Public Comment

Commentary: An Ashby Bart Task Force? Yes — With A Few Big Ifs

By Robert Lauriston
Tuesday April 18, 2006

While Ed Church and the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation claim that on Dec. 13 the City Council authorized them to organize a task force to make recommendations to the council regarding development of the west parking lot of the Ashby BART station (“Development Corp. Seeks Task Force,” March 24), in fact the council did no such thing. Neither the resolution passed that night nor the Caltrans grant application it endorsed says anything about a task force. The cover memo from Planning Department Director Dan Marks to the City Council said that the SBNDC suggested that Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson appoint a task force, but in its discussions the council rejected that proposal, and took no action to endorse any of several proposed alternatives. 

Is the SBNDC an appropriate organization to handle this task? It may not in recent years have been conducting itself as it should. In theory, as I understand it, it is a membership organization with an elected board of directors whose meetings are open to the public. In reality, the board has for some time been a self-selecting group and its meetings are private and unannounced. The SBNDC has sublet its Adeline Street office and has no staff. It does have a phone number with an answering machine, and an e-mail account, but no one has returned my messages asking how to join, where I can see the minutes, time and place of the next board meeting, and so on. 

In the event Caltrans awards the city and SBNDC the $120,000 grant, Ed Church, a professional “smart growth” promoter, will be in charge of spending that money. In theory, the SBNDC would oversee his work, but since he himself recruited two new SBNDC board members and seems to be in charge of its e-mail and new Web site, it seems likely that he would have a completely free hand. 

He certainly seems to have a free hand with the task force nominations. Two of my nominations do not appear on the list; did they decline to serve, were they disqualified, and if so for what reason? When is the SBNDC board going to meet to appoint the task force? What criteria are they going to use? Will that meeting be public? Has it already occurred? If this were the open, transparent process we have repeatedly been promised, I would not have to ask these questions. 

Nevertheless, despite the profound flaws in this arguably illegitimate process, I disagree with those who say we should boycott this task force. Given the nominees (see for an annotated list), the SBNDC could appoint a group that includes all stakeholders and points of view. If they do, and if the task force is free to set its own direction, and its meetings are public, and Mayor Bates and Max Anderson stick to their promise that “everything is on the table,” the task force’s report to the City Council should honestly reflect the community’s vision. 

So long as that remains a possibility, I will support the task force, and encourage everyone else to do so—while remaining alert to any attempt to manipulate it into rubber-stamping plans for the kind of massive for-profit condo project described in the 2004 feasibility study. 


Robert Lauriston maintains, where you can find all the referenced documents and other relevant information.