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Ashby BART Task Force Asked to Reach Out

By Judith Scherr
Friday July 28, 2006

The Berkeley City Council asked the Ashby BART Station Task Force Tuesday evening to reach out to the South Berkeley community and broaden the vision of what the vast, paved parking lot west of the station might become. 

But critics say they don’t trust the task force to provide an open process. 

The council voted 8-1 to fund the outreach effort for $6,000. Councilmember Kriss Worthington voted in opposition. 

The move to develop the west parking lot at the Ashby Station got off to a difficult start last year, when a planning grant was submitted to Caltrans without community input. The application referenced several hundred housing units and retail development. When BART station neighbors learned planning was going on without them, many were furious.  

Further fueling opposition to the project, in the spring, at the behest of the City Council, the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation put together a task force to lead the project. Some question the criteria on which the task force was chosen.  

Councilmember Max Anderson has been a leader in the effort. While some have praised his work, critics say he has not tried to include the broader community in planning the project. 

In an interview Wednesday, Anderson defended the process, saying meetings were “well-attended” but a greater outreach effort is essential.  

Critics say the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC), asked by the city to appoint the task force, selected only those members who favored housing and retail development on the site. 

The way people were selected and excluded has created a “major problem with the credibility” of the task force, said Osha Neumann, an attorney for the flea market board of directors. (The flea market holds a weekend lease from BART for a portion of the west parking lot.) 

In a letter to the Daily Planet, Neumann said the task force was “appointed in a secretive process by a corporation with vested interest in promoting a widely unpopular development proposal.” The SBNDC did not return calls for comment. 

But Anderson said the task force membership is less important than its task—reinforced by the council vote on Tuesday—which is to act as a conduit for input. 

Anderson defended the project outline—creating “workforce housing and jobs”—which he said is defined in the General Plan and other city planning documents. 

But speaking before the council Tuesday night, South Berkeley business owner Brian MacDonald said that is the heart of the problem: with housing and retail already on the table, the process is not truly open. 

“Decisions have already been made without any visioning,” MacDonald said. 

But Anderson argues that developing the west lot of the station is an opportunity. 

“There have been precious little resources given to South Berkeley,” he said, comparing Adeline Street to Solano Avenue and downtown Berkeley. “I’m here to fight for resources.” 

Project supporter and South Berkeley resident Dan Cloak spoke out at the council meeting, arguing that the process is an open one. Instead of cooperating, opponents prevent free speech by shouting down others at meetings, he said. 

But Neumann, who contends the impact on the flea market is being ignored, said that people wouldn’t shout out if they were part of the process. If a truly open process emerges, he said would participate, but “I can’t say that this is on track to healing the wounds,” he said. 

School Board Member John Selawsky co-chairs the task force. On Wednesday, he said—speaking for himself—that he would be willing to add members to the task force to allow broader participation and to form subcommittees that would bring the community in to work with task force members. 

“It’s up to the task force to outreach with sincerity and integrity,” Selawsky said. “That’s 90 percent of the task.” 

Addressing those who say the project plan has already been written, Selawsky said: “I don’t believe there is a clear consensus about what to do with the property. We don’t have an outcome.” 

The task force will be meeting over the summer to plan the public process; no public meetings are scheduled at this time, Selawsky said. 

The state’s open meeting laws do not apply to the task force. The task force has no telephone number or website.