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DAPAC Plays at Planning City’s Downtown

Friday April 21, 2006

DAPAC “visioned” Thursday night. 

The group advising the city and UC Berkeley about their hopes for an expanded downtown sat down with scissors, glue, markers, maps, colored paper and sheets of gold stars and proceeded to cut, paste, scribble and argue. 

The occasion was the latest meeting of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), created as a result of the settlement of the city’s suit over the university’s expansion plans through 2020. 

The colored sheets were filled with squares and rectangles signifying—among other things—the 800,000 square feet of new projects the university plans for the expanded downtown area, along with 1,000 new parking spaces. 

Other symbols represented the potential desiderata of DAPAC members, ranging from eight-story-plus apartment and office buildings to daylighted creeks that would replace block-long segments of streetscapes. 

Still more squares and rectangles symbolized—among other things—grocery stores, town houses, apartments (also up to eight-plus stories), social services, shops and restaurants, research and development facilities, the warm water pool, a hotel conference and retail center building of up to ten floors and parking (both public and private). 

Also included were squares for movie theaters, grocery stores and retail anchor (read “department”) stores. 

Committee members were split into four groups, and each was assigned a table along with city staff to assist and set to work at formulating their vision of what Berkeley’s downtown should look like two decades hence. 

By the time the sometimes-heated scissoring and sticking ended, no maps had been completed—there was far too little time for that—and only a modicum of consensus had been achieved among the four groups. 

“Our group is called The Dementos,” said James Samuels, one of the Planning Commission’s representatives on the panel. “People at one end of the table didn’t talk to those at the other end.” 

People sitting across the narrower middle of the Dementos table clashed, too—as when Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Patti Dacey and former City Councilmember Mim Hawley clashed over landmarks and potential landmarks along Shattuck Avenue. 

“Some of those just might have to go,” said Hawley. 

“Shattuck Avenue is a nationally significant street, eligible for the National Register (of Historic Places),” Dacey responded. 

“Have you looked down that street?” Hawley shot back. “It’s ugly.” 

Dacey raised her hands, then closed her eyes and shook her head. 

Planning Commissioner Gene Poschmann said his table was “a very, very cooperative group. The only place where we had unanimity was that no one wanted to get up and explain.”  

But the groups did reach several conclusions—sometimes not unanimously—starting with the basic fact that they didn’t have nearly enough time to complete their assigned tasks. 

All four groups favored plans to bring Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), AC Transit’s system for higher-speed bus service on urban thoroughfares—to Shattuck Avenue, though one group added a cautionary “if feasible.” The other three groups favored closing the eastern lanes of Shattuck where the street splits into one-way segments at Shattuck Square between Center Street and University Avenue. 

The groups also favored concentrating the bulk of the university’s development on sites the school already owns or is in the process of buying, with the greatest concentrations at the site of the state Health Department Building—which the university is now negotiating to acquire. 

The other sites picked for university expansion were on land the university already owns between Center Street and University Avenue and Shattuck and Oxford—the site already selected for the hotel and conference center complex and the museum complex—and the Tang Center parking lot at the southwest corner of the Durant Avenue and Fulton Street intersection. 

Planning Commission Chair Helen Burke said that her group also favored bringing the underground parking structure now planned for the site of Maxwell Family Field near Memorial Stadium down to the Tang lot to alleviate pressure on already congested streets in the southeast campus area. 

The groups all favored closing Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford Street, some with a daylighted Strawberry Creek as the dominant feature of the block and others with a plaza, with or without a creek. 

Juliet Lamont, an activist on creeks and other environmental issues, said her group couldn’t agree on daylighting the creek, and split between that concept and “the leave it open as a street plan.” The group did agree that any tall buildings should be stepped back from the street to preserve solar access and reduce the winds tall structures can generate. 

“We have lots of green,” she said, “but not as much as I wanted.” 

Samuels’ group favored moving the downtown BART “bandbox” from the west side of Shattuck and Center to the east side, to be situated near the UC hotel and conference center planned for the northeast corner of the intersection. 

Billy Keys, who spoke for the group that included Burke and DAPAC Chair Will Travis, said his group could not agree on whether or not to daylight the creek, but they agreed there needed to be “some grand entrance to the university. There is no grand entrance now. Just the ant hill entrances.” 

His group also agreed that development along Shattuck Avenue should be limited to four or five stories, and that new parking should be restricted to the periphery, to encourage people to walk the downtown streets. 

“If we’d had a few more hours, we probably would’ve finished,” he said. 

Dorothy Walker, former Assistant Vice Chancellor for Property Development at the university and a DAPAC member, said her group—which included Lamont—“showed more than 800,000 square feet for the university. We gave them choices.” 

Also in attendance were the two UCB representatives appointed to the panel by the City Council, Kevin Hufferd, a Project Manager/Senior Planner in the office of Capital Projects, and his colleague, Principal Planner Jennifer McDougall (formerly Lawrence). 

Also on hand were a variety of city planning staffers, including Matt Taecker, the planning officer hired specifically to ramrod the plan, Planning Director Dan Marks, Planning Manager Mark Rhoades and Principal Planner Allan Gatzke. 

After the final presentations, several members expressed concern that they weren’t going to be allowed to attend what as billed as a meeting of the technical advisory committee of professional staff from the city and university who are working on the plan. 

“It can be closed,” said Taecker. “The law is pretty clear on that.” 

He described the session as “an issue-focused presentation for staff members to present their insights” which would help the committee in their work. 

“Who is actually writing the plan?” asked DAPAC member and city Housing Commissioner Jesse Arreguin. 

“You’re the body making the decisions,” said Taecker. 

Asked why the city has already issued a call for consultants to prepare the plan’s environmental impact report (EIR) when the plan isn’t due to the City Council until November 2007, Taecker said “a lot of questions have arisen about transportation and historic resources and sub-consultants to the EIR will help with background information.” 

Taecker said that the EIR team won’t be brought on board “until later this year or early next year.” 

DAPAC’s next meeting is scheduled for May 17 and will focus on environmental issues.?