West Campus Neighbors who oppose the Berkeley Unified School District’s plans to move light industrial uses and heavy vehicle storage into their neighborhood are beginning to feel a bit like kids at a carnival watching a grifter executing a shell game. Just as they think they have a line on what the district is up to, the district switches direction. A few examples:
The number of vehicles and nature of other equipment to be stored as well as the amount of space required changed drastically between the April 7 and April 21 meetings. Heavy equipment was added and the amount of space required tripled.
At the April 21 meeting the neighbors were told that troubled Berkeley High School students currently home schooled because of criminal or behavior problems, would be taught in a community day school on West Campus. After vehement objections by the neighbors based on safety of children located in several pre-school and child care facilities in the neighborhood, the proposed facility was represented to be an alternative learning center. The nature of the students became more vague. Students were characterized as those with “special needs” (described as religious and psychological), not behavior problems. By June 2, Early had less, not more, information about the proposed student body. Might be one group or the other, or, possibly both.
Originally, the neighbors were told by David Early, hired by the district to manage the community meetings, that there was no alternative to West Campus for the relocation of vehicle storage, warehouse facilities and central cafeteria kitchen. Early later admitted that the district owned a large parcel of vacant property at 1325 Gilman that could accommodate most, if not all the light industrial operations. The district’s own public information officer stated, then denied, that this land was subject to a substantial set aside and therefore was too small for the transportation facility. Later, boardmembers and the information officer admitted that the set aside was at the request of Mayor Bates.
However, Mayor Bates’ representative to the community meetings has indicated that Mayor Bates agrees with the neighbor’s alternative plan that would eliminate the industrial uses. The mayor has yet to make a public statement explaining what authority he had to request the set-back in the first place and how he planned to get around the Education and Government Code provisions that govern uses of district property. Or whether he has any alternative site other than Gilman Street.
The district continues to change its story about how the Administration Building and Transportation Facility is going to be funded. At first there was no answer. Then Early indicated that the money would come from bond issues AA passed in 2000 intended for retrofitting classrooms. When the neighborhood group attempted to follow up, it took weeks for the District to provide the Exhibits to the resolution authorizing the AA bond issue that limited use of the funds.
Simultaneously, the district’s representative invoked the “Orange Book,” published by the district in advance of the 2000 election, as authority for use of the AA bond funds for the projects. This, despite the fact that the Orange Book itself makes it clear that the district is required to spend bond funds for purposes stated in the resolution authorizing the bond and in the ballot measure itself. Former Information Officer Karen Sarlo admitted in an interview with the Daily Planet two months before the bond election, the proposals in Orange Book are just that, proposals that are subject to change.
Sarlo also stated that Measure AA “has a $10 million contingency for unforeseen circumstances written into the bond.” Co-incidentally, the district’s latest explanation of the source of funding for its new Administration Building, is that the District has $10 Million “from the State.” A review of the financial information posted on the district’s website and contained in the Orange Book does not reveal the existence of any such state generated nest egg. Did the district receive $10 it can use to build a new administration building from the state? Or is this another shell game?
Finally, the board seems to be less than sincere in its desire to involve citizens with interests at stake. No notices of the community meetings were provided to residents on Curtis Street, which borders the West Campus. When they got wind of what was planned for their neighborhood, several Curtis Street residents appeared at the most recent community meeting with signatures of 60 residents and expressed dismay and anger at the district’s plan to once again “dump on West Berkeley.”
Nor were the parents of the students currently enrolled in the alternative learning center told that the program would be moved away from its current close proximity to Berkeley High, making integration of these students with the high school difficult, if not impossible.
The shell game continues with the district continuing to assert that it does know whether it is subject to city zoning and permitting requirements, although the law is clear that only classrooms, not other district facilities are exempt from local government regulation.
Some times regulators are rescuers. The West Campus Neighbors take some solace in the fact that the Planning Commission does not intend to abdicate its responsibility. The neighbors hope that the mayor and other officials live up to their responsibility to ensure that the laws intended to protect residents are enforced and that proper procedures are followed.
Ruchama Burrell and her family live near West Campus.›