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City Council Will Create Downtown Plan Committee By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday September 30, 2005

Ignoring the wishes of several city commissions, the City Council gave itself the task Tuesday of forming an advisory committee to oversee the development of new downtown zoning laws.  

By a 6-3 vote (Anderson, Spring, Worthington, no) the council approved a plan by Mayor Tom Bates to establish a 21-member body to advise city staff on the new Downtown Area Plan. Each of the nine councilmembers will make two appointments and the Planning Commission will appoint three of its members to the committee.  

Appointments to the advisory group must be made by Oct. 31 and meetings are scheduled to begin in November.  

At Tuesday’s meeting, it was announced that planner Matt Taecker, a member of Berkeley Design Advocates and of the school board’s Facilities Committee, will lead the city’s effort in forming the plan.  

The new Downtown Area Plan, to be designed in partnership with UC Berkeley, has caused a political firestorm this year. While supporters maintain that new land-use rules are needed to integrate UC’s planned expansion in the downtown, opponents counter that the plan cedes city zoning authority to the university and potentially freezes out citizens while UC and city staff planners come to an agreement.  

Control over the advisory committee is seen as a tool for shaping the final plan. Councilmembers who have been most critical of the new agreement urged the council to hold off voting until receiving recommendations from the Planning Commission, several members of which have also been critical of the endeavor.  

The Planning Commission, which must approve a final plan, made clear two weeks ago that it wanted to lead the advisory body and make appointments. It had not taken a formal vote before the council vote. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Transportation Commission also have requested a role in developing the plan. 

Bates’ proposal requires the advisory group to hold joint workshops with commissions, make quarterly progress reports to the Planning Commission and accept comments from commissions on their areas of expertise.  

“The commission is going to be eminently involved. They won’t be starting from ground zero,” Bates said introducing his proposal, which he represented as a compromise.  

Councilmember Dona Spring fired back that the mayor’s plan would further erode public confidence in the planning process.  

“By short-circuiting the Planning Commission, we start off again on the wrong wheel,” she said.  

Spring is one of three councilmembers who voted against settling a lawsuit the city had filed over the university’s plan for future development. The settlement mandated that the two sides begin a joint plan for the downtown.  

The plan will cover land from Hearst Avenue to Dwight Way and from Oxford Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Way.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said that the current Downtown Plan, passed in 1990, was antiquated and that the council shouldn’t waste time waiting for a formal recommendation from the Planning Commission on the advisory committee.  

“Sending it back to the Planning Commission only delays it,” he said. “The buck stops here.”  

Setting the board at 21 members was also presented as a compromise by Bates. Planning Director Dan Marks had asked for the board to have between 15 and 20 members, while several planning commissioners wanted more members to represent various interest groups and increase public participation.  

Addressing the council, former Planning Commissioner Zelda Bronstein questioned whether staff wanted a smaller committee so that it could be more easily controlled.  

Tuesday’s debate opened up old wounds over the lawsuit. Councilmember Kriss Worthington pressed City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque to acknowledge that UC Berkeley, as a state agency, will not be bound to follow the plan, and that the city won’t be able to release the plan without university approval.  

Albuquerque replied that the provisions are “not unique” when two public agencies are cooperating on a new plan.  

Striking a conciliatory tone, Acting Assistant UC Vice Chancellor Emily Marthinsen said the university had no intention of vetoing the downtown plan. “Our hope is that we can forward our mutual interests by working together,” she said.  


Other items 

At the urging of Councilmember Worthington, the council voted unanimously not to charge a veterans’ group for access to Berkeley’s Veterans’ Memorial Building. The city is working on agreements with non-profits using the building to pay a portion of the building’s operating expenses.  

Oakland residents Sasha and Merideth Shamszad won approval to add a fourth floor to 2750 Adeline St., a Berkeley landmark. The redesigned building will have one or two living spaces and four spaces for artists. Natasha Shawver, a former tenant, had appealed the permit issued by the Zoning Adjustments Board because the plans included eliminating illegal live/work spaces in the building.  

Councilmembers Worthington and Wozniak agreed to send the Elmwood Shopping District quota system to the Planning Commission for review. Wozniak, who represents half of the two-block shopping district, is recommending scaling back quotas on most types of businesses in the district. Worthington, who represents the other half of the district, supports the quota system.  

Worthington held over an item about the city removing newspaper racks until he receives more information from city officials. ›