New Planning Process for West and South Berkeley

By Richard Brenneman
Friday July 28, 2006

“This project is not about Ashby BART,” said David Early, the consultant hired to shepherd a new transportation plan for south and west Berkeley. 

“But if community members want to advocate about something, they can certainly talk about it,” he said. 

Early is the founder of Design, Community & Environment, a group Berkeley-based professionals who specialize in formulating plans for local governments. His company and San Francisco-based Nelson Nygaard are working for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (ACCMA) to develop a transit plan for the lowest-income areas of the city. 

He was addressing his remarks to neighbors and the city’s Transportation Commission July 13 during the first of a series of hearings that will gather information and insights to use in developing the plan. 

The finished product will be one of 25 MTC-sponsored Community Based Transportation Plans targeting communities around the Bay Area. 

The Berkeley plan will include all of West Berkeley west of San Pablo Avenue, including part of South Berkeley, and South Berkeley from San Pablo east along Dwight Way to Fulton Street and south to the Oakland border. 

Planner Therese Knudsen, MTC’s lead representative on the project, said the ideas for the local plan originated during an update of the MTC’s 2001 Transportation Plan. 

“We looked at the entire transportation network of the whole Bay Area, and looked at the gaps. We realized we had to ask community members what their real needs are and came up with an active plan to address them on a broad basis.” 

“It’s really an opportunity to look at the ways various agencies cooperate,” said Early. 

“It’s all about housing and everything else in the community, and it’s kind of odd to say it’s just about transit,” said Kenoli Oleari, one of the more outspoken critics of the city’s handling of proposal to build a major mixed use housing complex at the Ashby BART station. 

Mayoral candidate Zelda Bronstein, a former planning commission chair, called the station project “the elephant in the room.” 

She also faulted the consultants for meeting with major West Berkeley property owners but not the WEBAIC, the organization of West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies. 

But the commissioners and the public focused primarily on transit issues. 

Commissioner Fran Haselsteiner said AC Transit should used some of its newly purchased consignment of smaller low-emission buses to serve the planning area, which an audience member said has the city’s highest rates of air pollution and chronic respiratory ailments. 

Commissioners and the public also called for more and longer BART trains on the Richmond-San Francisco line. 

“The service essentially stops at 7 p.m.,” said Haselsteiner. There’s no direct service from Berkeley to San Francisco after 7.” 

Gut Robert, representing the Ed Roberts Center—which is building a new community center for disability rights and training organizations at the eastern Ashby BART parking lot, called for renovations of sidewalks in South Berkeley, which are often slanted. 

Another criticism focused on sidewalks at the station itself, which become slippery when wet. 

Several commissioners, as well as audience members, said the city needed better bus service to West Berkeley. 

Caleb Dardick, a consultant to the Ed Roberts Center, called for better street lighting on streets near the BART station, singling out Prince Street as especially troublesome. 

Alcatraz Avenue also needs more lights, said commissioner Wendy Alfsen. 

Other concerns included speeders of Adeline Street and stoplights that don’t allow pedestrians and cyclists to cross it on one cycle and lack of car-share access.  

In addition to meetings during Transportation Commission meetings, the planners will also be meeting with community groups and other stakeholders, Early said, with the goal of producing a draft plan by year’s end. 


Other business 

Commissioners also voted to forward alternative versions of draft plans for the downtown BART Plaza on to the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Commission, which is now working on a new plan for the city center. 

The commission also voted to send the city council its recommendation for allocating the $200,000 annual payment from UC Berkeley earmarked to transportation demand management.