Berkeley Landmarks Ordinance Proposals Debated

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday May 23, 2006

Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) members will meet Thursday to discuss a revised ordinance proposed by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. 

It’s the panel’s last chance to comment before the council takes up the ordinance next month. 

Meanwhile, the City Council will discuss tonight (Tuesday) a counter-proposal now being circulated in the form of a public initiative to replace the existing ordinance with a slightly modified version supporters say would preserve the intent of the existing law without eliminating protections, as they claim the Bates/Capitelli measure would.  

Preservationists have been busily rounding up the needed 2,007 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the November ballot and submit them to City Clerk Sara Cox. 

“We’d like to get all the petitions by the end of the month or early June at the latest,” said Cox. “We’re very short-staffed and so is the county Registrar of Voters.” 

If successful, the initiative would block the changes proposed in the Bates/Capitelli measure. 

Asked if the needed signatures had already been collected, Laurie Bright, one of the proponents of the measure, commented, “I wouldn’t deny that.” He declined to offer any specifics on the number already obtained. 

The mayor’s ordinance includes changes that critics say would greatly weaken protections for landmark buildings in Berkeley, while supporters contend the measure merely creates one that complies with other state regulations and removes ambiguities facing property owners. 

One of the provisions of the council proposal would allow demolition of landmarks if the replacement would fulfill an important public policy that would outweigh any detriment resulting from destruction of a public legacy. 

The council is scheduled to take up a proposal from City Manager Phil Kamlarz to direct the staff to review the financial and other implications of the initiative measure, which preservationists Bright and Roger Marquis are proposing. 

The mayor’s proposal has won the endorsement of developers, who say that the current ordinance has proven an obstacle to their plans. 

Bates has reportedly told preservationists he wouldn’t demand a council vote on his measure if the ballot initiative qualified, and hinted at a more drastic measure should the preservationist initiative fail in November. 

In recent years, the council has generally sided with developers on appeals of cases where neighborhood activists have been able to landmark properties in response to demolitions called for by developers in order to build new projects. 

Such was the case with the landmarking of the building housing Celia’s Mexican Restaurant at 2040 Fourth St. The LPC declared the building a Structure of Merit, one of the city’s two categories of landmarks. 

The City Council overturned the designation, which could have blocked condo and retail project plans for 700 University Avenue by Urban Housing Group. 

Once the signatures have been counted and validated as enough to qualify for the ballot, the City Council must then order the measure placed on the November ballot by Aug. 11. 

The last meeting before the council takes its traditional summer break is July 18, and the city and the county must have 30 working days after the petitions are turned in to examine the signatures, Cox said. 

“I really encourage people to get them in sooner rather than later,” she said. 

Several LPC members—particularly members Patti Dacey, Lesley Emmington and Carrie Olson—have been highly critical of the mayor’s proposal, insisting that the alterations they included in their own draft were more than sufficient to meet deadlines and other issues imposed by state law. 

The LPC meeting, which was scheduled by the commission at their May 4 meeting, was not posted on the official calendar on the city’s web site as of Monday afternoon.