Berkeley Downtown Plan Group Looks to Future By Richard Brenneman

Friday February 17, 2006

Downtown Berkeley’s never again going to be a major commercial center with department stores and other large retailers, a city economic development officer said Wednesday night. 

Instead, Berkeley should build on the core of the city center’s growing arts district, by attracting more niche business and restaurants, said Dave Fogarty. 

Fogarty talked economics and demographics when he briefed the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, the panel charged with helping shape a new vision for the city’s core. 

“I only know one planning joke, but I can’t repeat it,” said DAPAC Chair Will Travis. “It has to do with planners always believing that the future is reality.” 

In the case of DAPAC members, the question was whether to start with blue sky realities or those of the knottier realities of the past as they set about their course of creating a new plan for an expanded downtown area that will have to accommodate the massive appetites of the University of California. 

Dorothy Walker, DAPAC member and a retired assistant vice chancellor for property development at UC Berkeley, wanted to start with blue sky—to look at downtown and imagine the best possible vision for the city’s future. 

But Rob Wrenn, a DAPAC member who also chairs the city’s Transportation Commission and has served on the Planning Commission, wanted to start with the existing downtown plan, the effort of years of work by Berkeley citizens. 

“I’m not sure it is going to further our work to know what’s permitted now or not and what the existing (planning) elements are,” said Walker. “I would love to see us not get bogged down into things that’ve been done before. Everybody agrees we want it to be an exciting place to be.” 

Wrenn said the committee ought to begin by looking at the current plans and policies, then begin to build on them. 

“We need to balance the goals of the University of California by looking at our own existing goals and objectives. We ought to look at what are the development standards (now) as a starting point for our discussion of alternatives,” Wrenn said. 

“I don’t agree with Rob on getting into the existing policies, because we are generating a new vision for the downtown,” Walker replied. “Let’s do that first, and then look at how it relates to the existing policies.” 

At least two university planning officials, Kevin Hufferd and Jennifer Lawrence, were on hand for the Wednesday meeting, reserving their comments for when the university presents its own proposals for the nearly one million square feet of expansion it plans for the downtown area. They said that the university would be ready to make its presentation at the end of March. 

DAPAC’s second meeting this month—on Feb. 28—will feature a discussion of individual members’ goals for the downtown, a carryover of the discussion originally set for Wednesday. 

The first March meeting will feature a presentation on existing land use and conditions in the downtown, followed by the UC presentation at the end of the month. 

The committee will focus on goals again at their first April 19 meeting, incorporating the information presented by the university. That meeting will be followed three days later by a Saturday morning workshop that may or may not include public participation..