deal effectively with UC Berkeley. He could bring pressure to bear on UC and could create a better town-gown relationship under which the city’s concerns would be addressed. 

But Mayor Bates has not lived up to his promises. Nowhere is this made more clear than in the agreement that he negotiated in secret with UC to settle the city’s lawsuit around the recently approved UC Long-Range Development Plan. 

Approved behind closed doors by the City Council, with no public review or input, this agreement fails abysmally to address the potential negative impacts of either present or future UC development. Worse, the agreement improperly attempts to give UC control over planning for the future of the city’s downtown. 

Only councilmembers Olds, Spring and Worthington had the good sense to vote against this one-sided agreement, which benefits UC at the expense of the city’s residents.  


More Cars, More Traffic 

Traffic is the single biggest impact of the university on the city. UC is the largest generator of traffic in our city, but the agreement ignores it.  

There is no commitment by UC to reduce the number of automobile trips to campus. While Stanford University committed to taking steps to ensure that their expansion would not be accompanied by any increase in peak period trips, UC refuses to make any similar commitment. 

To achieve a reduction in drive-alone auto trips, the 2001 Southside/Downtown Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Study recommended a series of actions and programs including: 

• An Eco Pass program to provide UC employees with free transit passes. 

• Expanded shuttle service. 

• Improvements to the Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program. 

• Improvements to bus stops and transit service. 

• Traffic signal prioritization for buses. 

• Actions to implement the bicycle plan. 

But instead of taking significant measures to reduce commuting, UC is determined to go ahead with a massive increase in their parking supply. Apparently they wish to encourage a higher percentage of their staff and students to drive to campus.  

And this does not even include the increase in cars proposed by UC for the Berkeley Lab in their LRDP to be released later this year. It is shameful that Tom Bates signed off on this parking increase, since it directly conflicts with the city’s General Plan and is environmentally unsound. 

The 2,060 spaces that UC proposes to build are not needed. The TDM study concluded that, with a modest 3-5 percent reduction in the drive-alone rate of UC and non-UC commuters, no additional parking would be needed through 2010-2011.  

But even without TDM and with no shift toward transit, walking and bicycling, the campus would need only 550 more spaces. The 2,060 spaces that UC proposes are thus more than three times the number the TDM study said would be necessary in the event that no TDM policies were implemented. With better TDM, UC would reduce the need for more parking, and our existing parking resources could be used to meet the needs of Berkeley residents and businesses. 


Fiscal Impacts 

UC has a huge negative fiscal impact on the city, but the financial terms of the settlement are weak. $800,000 a year will go to the city for fire and emergency services and for sewer and storm drain projects. The allocation for sewers and storm drains ($200,000) is actually less than the city has been receiving from UC under the prior 1990 agreement ($500,000). And as part of the settlement the city agrees not to impose new or additional sewer fees on UC. This means that the shortfall in the current and future sewer budget will have to be found elsewhere—on property owners’ tax bills.  

A 2004 independent fiscal analysis estimated the annual fiscal impact on the city of providing services both for the existing UC community and for LRDP-projected expansion at $13.5 million a year. 

The agreement also calls for another $400,000 to be spent annually by UC, but UC will decide how to spend it. It is not clear that this money will be spent on anything that will benefit the city or its residents. 

Of this, $200,000 would “fund projects that benefit city neighborhoods.” But the city will not decide how the money is spent; it will be “disbursed at the Chancellor’s discretion.” This is not comforting because UC has rarely shown an interest in addressing neighborhood concerns. 

Another $200,000 is earmarked for TDM, but the vague language merely specifies that it would go to “joint UC/COB” programs, studies, and projects. Again, the city cannot independently decide how the money is spent, and no city staff responsible for transportation management were consulted about this provision. 

UC has a very poor track record when it comes to TDM. It has refused to implement an Eco Pass program for its staff similar to the city’s Eco Pass program or the successful Eco Pass-type programs at Stanford, UCLA, the University of Washington or other universities. Nothing in the agreement requires UC to change its tune. 


The Future of Downtown 

To add insult to injury, the secret agreement gratuitously attempts to hand UC control over planning for the future of downtown Berkeley. 

It’s obvious that the agreement was written by the university with little or no city input. The concept of a “Downtown Area Plan” did not appear in the city’s original response to the LRDP (a very good response), and was not suggested by any of the more than 300 Berkeley residents who submitted comments to the university’s plans. How else could one explain language in the agreement that gives the university a veto over both the process and the content of a “Downtown Area Plan” (DAP) that would amend the city’s General Plan? 

No decision about the process of planning for downtown can be made without the approval of UC’s planning director (who lives far from Berkeley and commutes by car). No draft of the proposed DAP can be released for public input without UC’s permission. 

Bates’ agreement privileges UC at the expense of residents, merchants, environmentalists, and other stakeholders. UC would have a veto to eliminate anything that UC administrators don’t like. The opinions of Berkeleyans won’t count unless UC also agrees with them. 

To make matters worse, the agreement does not even commit UC to following the plan once it’s adopted! They can continue to buy land downtown and build things that are inconsistent with the plan if they choose. 

Fortunately for Berkeleyans, the provisions in the agreement that give UC a planning veto will not be enforceable, since they are inconsistent with the Planning Commission’s legally constituted role in the planning process. They are also inconsistent with the city’s General Plan, which mandates maximum citizen participation in area planning.  

However, citizens are now left with only two modes of self-defense: expensive legal battles, or changing the political landscape. In practice, Bates’ attempt to give UC control over downtown planning will require a Planning Commission and a City Council who are willing to ignore their charge to act in the public interest. Only the voters can determine that. 


Closing off Other Options 

In the settlement our City Council has explicitly signed away our rights to future increased monetary payments from the University, even if there are changes in state law. This would seem to conflict with the admirable efforts of our Assemblywomen Loni Hancock who proposed AB 2902 last year, and to conflict with our own city attorney who authored the League of California Cities amicus brief in the City of Marina lawsuit currently pending before the California Supreme Court. 


Wheeling and Dealing 

Mayor Bates wheeled and dealed in secret, and the result is rotten. Bates talked tough, vowing to “fight tooth and nail” to protect Berkeley from UC, but in the end, he sold Berkeley residents out to UC.  

With this agreement, Mayor Bates has protected special interests instead of the public interest. He clearly signals his contempt for the city’s neighborhoods, whose concerns have been totally ignored. He clearly signals his contempt for the city’s public processes, which this agreement dismisses. And this “environmental” mayor has permitted the city and UC to contribute to the Bay Area’s air quality problems and to global warming, making Berkeley part of the environmental problem instead of part of the solution. This is an insult to Berkeley’s proud environmental values and traditions. 


Anne Wagley is an employee of the Berkeley Daily Planet and a member of Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment.