Public Comment

Commentary: Ashby Transit Village? No Thanks. By KENOLI OLEARI

Tuesday February 07, 2006

There are a number of people in this community, who are taking a pretty hard line position regarding the Ashby BART planning proposal submitted to CalTrans by Max Anderson, Ed Church and the city, particularly Mayor Tom Bates. This group of hardliners includes, among others, the ad hoc steering committee, a group of people who volunteered to keep working on this issue following the large community meeting that many of you attended, and myself. 

We are taking a position that includes the following:  

1. The only course of action that we find acceptable is that the city withdraw the proposal they have made to CalTrans. 

2. We will not consider supporting any modified version of that proposal. 

3. We are unwilling to support any project in which either Max, Ed Church, SBNDC or the city play a leading role. 

In addition, we are proposing that the community take the initiative itself to begin a fully inclusive visioning and planning process for South Berkeley. We are willing to put our energies into making this happen. The goal of this process would be a vision generated by all the diverse voices of South Berkeley. It would acknowledge all of the wonderful things that groups and individuals are already contributing to our neighborhood, bringing all of this together in a collective effort based on a vision we will build together. No one will be excluded, replaced or left out. It would also include making the commitment and taking the collective action necessary to make this vision a reality. Any plan for developing the Ashby BART station would grow out of this vision and this process. What we are saying to the City is “No thanks, we’ll do it ourselves.” 

Imagining the prospect of working together to create a community vision has been quite inspiring. It has brought together a wonderfully diverse group of people, some of whom have, in the past, not gotten along so well together. It is exciting to feel the energy that is growing out of this new meeting of diverse voices in an open and collaborative spirit. It has shown us what we can do if we work together. We are getting excited about possibilities for the BART site that could come out of such a process. 

But first, we have to stop this initiative. 

Since many of you may be wondering what brought us to this thinking, let me explain. I think you will find it is not as extreme a position as it might sound. 

First, we are not taking this position because we are opposed to developing the BART site. I think it is fair to say that, among those taking this strong stand, there are many opinions on whether to develop the site or how. It is my sense that most of us would like to see something done at the site. What all of us agree on is that if anything is developed at the BART station, it has to grow out of a full and open community process. It can’t be an idea cooked up by Ed Church on which we get to comment. 

This is what we mean by a full and open process: 

1. All community voices are included from the very start. 

2. The process is not driven by pre-existing constraints or assumptions.  

3. Anything that is done at the BART station or elsewhere grows out of a larger vision for South Berkeley that is the result of a true community-wide planning process.  

This is all predicated on a shared belief: “If we can imagine it together, we can make it happen!” 

The reason we are unwilling to allow Ed, Max, SBNDC or the City to have any directive role in any future proposal is because we believe they have violated and continue to violate, even in the face of our protests, our core value of full community participation. At this point, we think they do not hold community participation as a high priority; we don’t believe they even know how to support that kind of participation. This is some of what we have observed: 

• They developed the vision detailed in the CalTrans grant on their own with no process that included our community to any meaningful degree. The community is merely advisory. 

• Their proposal puts Ed completely in control of the project and all of its funds, as well as being in control of all public input and all final decisions.  

• Their proposal explicitly constrains public input at every stage with detailed prior constraints, regarding funding, density, scope, project control, etc.  

• They continue to exclude us as they attempt to justify and modify their proposal in the hope of winning our support.  

• When a group of community folks organized a meeting to provide information to the larger community, they tried to hijack that effort and, when that failed, they tried to isolate it.  

• When hundreds of people showed up at that meeting, they tried to organize a competing meeting, making an abortive nod to planning it with community voices. They abandoned that planning effort when they couldn’t control the planning process.  

• They have continually refused to acknowledge our protests about the process they have pursued, dismissing them as procedural attempts to block a proposal we don’t like or claiming they were based on our irrational prejudice against Max and the City or as “personal attacks.”  

• To add insult to injury, they even failed to inform us as to what they were planning to do before presenting their plan for action by the City Council. 

We are not making personal attacks on Max and Ed; we are observing what they have done and expressing our disapproval. We are holding them accountable for their actions. 

We are not willing to give them another chance on this issue; as far as we are concerned, any visioning or planning that goes on in South Berkeley will be driven by the community, not Max, Ed, SBNDC or the city. 

In addition, there are specific issues raised in the proposal that make it clear that they have made prior determinations regarding their plans for the site and continue to misrepresent this fact in public. Robert Lauriston has done an excellent job of detailing these issues, so I will not repeat them here. Robert’s article can be seen in the Feb. 3 issue of the Daily Planet or on the Planet’s website. 

All in all, what we are standing for is an exciting and active community that takes responsibility for its own future. We are even excited by what might develop at the Ashby BART station out of a shared community vision. We care about this so much that we are willing to commit to working toward creating a community wide process that will include every voice in South Berkeley in imagining and implementing a shared and integrated vision for South Berkeley, including but not limited to the Ashby BART station. 

We invite every member of the Berkeley community to join us. The first thing we need to do is to stop the proposal that has been pushed on us. 

Let’s make the city withdraw the CalTrans proposal! Then let’s get together and build the community we want to live in. 

“No thanks, we’ll do it ourselves.” 


Kenoli Oiler is a Berkeley resident.