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Plans for Ashby BART Project Continues After Grant Denial

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 09, 2006

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Ashby BART Task Force is very much alive—though in what form and to what ends remain open questions. 

Members and concerned neighbors gathered in the South Berkeley Senior Center Monday night for their first meeting since Caltrans denied a city request for $120,000 to plan a development at the station’s main parking lot. 

Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson were also on hand, to expand the scope of the city’s focus from the BART station parking lot to the entire Adeline Street corridor from Ward Street to the Oakland border. 

And to do it, they said they’d ask their fellow councilmembers for support and money—with the possibility of applying for another Caltrans grant in October to tackle the parking afresh. 

Bates said he was especially interested in the area where Adeline merges with Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

“It’s an incredible piece of property,” he said, “and it needs to be examined.” 

Just what form the planning process might take is undecided, he said. “All bets are off, and we need to hear from all points of view.” 

The mayor said he and Anderson “need to go back and look at the city’s budget, to see if there’s money available. And Max and I are prepared to do that.” 

One thing that is off the table, said Bates, is eminent domain. “We are not going to us it. Full stop,” he said. “What we are talking about is the public right of way . . . curb to curb.” 

One possibility, he said, would be closing one set of lanes of the divided Adeline Street, and relating them adjacent to the other set, opening up the site and most of the median to develop—perhaps as a strip park and shopping area.  

“Where Adeline and MLK merge, it is a major wide boulevard. I would like to slow it down and make it more livable and beautiful,” Bates said. “I would like people to study it, I want ideas. I want people who live there.” 

Many of the public who spoke and some members—including Co-Chair Toya Groves—said they wanted to see the task force enlarged to include more residents of the immediate area. 

“We should add members from the community, then go ahead with creating a vision for the neighborhood,” said Groves, who suggested adding Elaine Green, Kenoli Oleari, and several others who have shown up for the meeting. 

The panel currently contains only one African American, yet the project is in the heart of one of Berkeley’s key African American neighborhoods—a point raised by critics at the group’s meeting two weeks earlier. 

“I think the task force as currently constituted could do the job,” said Bates. 

“I will fight for the existence of this task force,” said Anderson, rejecting any suggestion that its composition should be changed. 

Ed Church, the consultant who selected nominees for the group, had refused to announce criteria for member selection or specify a size for the task force before the panel was named—a source of ongoing criticism. 

While Bates and Anderson have said the task force was created by the resolution the city council passed in December when it authorized applying for the Caltrans grant, critics likes Osha Neumann and Robert Lauriston disagree. 

Neumann, who lives across MLK from the BART station, is attorney for Community Services United, the coalition of non-profits that sponsors the flea market. Lauriston, who lives east of Adeline, is the organizer of Neighbors of Ashby BART, a coalition of neighbors which formed to challenge the building of 300-plus condos and retail shops over the main BART parking lot. 

That was the project spelled out in the Caltrans grant, though Bates and Anderson have said 300 would be the maximum number of units, rather than the minium as specified in the grant proposal. 

While Bates said he was open to any project, Anderson said he wanted to see housing, especially for “people who work at the university, child care providers, people who work for the city, many of whom make $25,000 to $40,000 a year.” 

Anderson said providing housing at a major transit hub would reduce car use and emissions in a neighborhood with troublesome asthma levels—though one angry audience member who said he had a child with a serious asthma problem asked how adding the cars needed by the occupants of 300 or so new apartments could reduce exhaust.  

Many of the African Americans who came Monday were participants in the Berkeley Flea Market, whose members played a major role in the verbal outbursts during the last task force meeting. 

One flea market participant, who identified himself as “Buffalo Soldier 92 and 93,” interrupted frequently, drawing angry glances and sharp words from Anderson and even causing the usually unflappable Bates to momentarily lose his composure. 

He was also critical of Neumann, repeatedly declaring that the attorney represented CSU and not the vendors. 

Co-chair John Selawsky said everything should be on the table, but didn’t give outright endorsement to expanding the committee’s membership. 

Another member, Mike Friedrich of Livable Berkeley, initially suggested the task force report back to the City Council and then suspend meeting until the council gave it new directions. 

When it came time for a vote on disbanding, only Friedrich voted yes. He later voted with the majority to meet again in two weeks. The Senior Center had already been reserved before the word on the grant came down from Sacramento.