Members of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) don’t like what they see happening with parking in the city center—there’s less of it all the time in an era of expanding development hoping for a commercial revival.
“Over the last 10 years, the number of spaces has shrunk by 600 to 800,” said DBA Executive Director Deborah Badhia.
The city finds itself caught between two forces: merchants who say that easy access parking is the key to downtown revitalization, and foes of the internal combustion engine, who would like to see even fewer spaces to encourage reliance on public transportation, bicycles and walking.
The DBA’s immediate focus is on the Oxford Plaza project, which is slated to replace the city parking lot facing UC Berkeley across Oxford Street with two major buildings, the five-story David Brower Center and the six-story Oxford Plaza affordable housing building.
The merchants want to see the existing lot replaced by two levels of underground parking beneath the buildings, while existing plans call for only one. That would mean another net reduction in downtown parking.
“Nobody lives up to their word on parking,” said ZAB member Dave Blake, “and downtown Berkeley was born to get screwed.”
For Blake and Badhia both, the issue is replacing existing parking that is being taken for a construction project.
Both pointed to the history of the Public Safety Building adjacent to Old City Hall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“Originally, the city promised to replace the existing parking lot on the site and provide all the additional spaces needed for the building,” said Blake. “But when the plans came back, there was no replacement and insufficient parking for the new use.”
ZAB members voted 6-1 to oppose the new plans, but the City Council overruled them and “what was supposed to be temporary city parking on Center Street became permanent,” Blake said.
Badhia noted that because of the failure to provide adequate parking for the building, the city is allowing city workers and police to park in other neighborhoods and provides shuttle service to bring them to their jobs.
“We want to recover enough parking spaces so we are back to the 2,000 baseline,” she said.
While the Oxford Plaza lot now offers space for 130 vehicles, a single-level underground garage would offer only 80.
“That’s also the lot for the California Theater,” Badhia said.
The DBA wants a second underground level, in part because the city Transportation Department has estimated that the lot will need 25 spaces for employees of the two buildings, she said.
Blake also pointed to the loss of the two-level parking structure at the Library Gardens construction site behind the Main Public Library on Kittredge Street west of Shattuck Avenue.
Developer “John DeClerq (of TransAction Companies) had promised never to build on the site without replacing the parking,” Blake said. “But his building was approved” falling far short of replacing the 100 spaces lost when the structure was demolished.
Blake noted that the end of the Oxford Plaza surface lot marked the end of city-owned surface lots. The former public lot on Berkeley Way is now reserved for city vehicles, he said.
“We’re really concerned” said Badhia. “A lot of wonderful things are happening downtown, but access is the key issue.”
Badhia said the DBA is pinning its hopes on ZAB.
“The downtown has been really hit by regional competition, especially from malls that don’t charge for parking,” she said. At the very least, she said, the city—which initiated the Oxford Plaza project—ought to offer more parking.›