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Neighbors Oppose Ashby BART Project By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday January 20, 2006

Nearly 400 neighbors of Ashby BART packed the South Berkeley Senior Center Tuesday night to voice their concerns about the transit village project proposed for the station’s western parking lot. 

And by the time the meeting had ended, 220 of them had sig ned a petition calling for rejection of a CalTrans grant application that would provide $120,000 to develop a project plan. 

The meeting also produced a flood of communications to CalTrans, agency spokesperson Tamie McGowen said Thursday afternoon. 

“We r eceived numerous phone calls and emails, mostly in opposition, but a couple in support,” McGowen said. 

Few who spoke had anything good to say about the plan, which is backed by Mayor Tom Bates and South Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson, to install a complex that would include about 300 residential units and a collection of shops in a building to be constructed at the BART lot. 

The meeting opened with presentations by a panel of speakers, with Robert Lauriston leading off. Lauriston, who lives a block from the site, has organized Neighbors of Ashby BART and its website, 

“I donated $250 to Max’s campaign, but that doesn’t mean he returns my phone calls,” Lauriston said. 

Proposing a specific development before consulting the neigh borhood “is putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “We may have to figure out for ourselves” what to put on the site. 

Lauriston pointed out discrepancies in the reported number of residential units proposed for the site, noting that the grant appli cation specified a minimum of 300, while project coordinator Ed Church told the City Council that 300 was a maximum. 

Church was chosen by the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Council (SBNDC) to guide the project, the nonprofit group that filed the application. 

Lauriston also pointed to another neighborhood concern, the 25 percent density bonus that would be allowed for new construction within a transit village district, which includes properties within a quarter-mile radius of a project. 

Panelist Sam Dykes, an Adeline Street merchant who serves on the SBNDC board, had little to say. 

That was not the case with former Planning Commission Chair Zelda Bronstein, who is not a project neighbor. 

“This should be stopped because it’s a back-room deal” and an example of cronyism, Bronstein said. “Judging from the way it’s been handled, I have to say the SBNDC cannot be trusted to represent the South Shattuck neighborhood.” 

Bronstein called on opponents to make their positions known to CalTrans official s who would be awarding the grant, and one Prince Street resident reported Thursday that a friend had contacted 32 friends and family members who had fired off emails to the agency. 

She also questioned whether the village would accomplish one of its goal s, the reduction of automobile trips by its residents—a question raised by other speakers as well. 

Panelist and former Mayor Shirley Dean was invited because organizers figured she would be a backer of the proposal, but she proved to be anything but. 

“T he application says it’s important that there be an open and vital community process, but it has already settled a number of important issues, like the 300 units,” Dean said. “It was on the City Council’s consent calendar, and it was only discussed becaus e a single member of the community, Jackie DeBose, stood up and objected.” 

Dean said she had never before seen an occasion when a grant application had been filed on behalf of the city before its approval by the City Council. Church told the council at t he Dec. 13 meeting where the application was approved that he had filed the document in October because he had become aware of the grant at the last minute before the application period closed. 

Dean said she also objected because the community had no way to hold the SBNDC board accountable. 

Panelist Bob Brokl had been invited because he had spearheaded a successful campaign to derail a North Oakland redevelopment district that had been submitted to residents only after the city had gotten consultants to develop the proposal. 

A 33-year Temescal neighborhood resident, Brokl urged BART project opponents to mobilize neighbors through door-to-door personal contacts and through flyers. 

“Create unusual alliances,” he said, noting that in the North Oakland ca mpaign his group had allied with a prominent Orange County Republican.  


Speaker comments 

“A big G-word campaign is happening. The G-word is gentrification,” said David Shoemaker, who works on Adeline Street directly across from the site. 

“I feel we’v e been betrayed by Max Anderson,” said Newberry Street resident Max LeClampe, who proposed a recall campaign against the city councilmember. 

“I want a moratorium on any development at Ashby BART until we get more information on the impact of the Ed Rober ts Center,” said letter carrier Martin Vargas. That center, which will serve the needs of Berkeley’s disabled community and its organizations, is scheduled to be built on the station’s eastern parking lot. 

“Tom Bates and Loni [the mayor’s spouse, Assemblymember Loni Hancock] want to demolish every historical landmark we have in South Berkeley,” Vargas declared. 

“I’m strongly opposed to this project. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Zachary Running Wolf, a Native American activist and the only currently declared candidate to run against Bates in the fall mayoral election. 

Several speakers also raised concerns about the flea market held each weekend on the BART lot. 

Charles Gary, a member of the market’s board who also sits on the board of the Shotgun P layers, which has a theater directly across from the BART lot on Ashby Avenue, read from a letter sent by Community Services United, which manages the market, to the city.  

Osha Neumann, the attorney who wrote the letter and a BART neighbor, ridiculed th e city’s proposal to relocate the market to Adeline Street immediately to the east. 

“We’re talking about the death of the flea market, one of the most diverse communities in Berkeley,” he said, ridiculing the notion that Adeline Street merchants would be happy with the noisy market on a closed thoroughfare in front of their stores and restaurants. 

Adama Mosley, a flea market vendor, said that without the market, “I’d probably be on the welfare rolls.” 

Noting that the market also provides free space to nonprofit community groups and affords residents a chance “to sell the stuff in our attics and basements,” Mosley said. “Berkeley is selling us out. Let’s not let them do it.” 

“How dare they think they can come in here and tell us our community is blight ed?” said Russell Street resident Sam Herbert. “They can’t have our gol-darned neighborhood. If they go forward, I will be circulating a petition for a class-action lawsuit and we will sue the city.” 

Though greatly outnumbered by critics, several speaker s rose to defend the project. One was Max Anderson’s spouse, Linda Olivenbaum, who noted that the councilmember wasn’t able to attend because the council was meeting at the same time. 

Criticizing the panel for a lack of balance, Olivenbaum said “There is no done deal. Fear and lack of reason is taking over. There will be a time when a more balanced discussion can be heard.” 

She said the project would help undo the damage done to the community when the BART station was built and provide needed working cl ass housing. 

Other speakers declared that because only 20 percent of the units would be set aside for lower-income tenants, the rest would go for market rate rents which would unaffordable to working class families. 

Theresa Clark offered her support for the proposal, telling critics that “we need to give people a chance. We need to give the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Council a chance. I don’t know why people are getting so crazed. You need to mellow out.” 

Her comments drew scattered applau se. 


State deadline 

A CalTrans official—speaking on background—said that while the official period for public comment had already closed, the agency would take the emails and calls into consideration. 

The grant application wasn’t presented to the City Council until after the normal comment period had closed. 

CalTrans officials are scheduled to have the list of finalists completed by March 10, when administrators will make the final awards.  

The total of grant money sought far exceeds the available f unding.›