Creeks Ordinance Revisions Move on to City Council

Suzanne La Barre
Friday May 12, 2006

Planning Commissioners voted to recommend changes to the city’s contentious Creeks Ordinance on Wednesday as devised by the ad-hoc Creeks Task Force. Or did they? 

The commission agreed to support the work of the task force, which spent more than a year toiling over how to amend the 1989 legislation that regulates development on and near Berkeley’s waterways, but with several caveats. 

Among them, property owners should be allowed to rebuild their homes in the original footprint by right (currently a use permit is required of all homes), standards for environmental review should be relaxed and the use permit process for changing or adding on to existing structures should be “less onerous.” 

Many of these issues, particularly by-right rebuilding, were hotly debated but never resolved among Creeks Task Force members. Mayor Tom Bates, in conjunction with three city councilmembers, announced on Tuesday a proposal to allow by-right rebuilding after a disaster. The recommendation will go before the City Council May 16. 

A handful of members from the homeowners’ advocacy group Neighbors on Urban Creeks said they were pleased with Wednesday’s Planning Commission verdict, but they’re unclear as to exactly what the commission stands for. 

Commissioners Gene Poschman and Mike Sheen voted against the recommendations. Commission Chair Helen Burke abstained. 

The Creeks Ordinance was developed to protect the city’s natural waterways, but has come under fire because it forbids homeowners from rebuilding within 30 feet of a creek, whether open or interred. Many were not aware they owned creekside property until 2004, when the city released maps of Berkeley’s watercourses and sent notices to creekside homeowners informing them that they fall under the jurisdiction of the ordinance.  

The Creeks Ordinance has pitted creeks advocates, who encourage a stronger ordinance, against homeowners, who prefer fewer restrictions on development near natural waterways.  

An additional motion was passed Wednesday instructing staff to submit the opinion of Neighbors on Urban Creeks in addition to commissioner comments to the City Council. City councilmembers are expected to take up the issue for final approval before summer recess..