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Alta Bates Road Cut Could Be Permanent

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 25, 2006

After decades of wrangling, neighbors of Alta Bates Hospital gathered at the Alta Bates auditorium last week to express their outrage at the city’s decision to install a road across the hard-won grassy mall next to the hospital. 

While construction continues to renovate the Alta Bates emergency room, a temporary road has been made through a grassy area called the Bateman Mall (located off of Prince Street before the Colby cul-de-sac by Bateman Park). The road had been designed to accommodate two-way traffic between Prince Street and residents of houses in the southernmost cul-de-sac. 

The residents said they were alarmed that the City of Berkeley had informed them that this temporary road may become permanent. 

So far one meeting had been held with the neighborhood, the hospital and the city to discuss issues important to the new construction. Councilmember Kriss Worthington was the only city official attending the Thursday night meeting. 

“Although the date and time were suggested by Peter Eakland, the city’s associate traffic engineer in charge of the policy and design changes to the Bateman Mall, our neighborhood group was informed two days ago that neither he nor any representative from the city would be attending the meeting,” said Dorothy Hale, a resident of Prince Street. “This is highly frustrating, since the whole point of the meeting was to begin to correct the lack of due process and neighborhood involvement. We can’t help but take this as a sign that the city is not seriously responding to neighborhood opinion.” 

Hale added that the local residents wished the city would be more responsive to their pleas to seek alternatives and avoid cutting a road through the Bateman Mall. This measure directs emergency vehicle traffic onto one of the narrowest two-way streets in Berkeley, she said, and it creates severe drainage problems for Prince and Dana streets. 

The other concern that was raised during the meeting was safety concerns for the children who frequented the adjacent Bateman Park. 

Wendy Cosin, deputy planning director for the city, said that Eakland would be meeting with neighbors in May to discuss options for how Bateman Mall would look after it underwent construction. 

“Our goal is to start working on it after Alta Bates finishes with their construction in August,” she said. “We want to reach an agreement with the neighbors that would address the current drainage problem successfully.” 

Deborah Pitts, manager of public affairs at Alta Bates Summit, told the Planet that the Bateman Mall project falls outside the Hospital-Neighborhood agreement signed in 1983 that was meant to govern hospital growth for 99 years. 

“We have an obligation to put it back the way it was, but if the city for safety reasons think that there needs to be a change, we would have to go with that,” she said. “Right now we are waiting to see what happens.” 

Pitts added that the property in question belonged to the city. 

At the May meeting, the neighbors said they will demand information concerning conditions dealing with soil, noise, traffic, drainage, mosquito infestation from standing water, and whether the new construction would be a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act. 

At last Thursday’s meeting the residents noted that the city memo by Eakland for review by Alta Bates-area residents contained no option for restoration of the Bateman Mall to its original state.  

The memo notes that the original emergency access which provided a grass surface for the entire mall needed (1) to be moved to avoid constraints on the Prince Street side; (2) to be widened several feet to accommodate emergency vehicles; (3) guidance on both sides of the road surface; (4) an all-weather road surface that does not require maintenance, and (5) improvement of the drainage system to increase capacity and reduce the tendency of clogging. 

The memo also mentions that “originally it had been thought that construction would be accomplished without closing Colby south of the emergency room area.”  

In meetings between the contractor and the Alta Bates staff in the week prior to the start of construction, it was established that the existing drainage system would have to be removed to provide the needed access for residents during construction 

As a result a temporary asphalt surface with drainage was constructed along the east of the road between the cul-de-sac and Prince Street. Although the memo reads that “the roadway has provided adequate access for residents and good drainage during the rainy season” the residents said that drainage remained a problem. 

Suzanna Yeh, who lives near the corner of Prince and Bateman, said that the flooding caused after the temporary road was built caused tremendous problems for her disabled mother.  

“I have to lift the wheelchair up at times because there is so much water there,” she said. “I have lived here for 30 years and the flooding started only after the temporary road was built. This is my quality of life we are talking about. I don’t want the city to change that.” 

The residents noted that “emergency” could mean anything from police vans, ambulances, fire-trucks or even an exit for the kids in the tot lot, if need be, and added that this kind of an emergency exit would not be in keeping with the spirit of the original idea of allowing only fire-trucks to move in during a crisis.  

“We don’t want it to be used as a thoroughfare,” said Marty Barclay, a neighbor. “More than aesthetics, the issue is about the resident’s safety and health.””