Public Comment

Commentary: Hotel Ashby

By George Katechis
Tuesday May 16, 2006

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following commentary appears only on our website. 


I’ve been to a few neighborhood meetings about the Ashby BART lot and what to do with it and it’s always the same old same old; affordable housing, height limits, density, the Flea Market, whether to build there or not, who gets the grant money. The people who are steering the meetings have their own agendas. They are always very negative and about what we can do, or about what we will be allowed to do. Height and density, affordable housing and low-income housing always come up. Talk about doing something different is stymied. “We can’t have a 20 story high-rise because…. 

And then there are all the reasons why: We can’t have this and we can’t have that. And then there is this guy there with all the reports and all the data supporting his politically correct directive about the project. The way it looks now, we are planning another Salvo Village. All this has nothing to do with what the neighborhood needs. 

What this neighborhood needs is jobs. Except for the Berkeley Bowl, South Berkeley has squat as far as economic vitality goes. We don’t have University Avenue, Shattuck Avenue, Solano Avenue, or Fourth Street. All the development money seems to go to downtown and north. What we have here is a dying Flea Market that’s trying to hang on to it’s home at the Ashby BART parking lot. Any economic vitality that used to be here was destroyed by the BART development. 

We are desperate to have something happen here so we camouflage the project by using words like low income or affordable housing. We want you to think that it will be housing for police, firemen, and other city workers. How sad! Police and firefighters are not going to bring their families to live in south Berkeley. This is a high-crime neighborhood. 

Some grant money has been dangled if front of the various community factions and they are spending their time arguing over who gets it. It’s a waste of time. All the parameters for building have been stated and outlined by the city. It looks like a Salvo Village.  

Building a mundane housing development is not what this neighborhood needs. Why can’t we shine? Why can’t we build something exciting here Why can’t we build something that’s really worth building and that does something for the neighborhood instead of some mundane block of housing? 

I mention Hotel and I get “it can’t happen.” I mentioned MacDonald’s to a few people and the response I got was like I said a dirty word. “You can’t bring a MacDonald’s in here, it wouldn’t be good for those people.” Who is to tell us what we can eat, and what we can do with our community. A while back we were thrown a few scraps of community development money, and what it was used for was to put in cute streetlights. The streets are empty at night.  

To make it clear about whom the city thinks we are and what we are. There were some planters built into the sidewalks south of the BART lot, on Adeline. The planters had seats going around them for people to sit on. So, the people started using them to sit on, and the city got scared, and fixed them so no one can use the seats. I don’t know what they had in mind when they built them. I do know they had no idea who was really going to use them. This is not suburbia where moms are going to be hanging out with their strollers and tow headed kids. 

Planners have some kind of utopian idea about how things should be. It’s almost like the “White Man’s Burden” and so the people who come in to direct our meetings and guide us have no idea about how things really are. They just want to help us. They want us to be politically correct. They want us to be healthy. They want us to eat the right foods, and they want us to have housing that conforms to their idea of neatness and order. Thank you! It’s not a cutesy neighborhood. It never was. That doesn’t mean it can’t be exciting. 

Personally, I think there should be a 20-story office, hotel and condo project built there. It should have affordable housing, a mall with room for some restaurants and places to hang out, and anything else the people from the community want. A lot of the construction jobs should go to the community and it should be sensitive to community needs. The Berkeley Flea Market should be part of the project, and we should try to get the Derby Street Farmers Market to be part of it also. How about Ashby Plaza with the Hotel Ashby? 

Who would use a Hotel on the BART lot? The answer is, anybody who wants to visit Berkeley or the East Bay using BART. It is centrally located, close to Alta Bates hospital, and could become the hub of a public transportation system. Things are not going to be the same when gasoline costs $6.00 and $7.00 a gallon. There’s a hotel and convention center planned for downtown. Why can’t we have our little piece of the action? A hotel would certainly bring jobs into the neighborhood. An exciting project here would certainly turn things around. 


c is the owner of the Berkeley Musical Instrument Exchange, located across from the Ashby BART for 31 years.