Forget blue states and red states. At the Berkeley City Council Tuesday, it was green signs versus orange signs.
Partisans of the orange persuasion were advocates of closing a stretch of Derby Street to make room for a regulation-sized baseball diamond for Berkeley High School, while the green folk wanted Derby left open.
The crowds were large enough that firefighters were assigned to monitor the doors and keep scores of would-be participants corralled on the first floor of Old City Hall.
In sheer numbers, fans of closing the street—consisting in large part of Berkeley High School students and parents—predominated.
The council could take no official stand on the street closure without first seeing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which Berkeley Unified School District board member Shirley Issel urged to council to fund.
City Manager Phil Kamlarz outlined the steps necessary before the project could be approved.
In order to “vacate” (close) Derby Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Milvia Street, the city would first need the EIR to hold a hearing before the Planning Commission, followed by the presentation of a phased approach to the development of the fields.
The school district and members of the Berkeley High baseball team want the street closed because that’s the only way the district can build a regulation field. The team now uses the diamond at San Pablo Park.
Neighbors who want the street kept open said that the district instead should go ahead with developing multi-use fields on the smaller San Pablo Park. Building the new fields would open up San Pablo to more neighborhood events, which appealed to Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose district includes the site.
Councilmember Dona Spring urged her colleagues to give serious consideration to keeping the street open, but the most members indicated a willingness to consider the closure.
The key remaining issue is the fate of the farmers’ market held each Tuesday along that same block of Derby Street.
Linda Graham, program director of the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, said that “any time a market is forced to move off-site, it takes four years to recover—if they do at all.”
A move would reduce visibility and make handicapped access more difficult, she said. “A long-term guaranteed site is needed, and we are worried” that the school district might not allow the market to remain in operation.
Mayor Tom Bates, a strong supporter of developing new playing fields, said councilmembers are legally obligated to keep an open mind. The board voted to hold a public workshop in April on the option of closing Derby Street.
The long-running dispute over the development of a two-story three-unit housing complex at 1532 Martin Luther King Jr. Way ended when councilmembers voted to uphold a 5-4 Zoning Adjustments Board approval of the project.
Neighbors complained that the project would overshadow the neighbor to the north and result in loss of views, but only councilmembers Dona Spring and Linda Maio sided with their cause, with the other seven councilmembers voting approval.
The council voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing on the proposed transportation fees that would be assessed to new development projects to offset the costs of new traffic the projects would generate.
The proposal would offer incentives for developers to provide ways for tenants, customers and employees to use public transit, and if a developer could prove that a project would generate no net increase in automobile traffic, no fee would be required. i