Ashby BART Project Spurs Rise of Community Groups

By Richard Brenneman
Friday August 11, 2006

As plans for development at the Ashby BART station continue under a city-designated task force, alternative groups are sprouting up in South Berkeley. 

Two small groups met Wednesday night, both starting at 7 o’clock. 

One, a group of Prince Street neighbors, discussed the project in a gathering partly devoted to a review of their annual block party last Sunday. 

The other group, United We Stand and Deliver (UWSD), met in the community room at the Harriet Tubman Terrace apartments on Adeline Street. 

Another, larger gathering is expected Tuesday night, which will bring together the Russell/Oregon/California streets (ROC) and Lorin neighborhood associations and Neighbors of Ashby Bart (NABART) with task force member Andy DeGiovanni. 

That meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Spud’s Pizza, 3290 Adeline St. 

Meanwhile, the co-chair of the official Ashby BART Task Force said his group wants to be independent as it embarks on a nine-month process of formulating proposals for development on the western parking lot of the South Berkeley BART station. 

“We are trying to steer an independent course,” said John Selawsky, a South Berkeley resident who also serves on the board of the Berkeley Unified School district. 

The task force was picked by the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation (SBNDC), which had been given the task by the city council in December. 

At the time, the city was seeking a $120,000 Caltrans grant to fund the planning process for a project of more than 300 condominiums to be built over commercial spaces on the parking lot. 

The task force’s first meetings drew a large and often angry public, sparked by concerned neighbors who were roused by fears of intensive development, the threat of eminent domain (a process the city councilmembers say they renounce for the project) and its potential to lead to increased congestion and loss of parking. 

Faced with strong opposition and the council’s own rejection of key points in the grant application, Caltrans denied the funding request. 

While Mayor Tom Bates and City Councilmember Max Anderson—the project’s principal sponsors—said they were considering a broader planning process looking at the Adeline Street corridor, the proposal they brought back to the council allocated $40,000 of city funds to study development on the same site as the original proposal. That’s the project Selawsky’s panel is now tackling.  

“We were selected by the SBNDC and authorized by the City of Berkeley, and the city council did authorize some funding and staff,” said Selawsky, “but since the city didn’t appoint us, I see us as an independent,” he said. “As far as I know, we are not subject to the Brown Act,” a state law governing the conduct of public agencies and boards. 


Alternative groups 

Both UWSD and NABART arose in response to the city’s December announcement of plans to seek the Caltrans grant. 

Another organization still in the process of formation is Imagine South Berkeley, which aims to provide a forum that will engage a broader segment of the community in evolving a vision of what they would like to see happen, said Kenoli Oleari, a community organizer. 

“We want to involve more than the usual advocacy groups that always turn out,” Oleari said. “We want to involve ordinary people of South Berkeley, the people who have a lot more at stake. 

“Imagine South Berkeley wants to focus on much more than just what we do at Ashby BART,” he said. 

UWSD activist Martin Vargas, a South Berkeley letter carrier, told Wednesday night’s gathering that he’d like to see parks. 

Chris Lien agreed, pointing out that Measure L, a 1986 initiative endorsed by Berkeley voters, requires existing open space in the city to be preserved for parks. 

“This was passed as a high priority initiative, and has priority over any other laws in Berkeley except state and federal mandates,” said Lien. “This is the controlling law.” 

Measure L require two acres of parks for every 1,000 people. “We have 12,000 people in South Berkeley. We should have 24 acres of parks, but we have only six. We’re short 18 acres,” he said. “Where else could we come up with those acres?” 

Vargas said parks are critical in South Berkeley, which has many children and few places to play and exercise. 

Another concern raised by the group was the possible move of the South Berkeley branch library to the Ed Roberts Campus, a project now in development at the eastern Ashby BART parking lot that will provide a home for organizations providing programs and advocacy for the disabled. 

“I understand it’s because they’re short of funds and want as many tenants to move in as they can get,” said Lien. 

“I would like to know what would go in where the library is now,” said Gianna Ranuzzi, a member of the LeConte Neighborhood Association. 

UWSD meets every second Wednesday, and the organization posts news of its meetings and events at Black & White Liquors at 3027 Adeline St., which is owned by member Sucha Singh Banger.