Berkeley Planning and Development Director Dan Marks unveiled the draft work program for the joint city/UC Berkeley Downtown Area Plan (DAP) at Monday night’s meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
Marks said he will present the work plan to the City Council on Sept. 27.
Several commissioners made it clear they were uneasy with the notion of an expansive university in the midst of a massive buildout having a decisive say in the fate of the city’s landmarks-rich urban core.
The DAP, the key provision of the settlement of the city’s lawsuit filed in response to the university’s Long Range Development Plan, is designed to ease the impacts of the university’s projected 800,000 square feet of development and 1,300 new parking spaces in the city center.
The new DAP will cover an area between Hearst Avenue on the north and Dwight Way on the south and Oxford Street on the east and Martin Luther King Jr. Way on the west.
Marks presented commissioners Monday with copies of his three-page letter to UCB Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Physical and Environment Emily Marthinsen, who is filling the shoes of the recently departed Tom Lollini until a permanent replacement is named.
Marks wrote that the city is close to hiring a lead planner to work full-time on the project, with Principal Planner Jennifer Lawrence filling a similar role for the university. Both would serve on a staff-level planning committee tentatively consisting of himself, city Land Use Planning Manager Mark Rhoades, a city transportation planner and Kerry O’Banion, another principal planner from UCB.
While Marthinsen accompanied Marks to the microphone, she left most of the speaking to her city counterpart.
Marks said “both Tom (Lollini) and I were very excited by this opportunity” when they learned the results of city/university settlement’s provisions.
He said that the university’s expansion was one of several developments which have arisen since the existing downtown plan was adopted that merited another go at the planning process.
“Bus Rapid transit will bring profound changes,” Marks said, referring to AC Transit’s planned development of bus express lanes in downtown Berkeley and along Telegraph Avenue.
A joint university/corporate development project, including a hotel, conference centers and art museums, slated for most of a two-block area between Center Street and University Avenue and Oxford Way and Shattuck Avenue, may go forward while the downtown plan is being decided, Marks said.
As part of the information-gathering phase, Marks said a new survey of historical buildings in the planning area is needed, which would include participation of the LPC and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.
“I want to be sure we capture all the historical resources downtown,” Marks said.
He then turned to the composition of the advisory committee. Marks said, city “staff does not want the committee to be a full public participation” process.
“The ideal size would be 15 people,” said Marks. “The more you go beyond that, the harder it is to manage.”
He said that he wouldn’t recommend that the city adopt the workshop model with open public participation.
“There will be public workshops, though only to get input and not as a way to get consensus building,” he said.
“I’m concerned it could become Novartis West,” said commissioner Carrie Olson, alluding to the university’s controversial deal between the College of Natural Resources and the international chemical giant. “The separation of the town’s needs from the gown’s needs is a big deal to me.”
Commissioner Patty Dacey said she was concerned that “the new steroid-driven downtown area is now to include LeConte. No one in my neighborhood is applauding. They look with fear and loathing. It looks like the university will have veto power over our entire downtown plan if it’s not satisfactory. We see this as something that could take over our residences downtown.”
In addition, she said she was also concerned both about what she said was the city’s surrender of sovereignty and the fiscal penalties the city will have to pay if the plan is not produced within the narrow time frame.
Dacey said that “the only way this mistrust and fear can be dissipated is with an open and inclusive democratic process where stakeholder groups are acknowledged and can appoint their own members, rather than by appointment by the City Council.”
Whatever the composition of the new committee, she said, she wanted to make sure that the LPC had a seat.
Commissioner Steven Winkel agreed. “One person per councilmember might make sense” for a citywide plan, but with a more focused plan, the council “should select members not by district but by interests.”
“The exciting thing about downtown Berkeley is that it unifies all the taxpayers,” said Commissioner Leslie Emmington. “It is the heart of the city, both physically and spiritually ... It’s everybody’s downtown. This is a serious thing.”
While “27 stakeholders participated in the current plan,” Dacey said, in the current proposal “the university is a stakeholder, city council is a stakeholder and staff is a stakeholder, but where are the people?”
Olson pointed out zthat in addition to property held in its own name, the university has effective use of property which foundations and other groups are holding for the school. She asked Marks to be sure all those sites were included in the list UC Berkeley gave the city on Aug. 27.
“We are aware that the university holds property in different names, and we have asked them to include that,” he said.
During the ongoing questioning, mostly from Dacey and Emmington, Marks said the UC hotel itself wasn’t part of the 800,000 square feet of new building that would be the focus of the plan. “It is a private project on land owned by the Bank of America ... the site would go in under the current downtown plan or we could change it.”
Winkel, who offered up the resolution that won unanimous approval from his colleagues, calling for the LPC to be considered a coequal stakeholder on an “appropriately sized” task force appointed by the council with the specific proviso that the planning commission would be an equal and not dominant participant, “especially after what we went through with the (revisions to the Landmarks Preservation) Ordinance.”
Taking a few weeks to consider an ordinance years in the shaping, the planning commission proposed significant changes that didn’t sit well with the LPC.
Accompanying Marks’ letter to Martinsen was his proposed timeline for the process. Between now and next January, he said, city and university staff and the advisory panel, appointed by the City Council, will gather information and establish goals and visions for the area.
Between next February and November 2007, staff and the panel will develop and consider various development scenarios, then select one for a draft plan to be reviewed by city commissions. The City Council and the UC Berkeley chancellor will make the final approval of the draft plan.
Another year will be spent preparing an Environmental Impact Report that will consider the preferred plan along with alternatives. During the final eight months, the plan will be reviewed by city commissions. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council, which will vote on the final document in May 2009.
Commissioner James Samuels, in his last meeting as a landmarks commissioner, wryly offered that representation selected by stakeholder groups could be considered a conflict with the goal of having a truly democratic process.
Monday marked his last LPC meeting before heading to his new seat on the Planning Commission, where he was Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s replacement for the outgoing David Tabb and thus he was able to hear Marks again two nights later.