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Ashby Transit Village Opponents Win Delay, By: Richard Brenneman

Friday February 10, 2006

In the face of angry neighborhood opposition, Berkeley City Councilmember Max Anderson Tuesday withdrew his motion to have his council colleagues reaffirm support of a state grant to plan development at the Ashby BART station. 

His move doesn’t mean an end to development at the site—where the city controls the “air rights” to build on the main parking lot. 

Instead, Anderson and consultant Ed Church—along with up to three other city councilmembers—will meet with the public Saturday to discuss development at the site before returning to the council on Feb. 21 to raise the issue anew. 

The Saturday meeting will be held from 10 a.m. until noon in St. Paul’s A.M.E. Church, 2024 Ashby Ave. 

“I don’t want to instill fear in people. I want to bring people together,” Anderson said. 

Anderson and Mayor Tom Bates, a strong supporter of development at the site, both acknowledged errors in the way they had handled the project. 

With the backing of both councilmembers, the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Council and consultant Ed Church had submitted an application for a $120,000 California Department of Transportation grant in October before winning council approval. 

The first that many neighbors learned of the project was in reports about the Dec. 14 council meeting where the council endorsed the grant application. 

That document proposed a project with a minimum of 300 units, a size that sent alarm throughout the surrounding community and galvanized opposition. 

About 70 project critics gathered outside the Maudelle Shirek Building—Old City Hall—before the council meeting while Mayor Bates was delivering his annual State of the City address inside. 

In addition to project area residents and preservationists concerned that the size of the project could jeopardize the character of the surrounding neighborhood, the protest also drew Berkeley Flea Market participants concerned for their livelihoods. 


Flea market fans  

“My main concern is with the vendors, especially those who might be starving if they didn’t have this venue,” said flea market General Manager Errol Davis. 

He said he was skeptical about a proposal to shut down Adeline Street on weekends along the eastern edge of the BART site. 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Davis said. “How would the churches and the other businesses and residents be affected?” 

“How do we stop this building?” asked Salvación Pallera, a San Francisco resident who sells produce at the market. “People love the market.” 

“There are so many people whose survival depends on the incomes they get from the market,” said Aisha Vey, who sells natural body care products and food on weekends. “I’m not making a huge amount of profits, and most of the people who come by aren’t people who can afford to go to Whole Foods.” 

“I’d hate to lose it,” said Aaron Cook, a 26-year-old drummer who has been coming to the flea market “since I was 7 or 8. I live right on the corner.”  


Council comments 

Other critics rose to speak during the public comment session at the start of the 7 p.m. council meeting. 

“It takes a great man and a wise person to admit an error,” said Jackie DuBose, a prominent neighborhood activist. 

DuBose called on Anderson to rescind the grant application “and do not declare our wonderful community a transit village.” 

“It would be a crime for you all to close the Berkeley Flea Market,” said Howard Jones, a vendor at the flea market more than two decades. 

A 63-year South Berkeley resident said she had been shocked and “very disturbed to hear something had been planned and the community hadn’t been heard.” 

Another critic was Charles Gary, an Oakland resident who serves on the boards of three South Berkeley institutions: the flea market, Shotgun Players and Easy Does It, a disability assistance organization that will be housed in the Ed Roberts Center, which is to be built on the BART station’s eastern parking lot. 

Gary said he was disturbed that the flea market had been left out in the cold. 

“Max came with Ed Church in October to discuss the potential for the future of the flea market but never mentioned” the grant application would be going before the council in December, he said.  

“Our community is a sleeping giant awakened by the fact that this proposal was popped on us without discussing it with us in any way,” said Kenoli Oleari, a community organizer. “We say, No thanks. We’ll do it ourselves. We’re tired of being little sister to the city. We’re going to take the lead.” 

Addressing the council, Oleari declared, “The best thing you and Ed Church and Max” could do is “to stand aside and let us take the lead ... withdraw the Caltrans application. We’re not interested in any modifications. We’re not interested in any project in which Ed Church, Max Anderson or the City of Berkeley take the lead.” 

His remarks were greeted with loud applause. 


Anderson’s response 

After the council had disposed of the consent calendar, Mayor Bates gave the floor to Anderson, who made a spirited response. 

“When I campaigned for election last year people asked me if I had a vision,” Anderson said. “I told them my key to South Berkeley was the Adeline corridor and its development and health and a chance to take its place along with the other great avenues of the city.” 

Construction of the Ashby BART station and the demolitions that accompanied it “scarred our community,” he said. “It’s been begging for 30 years for someone to step up and take responsibility by bringing the resources to bear” to do something for the community. 

“I could have done nothing. I could have ignored” the problems in the community, Anderson said. “That’s the safest thing to do in Berkeley.” 

Instead, he said, realizing the lack of resources the city had devoted to the area, “when an opportunity came to get some resources” in the form of the Caltrans grant, “I endorsed it.” 

Singling out critics who charged that gentrification would follow the construction of a major condo or apartment project that offered 80 percent of its units at market rates, Anderson said that “if you don’t do something now, you will see gentrification the likes of which will startle everyone.” 

The councilmember singled out Oleari, declaring, “you don’t start an open and inclusive process by excluding people by name.” 

Instead, he said, “whatever mistakes have been made in the past should fade into the background.” 

Anderson said the meeting wouldn’t be “rigged like the last one was,” referring to the Jan. 17 meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center organized by project critics. 


Collegial support 

Other councilmembers weighed in, offering Anderson qualified support. 

“When a great proposal came up in December . . . I supported moving forward with it,” said Gordon Wozniak, adding that “everyone regrets” that the proposal hadn’t been offered in a more inclusive manner. 

Betty Olds drew loud applause when she said she had come to the meeting ready to make a motion to withdraw the application and reapply only when neighbors had a chance to become involved. 

“I’ve been involved in politics for 20 years and I know what happens when you don’t involve the neighborhood,” she said, promising to offer a withdrawal motion in two weeks if neighbors were still unhappy. 

“I apologize and I think the City Council owes the community an apology,” said Kriss Worthington, acknowledging “that we have stumbled in this process” by not involving the stakeholders earlier in the process. 

“It’s not worth building anything on the site if it’s going to be yuppie expensive condos,” he said. 

“From this councilperson’s perspective, everyone went in with the best of intentions. We wanted to do the right thing . . . It was clearly inadequate” said Linda Maio. 

“Let’s come together this Saturday and see what we can do together for the city of Berkeley,” she said. 

“I would like to thank Councilmember Anderson for holding this item back,” said Dona Spring. “It was very wise on his part and shows maturity and that he’s listened to his constituents.” 

Spring and her colleagues had hoped to set the Saturday gathering as a council meeting, but City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said that the venue precluded the idea because it raised church/state issues. The council agreed that at most four members would attend so that there wouldn’t be a quorum.