Page One

Landmark Commissioners Find Flaws in Mayor’s Plan

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday June 27, 2006

“I have heard again and again that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) is being used to stop development, though it was never meant to,” said Patti Dacey Thursday. “That’s not true.” 

Speaking to her former colleagues on the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) from which she said she had just been “unceremoniously dumped,” Dacey hailed the LPO as part of Berkeley’s venerable radical tradition. 

“The Black Panther Party came to the City Council to support the passage of this landmarks ordinance,” Dacey said. “They saw this as yet another thing that would add to the health of the neighborhoods.” 

But the LPC, acting under the direction of a City Council that seems intent on passing the revised ordinance, kept to its task—while lamenting conflicts and apparent errors in the draft they’d been given to vet. 

With Dacey’s ouster, only Commissioner Lesley Emmington remains in unequivocal opposition to the revised ordinance proposed by Mayor Tom Bates with the strong encouragement of developers and real estate interests. 

But most of the commissioners who hashed through the ordinance last week and will do so again Thursday night voiced strong concerns about the measure the mayor and a majority of councilmembers have indicated they want passed by the time the council leaves for its annual summer recess. 

That would require a first vote at the council’s July 11 meeting, 

Pressured though they were, commissioners found numerous flaws in the proposal—more than enough to keep them busy until nearly midnight and were forced to postpone the discussion on the ordinance’s most controversial provisions until yet another meeting that will be held Thursday. 

Commissioners slogged through the measure, using a side-by-side draft that featured the mayor’s proposal alongside the existing version—skipping over portions that defined two parallel but different processes: landmarking and the assessment of historical significance. 

The latter process—one of the most controversial features of Bates’s propopsal and strongly supported by developers—gives property owners and developers a tool to force the commission to decide on the historical merits of their property separate from the regular landmarking process. 

If the commission failed to act, the property would be immune from further landmarking efforts by citizens or the commission—though for how long, the ordinance draft isn’t clear, since periods of both two and five years are cited in different sections. 

Commissioners offered an unusual opportunity for the public to join in the discussion, dropping the usual maximum of a three-minute public comment and allowing a broader, ongoing discussion. 

The audience was heavily weighted toward critics of the ordinance, with only Livable Berkeley’s Alan Tobey in support, along with a silent Calvin Fong from the mayor’s office. 

And Tobey acknowledged problems with the wording of the provisions for the parallel processes. 

“There are drafting problems,” said retired planner John English, a preservationist, and he backed up his contention with a concise memorandum outlining 11 of them. 

“There is no clear language on the status of structures of merit,” said Commissioner Steven Winkel. 

The structure of merit has emerged as the most controversial provision of the city’s existing ordinance, creating a landmark that may have been altered since its original construction. 

The mayor wants to ban any new examples of the category outside historic districts—though he has called for existing examples to be preserved. 

The mayor’s version would also bar members of the general public from moving to create historic districts and restrict initiation to a majority of property owners or residents of the proposed district, the council and the Landmarks, Civic Arts and Planning commissions. 

Future structures of merit would only be allowed within the districts—a key point of criticism for Dacey and Emmington. 

Dacey had been appointed by former Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, and was removed before last week’s meeting by Shirek’s successor, Max Anderson. Her replacement is Burton Edwards, the third architect on the eight-member commission. Darryl Moore has replaced his previous appointee with realtor Miriam Ng—although Ng was absent from the meeting. Civic Arts Commissioner David Snippen served in her absence. 

Carrie Olson, the commissioner who worked most closely with the mayor trying to hammer out a compromise, said the proposed assessment provision “in the current language is a determination made without information. We’re going to be expected to make people’s lives easier and totally give up our integrity.” 

Olson said her goal had been to create a single process, which would take some 20 to 40 hours of research to gather enough information to make an informed decision. 

Burton Edwards said he didn’t have enough information on the assessment process to make a decision. 

Commissioners will be back at their task Thursday night when the meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission is scheduled to weigh in with comments of their own on Wednesday night. 

Critics of the mayor’s proposal have turned in petitions that could place a slightly revised version of the current ordinance on the November general election ballot. 

If passed by the voters, the initiative would trump the mayor’s proposal. 

Roger Marquis and Laurie Bright, the two key sponsors of the ballot measure, were present at last week’s meeting.