Public Comment

Commentary: Ashby BART Plan Still Ignores the People By KENOLI OLEARI

Friday March 31, 2006

It’s business as usual with the Ashby BART “development.” In a recent move by Ed Church and the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC), SBNDC is now going to choose a team of people who will represent all of South Berkeley to the City Council in a process to hire a developer for the Ashby BART site. And this before we have had one conversation as a community about what we want regarding the Ashby BART station. 

Generally, Tom Bates and Max Anderson have been telling people that they started out too fast, that they now want to slow down and find out what the community wants at the BART station. They say they want what the community wants. 

I have spoken to community members, local business owners, and other South Berkeley groups, and my impression is that there is widespread interest in some kind of community open space at the Ashby BART, a piazza-like structure with retail, outdoor eating and art, perhaps some community meeting space and a small amount of affordable housing IF housing can be fit into that format. My general impression is that there is widespread support for a space that will allow for the continuation of the Ashby Flea Market, ON THAT SITE. 

So, this sounds good. Let’s get together, figure out what we want and do it! 

But . . . The wind is blowing in a different direction. 

Tom and Max and Ed and other city council members, when pressed, actually tell us that they are only open to a plan that is primarily high density housing. They have said this in a meeting with the Flea Market, in meetings with various other groups, in personal communications I have had with them and in various forums. They also agree that this would not be compatible with the vision for a community piazza such as that described above or with a space that would support the continuation of the Flea Market at their present location. There us a widespread belief among these folks and a few hundred “workforce” families is the best medicine for South Berkeley. 

And recent developments demonstrate the same. The latest move in this drama is that Ed Church, in the name of the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, has issued a call for nominees to become part of a “task force.” The specific and only task assigned to this task force is to advise the City Council on signing a contract with a developer for the Ashby BART site, before there is an opportunity for any kind of broad community process to decide what we want, if anything. This was the very thing that concerned us when we first read the Caltrans proposal: if the process starts out by contracting with a developer to build high density housing, how can we decide to do anything else. Our role will be relegated to deciding the color of the walls of the fortification we will walk past.  

While Tom Bates assured us at his meeting at the AME church that they would be tearing up the proposal and instead implementing a community driven exploration, Ed’s move belies this fact by following the proposal to a T. 

Upon reading his announcement, I immediately sent Ed an e-mail asking two questions: 

1. Who will be making the selection among the nominees for the final task force and how will that be done? 

2. Since Max and Tom have been telling everyone we can do whatever the community wants at the BART station, how does this square with starting off with a contract with a developer for housing at the site? 

He has not responded. It has been about a week since I sent the e-mail. This is not a group that is real open about their plans for us.  

Soon after seeing Ed’s announcement, I learned from an SBNDC board member that the task force will be selected by the SBNDC board. Even though this task force will be said to represent us as a community, none of us will have any part in making the final selection among nominees. 

While this is going on, Max has been offering various groups pieces of this project in hopes of appealing to their self-interest and get their support for what he wants. He has promised free parking to churches in the area, art space to Epic Arts. He has offered the Northern California Land Trust, of which I am a member of the board, a piece of the high density housing. Sounds like he is hawking his plan, not spending time finding our what we want. He’s supposed to be representing the desires of the community that elected him to represent US. 

If we really want this process to be driven by us, and if we want something at the BART station that supports a broad community vision, we are clearly going to have to fight for it, and this means standing up to Tom and Max and ED and SBNDC and speaking up for our community. This means saying it is not OK for you to select a task force and then say it represents us. 

There is some action we can take immediately. 

There have been appeals circulated this week to send Caltrans a last rush of letters as they make their final decision on the SBNDC proposal to let them know that we are still not satisfied with the process this group and the City are leading. In addition, there will be a petition circulated asking for a moratorium on any activities, like hiring a developer, until a REAL community process that truly involves all voices in the community can be completed. It is in violation of Tom and Max and Ed’s promise to support what the community wants to go ahead with any agreement with any developer. 

Please join this process. Write a letter and sign the petition. The petition will be circulated at the Flea Market this weekend and there will be copies around other places, including some local e-mail lists. 

Here is the contact information for Caltrans: 


Tom Neumann, Chief 

Office of Community Planning 

Division of Transportation Planning 

California Department of Transportation 

1120 N St., MS#49 

Sacramento, CA 95814 


Kenoli Oleari is a member of the Neighborhood Assemblies Network.