Mayor Seeks Funds for Ashby BART Plan Study

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 23, 2006

The future of the Ashby BART Task Force remains an open question, itself comprised of a host of lesser questions, ranging from the geographic to the mundane, says Co-chair John Selawsky. 

But Mayor Tom Bates has asked the City Council to approve $40,000 “for a community process to discuss the future of the Ashby BART West Parking Lot.” 

Just what that process would be isn’t spelled out in the mayor’s budget recommendations, but he had indicated earlier that he saw some role for the existing task force set up to administer a state grant that never materialized. 

His request would replace one third of the $120,000 grant denied by CalTrans last month to plan a transit-oriented development atop the parking lot. 

The task force had been created under the aegis of the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation to select a developer and create the outlines of a project for the site. 

Caltrans officials said they rejected the grant because it scored low on the agency’s list of priorities. 

Since that denial, the task force has been wrestling with its own future—as have the panel’s two biggest boosters on the city council, Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Max Anderson. 

Meeting privately two days before Monday’s public meeting, task force members had agreed they needed to seek new direction from the City Council, Selawsky said. 

“We also agreed unanimously that we were pulling a discussion of eminent domain off the table,” said Selawsky. 

The group, which was created to plan development on the main parking lot of the Ashby BART station, took no action at their Monday meeting, he said. 

While some of the issues facing the task force are highly charged political questions, another one is more basic—the need for a petty cash fund to pay for flyers, copies of minutes and other mundane expenses. 

“Right now we don’t have any funding,” Selawsky said. “As it is, we’re only talking about $400 or $500.” 

Another question is a venue for future task force public meetings. “We have the South Berkeley Senior Center on Mondays through July. What happens after that we don’t know,” Selawsky said. 

The largest question is geographic—defining a boundary for the area the task force should study. 

“At our last public meeting Tom and Max Anderson said it was possible to expand the scope” of the task force beyond the Ashby BART site, Selawsky said. “Tom was talking about the whole Adeline Corridor, which is a huge site. So it could be anything from the BART site to the whole corridor.” 

Because the Adeline corridor and surrounding territory is most of South Berkeley, Selawsky said, “It would take a five-year task force to develop a plan, and I have no idea how we’re going to do that.” 

Selawsky said he wanted to dispel concerns that the task force is serving as an agent for Bates, Anderson and Ed Church, the development professional who has been working for the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, the private nonprofit agency picked by the city to spearhead the project. 

“Tom has said he wanted condos, and Max has said he wants affordable housing,” Selawsky said. “$700,000 condos are not compatible with low income housing, so you’d have to be schizophrenic to be their agent.” 

Osha Neumann, who lives across Martin Luther King Jr. Way from the site and who serves as attorney for Community Services United, the group that administers the Berkeley Flea Market which is held weekends on the lot, attended Monday’s task force meeting and came away with more questions than answers. 

“They told us they would listen to our questions, but they wouldn’t respond,” he said. 

Neumann said he learned of the mayor’s budget request later, though the document was prepared earlier on the same day as the meeting. 

“It doesn’t say who is getting the funding,” he said. 

Bates had told an earlier task force meeting that he hoped to see the planning process extended to include the whole Adeline Street corridor—though the budget requests keeps the focus solely on the parking lot. 

“What the task force is keeps morphing,” Neumann said.