Downtown Plan Panel Tackles UC Committee Representation By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday February 03, 2006

The elephant before them was the groom in a shotgun wedding. 

And by the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, members of the panel planning the future of downtown Berkeley had invited the beast to take a seat—three of them, actually—at the table. 

The elephantine nuptial analogies were raised by members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, during a long discussion about whether or not to grant ex officio status on the panel to representatives of UC Berkeley. 

Last month DAPAC Chair Will Travis had earned the displeasure of City Councilmember Kriss Worthington for inviting the university to name four ex officio members to the panel. 

Worthington objected, questioning whether Travis had the power to invite members onto a committee whose other members had been selected by the councilmembers and the planning commission. 

Afterward, Travis sent a follow-up letter, inviting the university to participate “on an informal basis” until the issue was resolved. 


Procedure questioned 

At least one DAPAC member also objected Tuesday that Travis had acted unilaterally, extending the invitation without first consulting the rest of the committee. 

“I really don’t believe you had the power to do it,” said Patricia Dacey. 

“I really do believe we should stick to our brief and follow the rules” and the city’s handbook for conduct of Berkeley commissions and committees. 

Jesse Arreguin, a DAPAC member who serves on other city commissions, agreed. “Letters sent out in the name of the committee must be sent out with the consent of the committee.”  

Travis acknowledged his error. 

The committee’s existence and the formulation of the new downtown plan are a direct result of the university’s massive expansion plans targeting the downtown, which were revealed in its Long Range Development Plan for 2020. 

The committee was formed as a condition of the settlement of a city suit against the university, filed in an attempt to mitigate the impacts of the LRDP on the city and local taxpayers. 

Two informal university representatives were on hand to field questions Tuesday, Kevin Hufferd and Jennifer Lawrence. Hufferd is a project manager/senior planner in UC’s Office of Capital Projects and Lawrence is a principal planner. 

The pair occasionally offered comments and answered questions as DAPAC spent most of Tuesday’s meeting deciding just what role gown should play on town’s panel. 

In the lengthy discussion that followed, the committee made its first break from the tightly scripted agendas it had followed in its previous meetings, documents that blocked out specific time segments for each item. 

Committee Chair Will Travis had been adept at hewing to the timelines in earlier meetings. 

Travis, who has two degrees in planning, works as executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and was appointed by Mayor Bates to chair DAPAC. 

Juliet Lamont, Bates’ other appointee, said she had mixed feelings about the ex officio appointments, “but our best hope of working in partnership with the university to have an open dialog and make sure information is going back and forth.” 


No reciprocity? 

Several members wanted a reciprocal action by the university—city representation on the UCB body that will make decisions about the massive development the university plans downtown that sparked the city lawsuit that led to the settlement which included creation of DAPAC. 

But Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Edward J. Denton, in a letter sent to DAPAC the day before the meeting, declared that UCB doesn’t have a committee paralleling DAPAC “and does not intend to constitute one.” 

He did acknowledged that “the university from time to time will consult with an ad hoc group of advisors, including faculty and administrators, willing to consider the university’s role and provide expertise to the university about our participation in the process.” 

The paragraph “really wants to say, ‘We ain’t got nobody you can meet with on our side,’” quipped DAPAC member and Planning Commissioner Gene Poschman. 

Referring to the proposed ex officio representatives, he asked, “Are we really getting the counterparts of Matt and Dan?” referring to Matt Taecker, the planner hired by the city to work on the plan, and Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks. “I would really like to know what we’re going to get from this.” 

“What do we get out of this by having ex officio members?” added DAPAC Member and transportation Commission Chair Rob Wrenn. 

Wrenn said that if the university had permanent representation on the panel, he wanted to make sure other stakeholder groups had ample time to make their presentations to DAPAC beyond the three-minute public comment periods at the start of each meeting. 

Others agreed. 

“It’s disingenuous for the university to say there is no committee and then to say they are meeting from time to time with advisors,” added member Linda Schacht. 

“To me, the bottom line is to embrace the charge that we have” from the City Council, said Carole Kennerly, which is to work with the university on a plan that encompasses their plans for the downtown. 


Numbers question 

Dacey objected to granting four seats to the university when many other stakeholder groups aren’t represented on the panel. 

Arreguin, who is a graduate student at the university, said that he wanted the UCB representatives to include a staff member and a student, a suggestion immediately endorsed by DAPAC member Wendy Alfsen. 

But Dorothy Walker, a DAPAC member who retired from the university as assistant vice chancellor for property development, called on the panel to embrace a “golden opportunity.” 

“The decision process will not involving plumbing the thoughts of students and staff,” she said, urging the panel to name university decision-makers, “the higher the level, the better.” 

Committee member Winston Burton then suggested that the university appointees be limited to two, the same number each councilmember appointed. 

Victoria Eisen said she would welcome four or six. 

At that point Planning Commissioner and DAPAC member Helen Burke interjected. 

“First, I think this whole process is like a shotgun wedding. Nobody wants it but we’re here at the table and the bridegroom needs to be at the table,” she said. 

“And the bridegroom’s an elephant,” called out another member. 

Burke said she’d supported two UC officials, but colleague and former City Councilmember Mim Hawley suggested three—to match the three planning commissioners serving on the committee. 

Burke agreed, although Poschman, one of the three planning commissioners, quipped, “How about reducing the planning commission to two?” 

A motion followed to recommend that the council invited three members, and when it came to a vote, only Dacey opposed. 

The final decision rests with the City Council, which is expected to endorse the decision. 

Committee members never got around to sharing their three goals for downtown Berkeley—an assignment from Travis. Instead, they were asked to submit them by e-mail for discussion at the group’s next meeting Wednesday. 

At that session Dan Marks and city Economic Development Director Dave Fogarty are scheduled to present information on the demographics and economic trends of the downtown, and the panel is also expected to name a subcommittee that will focus on the historic character of the city center. ›