Development Corp. Seeks Task Force By Richard Brenneman

Friday March 24, 2006

The group chosen by the city to oversee development at the Ashby BART parking lot wants recruits for a task force panel to recommend projects to the city council. 

Just how many people will serve on the panel remains an open question, said Ed Church, who is project director for the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC),the non-profit organization picked by the city to oversee development at the site. 

“We have more qualitative than quantitative guidelines,” he said. “We’re more concerned with representation and inclusion.” 

The SBNDC has taken to calling the surrounding neighborhood SoBa, for South Berkeley area. 

While the announcement said the task force was mandated by the city council resolution that approved the grant application, it is nowhere mentioned in that document—a point raised at neighborhood activist Robert Lauriston’s Neighbors of Ashby BART website (nabart.com). 

“It was mentioned in the discussion with the city council” during the December meeting, said Church. 


Call for task force members 

In a notice issued to seek members, the non-profit listed three basic assignments for the panel: 

• Define the basic elements of the project, which is expected to include housing built over ground-floor retail space, as well as the qualifications of a project developer. 

• Formulate a written proposal the city council can use to issue a Request for  

Qualifications for selection of a project developer. 

• Assist the council in selecting the developer. 

The project, strongly pushed by City Councilmember Max Anderson and Mayor Tom Bates, ran into strong initial opposition from neighbors alarmed at the announcement that the BART station’s western lot will house a major development with at least 300 units of housing. 

Church, who included the figure in a grant application to seek state funds for the planning process, later said the figure was a mistake, based on a misinterpretation of the site’s area. 

Task Force members are expected to serve and attend night and weekend meetings for the three to six months expected to complete the process. 

The written guidelines said applicants must live or own a business in Berkeley and be familiar with housing, economic, environmental or general issues in South Berkeley. 

But Church said Thursday that one would-be applicant had asked for inclusion of members from north Oakland who live within a half-mile of the site. 

“If sounds like a good idea, so I am forwarding his name to the board” of the nonprofit, Church said. 

The eight-member board is chaired by Jesse Anthony, a teacher who also serves on the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board. 

AC Transit Deputy General Manager Jim Gleich serves as vice-chair. 

Nominations can be sent to Church by email at SoBa@southberkeley.org or by snail mail care of the SBNDC, 1767 Alcatraz Ave., Berkeley 94703. 


Grant alive 

Meanwhile, a City Council-sponsored application for a $120,000 grant to assist in planning the project is still moving forward. 

Laura Wonder, regional public affairs chief for Caltrans, said word on the final status of the request the SBNDC filed in October and the city council endorsed two months later could come as early as mid-April. 

Word is certain by the end of the month, she said. 

If approved, the grant would also require a city contribution of $30,000. 

Announcement that the application had been sought prior to the council’s approval triggered a firestorm of protest from area neighbors, who feared that the resulting project could result in eminent domain property seizures in the surrounding area. 

Anderson and Bates have since promised that the project would not use eminent domain within the project area or seek to classify the project as a transit village under legislation Bates authored during his years in the state Assembly. 

That legislation would have mandated greater density standards in the area..