Public Comment

Commentary: BART Proposal Contains Blatant Mistakes And Should Be Withdrawn Due to Flaws By Rosemary Hyde

Friday February 17, 2006

As a resident in the Ashby BART vicinity, I attended the city-sponsored meeting this past Saturday. The city had given us only four days notice before the meeting, and had not notified any area residents directly. Yet over 200 people were there, thanks in part to the Daily Planet’s good coverage of the City Council meeting. We were interested in learning the official view of the proposed BART parking lot project.  

I had read the proposal with interest. This document specifically said that the project would include 300-plus apartments, and that a developer would be selected by June 2006. It assured that the project came from broad community input. Since, like everyone else in the neighborhood, I had only learned of the project in January, almost five months after the city had originally submitted the proposal to Caltrans for funding, I was curious to learn more about this supposed community input.  

At the meeting on Saturday, we learned from Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Max Anderson, and Project Director Ed Church that the proposed project is premature and inaccurate.  

• The mayor and councilmember admitted that their process in making the proposal was mistaken. This was a good realization. They apologized but were not prepared to offer any action to rectify the mistake. A mistaken proposal should be withdrawn.  

• The mayor waved off our concerns by asserting that everything could be renegotiated after Berkeley gets the Caltran money. Are we really to believe that the state would fund the selection of a contractor to build a proposed 300-unit building and then allow the city to change its mind and use the money to plan, say, a pedestrian plaza instead?  

• The proposal offered no proof that building a 300-unit building in South Berkeley will solve the problems it is supposed to address: creating affordable housing and increasing BART ridership. In fact, data show that fewer than 10 percent of residents in transit developments across the country actually use transit. Also, the feasibility studies make it clear that this project cannot provide affordable housing and still be financially feasible. The problem and the proposed solution do not match.  

• Project director Ed Church conceded that the proposal contained blatant mistakes, such as a 30 percent overstatement of the buildable area on the BART west parking lot. Gross misstatements in a proposal destroy the city’s credibility.  

• The proposal implies that South Berkeley needs higher housing density. But the population density in the area surrounding the Ashby BART station already significantly exceeds what BART recommends. While other BART station areas lack the recommended density, the south Berkeley neighborhood should not be subjected to density levels dramatically higher than those required elsewhere. South Berkeley lacks open spaces, not housing density. 

• The proposal ignores the historic contribution of South Berkeley to the fabric of the city. This area has whole blocks of historic bungalows unique to Berkeley. In addition, the Ashby Flea Market represents a vital historic legacy. It is a lively, successful outgrowth of Berkeley’s political activism of the 1960s. It, too, deserves to be highlighted and supported, not shoved aside. The proposal displaces the flea market and depicts South Berkeley only as a broken place needing to be fixed. We as a community need to plan for enhancing the resources here that make all of Berkeley a special place to live. The proposal is premature and skewed.  

In short, this proposal, which involved no community input, imposes a straitjacket on the community. It builds on false information and destroys historical resources. It is flawed and inaccurate.  

Anyone concerned about the integrity of our irreplaceable resources needs to urge the city council to withdraw this second rate proposal for a 300 unit building on the west Ashby parking lot. Instead, the community needs to determine together what kind of a city we wish Berkeley to be, as Zelda Bronstein suggested in her Daily Planet column a couple of weeks ago. We look forward to conducting this process in collaboration with other Berkeley neighborhoods and with our elected representatives. We want south Berkeley and the Ashby BART area to represent and enhance the unique vitality and beauty of Berkeley as a truly livable city.  


Rosemary Hyde is a South Berkeley