Critics of the city’s handling of proposed development at the Ashby BART station have launched an effort to start their own planning process.
The South Berkeley Community Visioning Project has filed for a $60,000 grant from the UC Berkeley’s Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund.
Meanwhile, the City Council allocated $40,000 for its own planning process when it adopted the 2006-2007 budget Tuesday night. Winners of the UC Berkeley grants won’t be announced until August.
The chancellor’s fund, which will disperse $200,000 this year, was set up under terms of the settlement of a city lawsuit filed against the university’s Long Range Development Plan for the years through 2020.
The lead organization for the grant application is the Long Range Education, Empowerment and Action Project—LEAP, headed by Kenoli Oleari, one of the leading critics of the Ashby BART Task Force.
The task force was selected by the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC), designated by the city as the lead agent in the preliminary planning of a mixed-use housing project to be built over the BART station’s main parking lot between Adeline Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
That process was contingent on a $120,000 grant from the California Department of Transportation, which was denied by the agency in late May.
The task force has continued to meet, despite initial and subsequently withdrawn objections from its principal sponsors, Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson.
Bates said Thursday that he hopes an expanded planning process will look at the entire Adeline Street corridor.
“The money will go to the city manager to come back with ideas, ways to set up a process, “ Bates said. “Max will also come back with policy guidance for the council to consider.”
Asked if the existing task force would be involved, the mayor said “The council did ask the SBNDC to come up with a task force, but I don’t know what Max will ask for.”
Oleari and other critics charged that the task force was selected through a secret process, with no set number of members nor qualifications for membership spelled out in advance.
“People don’t want a process run by some guy they don’t know and who doesn’t even smile,” Oleari said, referring to Ed Church, the professional consultant working with SBNDC.
The initial task force public meetings were raucous affairs, frequently interrupted by shouts and, on one occasion, a chant.
“The next time we hold a meeting, I think I’ll ask a mental health expert to come along,” said Bates.
Two city officials serve on the nine-member board of the Chancellor’s fund, Jim Hynes, an assistant city manager, and Julie Sinai, senior aide to Mayor Bates.
The mayor said he won’t be making any suggestions about the grants, either pro or con. “Whatever comes out of the process is fine,” he said, adding that requests for $900,000 in grants had been received, more than four times the available funds.
Other non-university members include Berkeley Alliance Executive Director Tracey Schear (an organization which is chaired by Sinai), Chamber of Commerce board Chair Carolyn Henry-Godolphin and Pastor Rodney Yee, chair of Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action.
UCB members include Associate Chancellor John Cummins, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor Marthinsen, Community Relations Director Irene Hegarty, and Heather Hood, director of the Institute of Urban & Regional Development’s Center for Community Innovation.
Grants from the Chancellor’s fund require participants from the university, and the South Berkeley Community Visioning Project has two: Dr. Alan Steinbach of the School of Health’s Joint Medical Program-Community Health and Development Program and Susan A Shaheen, of the California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH), which is based at the university.
Other participants in the community group are Tony Hill of the Prince Street Group, Ozzie Vincent of the South Berkeley Crime Prevention Council, Martin Vargas of United We Stand and Deliver, Laura Menard of the ROC Neighborhood Association, Don Link of the Shattuck Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, and Sam Dyke of People’s Bazaar, an Adeline Street merchant.
Oleari is a professional community facilitator who has worked on projects across the globe. In the Bay Area, he is currently working with a community organization in Bayview/Hunter’s Point.
He also worked with the Novato school system, starting with a series of racial incidents at San Marin High School a decade ago. One result of that process is the district’s Equity Action Plan, which his been used in instances of homophobic outbreaks ands other diversity issues, Oleari said.
Oleari said that the group’s first task would be to organize a group of community members who will be charged with reaching out to make certain that a broader range of community members and views are involved before the planning process begins.
The entire process, from initial organizing to concrete proposals, could take as little as a year, he said. “Of course having a pot of money would help,” he said.
Many who support Oleari’s efforts were organized through Neighbors of Ashby BART, and its web site, the creation of local land use activist Robert Lauriston, a supporter of Oleari’s grant application.
Another supporter is Osha Neumann, the activist attorney and Ashby BART neighbor who represents Community Services United, the coalition of nonprofits that administers the Berkeley Flea Market held at the at the BART parking lot on weekends.
Another supporter is Ashley Berkowitz, a director and founder of EPIC Arts.
Oleari’s group has a web site, Imagine South Berkeley, at southberkeley.longrange.org.