Commentary: A Few Facts On The Downtown Area Plan By JIM SHARP and ANNE WAGLEY

Tuesday September 27, 2005

On Tuesday night, Sept. 27, the Berkeley City Council will take up the planning process for a new Downtown Area Plan. The concept of a new Downtown Area Plan has generated quite a few letters and commentaries on the pages of the Berkeley Daily Planet, and also one lawsuit by Berkeley residents, (including the authors) against city officials and the Regents. We thought you might like a few facts about the Downtown Area Plan as envisioned by the City of Berkeley/UC regents Settlement Agreement: 

1) The City already has a downtown plan, created by residents, community and neighborhood groups, commission members, representatives from ASUC, UC, Berkeley High, AC Transit, business associations, and others, in the late 1980s and approved by City Council in 1990. This plan was reaffirmed in the city’s General Plan of 2001. 

2) The Planning Commission is the body charged with developing land use plans for the city of Berkeley. (Berkeley Municipal Code 3.28.100). However, the Planning Commission is not scheduled to take action on the new proposed Downtown Area Plan until Wed., Sept. 28, the day after City Council meets. 

3) The idea for a new Downtown Area Plan appears, for the first time, in the Settlement Agreement between the city and the UC Regents, approved in closed session on May 24, 2005, without any prior public knowledge. 

4) The concept of a Downtown Area Plan was not mentioned in UC’s Long Range Development Plan, the accompanying Environmental Impact Report, or in the City’s response to these documents. 

5) There was no public input on the need for, or parameters of, a new Downtown Area Plan. The proposal for a new plan was never discussed with the Planning Commission, or indeed with City Council prior to the Settlement Agreement. 

6) The area included in the new Downtown Area Plan is significantly larger than the existing plan, and includes over 150 residential parcels. No residents of these parcels were informed, or had any input in the determination of the new plan boundaries. 

7) As described in the Settlement Agreement, the Downtown Area Plan will be developed by a joint “City of Berkeley/UC Berkeley planning process” (Sec. II) and will “establish development envelopes and design guidelines … not just for UC Berkeley development sites.” (Sec. II A. 1.). 

8) However, even after the Plan is developed “[t]he Regents will reserve their autonomy from local land use regulation.” (Sec. II. B. 1.) This means they help develop the rules which they then do not have to follow. 

9) Staffing for the preparation of the Downtown Area Plan is to include one full-time city planner and one full-time UC planner. If they don’t come up with a plan within 48 months, then UC’s payments to the city (for sewer and fire services) will be reduced by $15,000 per month or $180,000 per year out of the $800,000 annual payment. (Sec. II. B. 3. (a)). 

10) Any meeting before any city commission regarding the Downtown Area Plan must be coordinated with UC Berkeley (Sec. II. B. 5.). 

11) The plan, in draft or final form, cannot be released “without concurrence of both parties.” (Sec. II. B. 6.). 

12) “Any mitigation measures … must be acceptable to UC Berkeley and applicable to all projects in the Downtown Area, regardless of ownership or sponsorship.” (Sec. II. B. 6). 

13) “UC Berkeley reserves the right to determine if the D[owntown] A[rea] P[lan] or E[nvironmental] I[mpact] R[eport] meets the Regents’ needs.” (Sec. II. B. 7.) 

If you don’t like what you have just read, let the City Council know. For information on the lawsuit contact blue@igc.org 


Jim Sharp and Anne Wagley are members of BLUE, Berkeleyans for a Livable University Environment. Anne Wagley is an employee of the Berkeley Daily Planet.