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Council Decides Not to Decide On Landmark Law Revisions

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 23, 2006

When the mayor’s proposed Compromise Landmarks Preservation Ordinance got before the council at around 12:20 a.m. Wednesday morning, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli balked. 

“I haven’t read it,” Capitelli said, arguing the matter should be put over. 

“Don’t worry,” answered Mayor Tom Bates, pointing out that the draft proposal, released late Friday would get a full airing at the Thursday Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting. 

Councilmember Dona Spring argued against the substance of the mayor’s draft proposal: “Just because it’s [called] a ‘compromise,’ doesn’t mean it’s a compromise,” she said. 

“It wipes out the ‘structure of merit,’” Spring said. Buildings currently designated as structures of merit are generally in the flatlands and have historic value, even if not designed by famous architects. 

In a phone interview Wednesday, Spring elaborated: “The structure of merit provides the backbone of historic protection, particularly in the flatlands of Berkeley.” The compromise would disallow most new structure of merit designations by mandating that they be located near an already-designated landmark, Spring said. 

But mayoral assistant Calvin Fong said the ordinance leaves the door wide open for change, allowing the Landmarks Preservation Commission to write new criteria for structures of merit, which would then be approved by the City Council. 

While some argue that the current structure of merit designation is simply a way to stop development, Spring pointed to development consistent with the historic designation. An 1894 home at 2418 California St., designated as a structure of merit, was raised and two units added beneath the original structure. 

The designation “doesn’t stop the site from being developed,” she said. 

In the end, rather than approving the mayor’s proposal to “support, in principle, the draft compromise revisions to the Berkeley Landmarks Preservation Ordinance,” the council voted 8-1 simply to pass the draft on to the LPC and allow the commissioners to hash it out, before sending it back to council. Spring voted in opposition. The word compromise was dropped from the title. 

Any ordinance passed by the City Council, however, will become moot if a November historic preservation ballot measure is approved by the voters. 

Bates’ draft ordinance is available at