Planners Ponder Creeks, Car Dealers, Transportation Fees By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday January 27, 2006

Planning Commissioners tackled creeks, cars dealerships and a proposed transportation services fee Wednesday—long-term issues that will eventually result in new city ordinances. 

First up on the agenda was a workshop on the city’s Creeks Task Force, which is preparing recommendations for a revision of existing law governing the miles of open and buried waterways in Berkeley. 

Most of the city’s creeks have been buried in culverts, and many property owners who live near or above them weren’t aware of them—or of the legal implications they carried. 

Owners of property within 30 feet of a waterway can’t add on to their structures, and they can’t rebuild if they’ve been irreparably damaged by dry rot. 

The current ordinance was passed in 1989, and until an amendment to the ordinance passed in November 2004, some owners of affected properties believed that they weren’t allowed to rebuild. 

Under the amendment, rebuilding is allowed only if a structure has been demolished by fire or a natural disaster like an earthquake—which prompted Commissioner Susan Wengraf to comment, “Seems like an invitation to arson.” 

The ordinance affects the owners of 1191 parcels, many of them single-family residences, built on or adjacent to the waterways. 

The task force must come back with specific recommendations to the city council by May 1, or structures affected by culverted creeks will automatically be removed from coverage by the existing ordinance. 

The task force will hold a public hearing on the ordinance on March 23, followed by another presentation to the planning commission on April 2. 

When commissioners questioned the 30-foot setback—actually 60 feet since it affects properties on either side of the waterway—task force secretary and planning staff member Erin Dando said that the panel is “concerned whether 30 feet is a good number or not.”  

Several members of Neighbors on Urban Creeks (NOUC) offered comments, including former Mayor Shirley Dean. 

One of the major issues confronting the task force is who bears the financial responsibility for repair maintaining creeks and the city’s aging culvert system. 

As the law now stands the responsibility falls on property owners, to which NOUC strongly objects. 

“The homeowners can’t afford the repairs,” said task force member John Roberts. 

NOUC member Barbara Allen said that costs of culvert repair typically run thousands of dollars per linear foot. 

“The creeks ordinance has to be cut back, revised and made reasonable,” said NOUC member Jerry Landis. 

Dean said that the decision to make property owners responsible for repairs to damaged culverts wasn’t included in the 1989 ordinance, but came from a subsequent ruling by the city attorney’s office. 

NOUC members also pointed out that the waterways were an integral part of the city’s storm drainage system, which has become overtaxed as more and more land is developed, built on and paved over. Dean said UC Berkeley’s planned expansion will compound the problem. 

“These issues haven’t been addressed,” said Katherine Bowman, who owns a home affected by the ordinance. “I’ve been to many Creeks Task Force meetings, and they have addressed how to preserve creeks and daylighting creeks but not the rights of property owners. I wish the task force would spend more attention on the human impacts.” 

“People are terrified” that the city will come onto their property and tell them they have to daylight a creek—and pay for it, said Roberts. 

Planning Commission Chair Harry Pollack said he hoped the task force would address the issue of restoring homes damaged by other causes than fires and natural disasters. 

Commissioner David Stoloff said the issue of distance also needed to be resolved. 

“They should also address the issue of the equity of creek maintenance,” said Commissioner Jordan De Staebler. 

“I am concerned that the data collected by city staff deals with the properties of creeks and not the kinds of data we’ve heard tonight,” said Commissioner James Samuels. 



Tasked by Mayor Tom Bates and the city council with looking for ways to rezone West Berkeley to keep the city’s dwindling number of car dealerships, the commission held another workshop Wednesday. 

While the proposal has drawn fire from West Berkeley activists—who have strongly resisted efforts to reduce the amount of land zoned for industry and manufacturing—the first glimmers of a possible compromise appeared during the meeting. 

“It seems you are trying to accommodate four dealers,” said Rick Auerbach, who urged the commission to look for sites that wouldn’t disrupt existing business. 

“You don’t want to use a sledgehammer to go after a mite,” he said. 

“We urge you to draw the lines as narrowly as possible,” said West Berkeley woodworker John Curl. 

Dealerships are under pressure from auto manufacturers to locate near freeways, said Economic Development Director Dave Fogarty, a comment echoed by dealers during an earlier commission tour of West Berkeley sites. 

As the most desirable sites, both com-missioners and critics zeroed in Wednesday on self-storage businesses built along the Eastshore Freeway frontage road, which provide little in the way of revenues to the city in comparison with the lucrative taxes generated by new car sales. 

“We need to be very focused,” said Commissioner Helen Burke. “We don’t want to do something if it’s not really needed.” 

Fogarty said that in addition to current Berkeley dealerships that have expressed interest in moving next to the freeway, the city has received expressions of interest from other dealerships located in nearby communities. 

“The only area that has a future for dealerships in Berkeley is next to the freeway,” Fogarty said. 

“I have a lot of sympathy for the view that the area” for dealerships “should be very narrow,” said Commission Chair Harry Pollack. 

“I wonder if we could identify a zone, say two or three blocks off the freeway,” said Samuels. “It seems to me we’re getting off track by limiting them by zone rather than by area.” 

“If they’re not visible from the freeway, they’re not going to fly,” said de Staebler. 

Stoloff suggested limiting the number of dealerships, “so we don’t have an auto row.” 

In the end, the commission continued the workshop until their next meeting. 


Transportation fee 

Commissioners briefly discussed the proposed transportation services fee program drafted by the Transportation Commission. 

The fee would be imposed on new construction and is designed to partially offset the cost of the impacts of new automobile trips generated by the buildings on the city’s traffic and transportation infrastructure. 

Projects would be able to reduce or eliminate the fee altogether by offering mitigations that would reduce or eliminate the trips.  

Mark McLeod, one of the owner/operators of the Downtown Restaurant at 2102 Shattuck Ave., said his business and many others downtown wouldn’t have located in Berkeley had the fee been in place at the time. “No one would have considered locating in Berkeley,” he said. 

The fee is mandated in the city’s General Plan, and the commission voted to devote more time to discussing the proposal during their first meeting in March.g