Public Comment

Commentary: Mayor’s Landmarks Ordinance Hardly A Compromise

By Roger Marquis
Friday May 05, 2006

In response to Alan Tobey’s Commentary “Devil Is In the Details of Revised LPO”: I was impressed more by the details Alan left out, among those his affiliation with Livable Berkeley, a group that espouses “Smart Growth” but has yet to define any real-estate development that it does not consider smart. 

Also unexplained was how Mayor Bates’ proposal to revise Berkeley’s long-standing Landmarks Preservation Ordinance is “a balanced one that represents a careful compromise.” Compromise between who? Local and out-of-town developers? Apparently Alan did not attend the public hearing where 41 of 47 speakers rejected the mayor’s proposals and all of his supporters were development interests. 

Mr. Tobey did note that the mayor’s proposal recommends decreasing “by half of the number of signatures required for an historic initiation” but he failed to note that the proposed deadline for collecting signatures was reduced to just 10 days, or that the state Office of Historic Preservation recommended both fewer signatures and more time to gather them. Mr. Tobey’s observation that the mayor’s proposal “guarantees that for the first time every building over 50 years of age that’s subject to a permit application will be reviewed” also neglects to give credit to the Landmarks commissioners who already perform this function at no charge to the city. 

It really is a shame that Mayor Bates, Councilperson Capitelli, Livable Berkeley, and other real-estate development interests seem unable to distinguish between appropriate redevelopment, the kind that does not require demolishing historic buildings or negatively impacting existing neighborhoods, and carefully planned redevelopment as outlined in the General Plan. I bet we would all be surprised by the support redevelopment would have if the real eyesores and white elephants that certain developers make such a fuss over were simply discouraged by Mayor Bates and Planning Director Marks, much less Don Yost and Patrick Kennedy. 

The way to encourage truly smart growth is not by handicapping the Landmarks Commission nor by removing protections for structures of merit, not by limiting public comment to 10 calendar days nor requiring early determination (RFD) of a building’s historical merit. The way to develop consensus and growth and make the entire process more predictable for everyone is by prioritizing the city-wide survey, including neighborhoods in the dialog, and establishing the overlay zones that work so well in other cities. Sadly, despite his public comments, the Mayor’s proposals offers nothing in these areas. 

Fortunately for the first time citizens have a voice in the matter. The Landmarks Preservation Ordinance 2006 Update Initiative will soon be collecting signatures for inclusion on the November ballot. This is a grassroots opportunity to protect the LPO from City Hall, limit corporate welfare and, like the state-wide Eminent Domain Initiatives, ensure that careful planning is not co-opted by special interests. 


Roger Marquis is a former Palo Alto resident.