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City Hires Firm to Study Ashby Flea Market Move

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday April 18, 2006

Berkeley officials have taken the first steps toward moving the city’s popular flea market, the market’s attorney said Monday. 

The Berkeley Flea Market is held every weekend on the western parking lot of the Ashby BART station, the site of a proposed housing and retail complex being urged by Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson, who represents South Berkeley. 

Osha Neumann, the South Berkeley lawyer who represents the flea market, said a representative of Korve Engineering contacted Errol Davis, the market’s general manager, on Friday. 

Davis declined to talk to engineer Fred Kelly until he talked to Neumann, the lawyer said. So Neumann talked with Kelly instead. 

“Kelly said he was directed to talk to the flea market by the city,” Neumann said. “He is doing a study of alternative locations for the flea market as one of the mitigations for the project.” 

Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier said he had ordered the study, which is being conducted by Korve Engineering, a firm the city has on a $50,000 retainer. 

The firm is charged with looking into moving the market onto the section of Adeline Street between Ashby Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Hillier said. 

Davis has been critical of plans to move the flea market, which has become an East Bay institution at the current site, and he has ridiculed the proposal to hold it on Adeline, saying that merchants along the street probably wouldn’t be thrilled to have the market’s perennial drummer contingent just outside their doors. 

Hillier said he ordered the study to be able to provide answers for the mayor and Councilmember Anderson. 

“I’m responsible for determining whether the flea market could be relocated to occupy a portion of Adeline Street,” he said. “With the proposal to redevelop the westerly parking lot, there is a fundamental question of whether there’s a feasible alternative location for the market. In order to answer it, we need technical work, and it seem like a perfect task to give to our on-call engineering consultant.” 

Neumann is one of a large number of project area neighbors who have raised questions about the proposal. Neumann said he had turned down a nomination to serve on a board that is to outline the preliminary stages of the project. 

The development proposal is moving forward under the aegis of the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that has selected Ed Church as project manager. 

The group is selecting a task force to outline the parameters for the city to use in selecting a developer for the site. 

Neumann said Kelly told him the city had selected his firm because the city is planning a transit village at the site, which allows increased density in the area surrounding the project and can preempt local zoning requirements in the surrounding area. 

Bates has denied that the city is planning a transit village. 

Neumann said he was alarmed that the city has moved forward with hiring consultants even though the task force hasn’t been approved and the state has yet to approve a grant for funding the planning process. 

Neumann said Kelly told him “the city is worried about the flea market merchants, so they want him to develop a report on other options than staying on the site.” 

“I told him it was not a fait accompli,” Neumann said. 

Reached Monday afternoon at his office in San Jose, Kelley said he couldn’t comment on the contract or say who at the city had authorized it. 

“I can’t discuss this issue any further,” he said. “This thing has spun completely out of control. I’m not the one who set this up.””