Page One

Downtown Planning Panel Advises Council To Abide by City’s Landmarks Ordinance

By Richard Brenneman
Friday August 18, 2006

While the fate of Berkeley’s existing landmarks law remains an open question, a joint committee made it clear Tuesday night that they want to follow its criteria in the new downtown plan. 

The group, formed of four members each from the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), will advise the full DAPAC on landmarks issues. 

One of the key elements of the plan, required by local policy and by the California Environmental Quality Act, is a survey of historic structures in the area.  

By the time the meeting had ended, many of the members had said they wanted the survey to follow the city’s current landmarks criteria, rather than following a staff suggestion to create new ones just for the task before them.  

The move toward a new downtown plan is a product of the city’s settlement of a lawsuit filed against the university that challenged the school’s Long Range Development Plan through the year 2020. 

The university plans 800,000 square feet of new projects in the expanded downtown area encompassed by the new plan, along with 1,000 new parking spaces. The plan was proposed to help shape the course of that development. 

The university owns several landmarked buildings downtown. One project now in the planning stages calls for demolition of the landmarked University of California Press Building at 2120 Oxford St. and its replacement by a complex featuring an art museum and the Pacific Film Archive. 

Tuesday’s meeting featured a presentation by the survey firm hired by the city, Architectural Resources Group (ARG) of San Francisco. The same firm is currently working on a restoration of Berkeley’s landmarked First Church of Christ, Scientist. 

Team leader and ARG senior associate Bridget Maley attended with colleagues Jody Stock and Lauren MacDonald. 

Under the terms of the city’s contract, the firm is to conduct a survey that will include preparation of detailed reports on 30 structures and which uses forms provided by the state Department of Parks and Recreation’s Office of Historic Preservation. 

The work will unfold in three stages, Maley said, starting with an initial reconnaissance phase, followed by detailed research examining individual buildings and their relationships, and culminating in a report that will examine the buildings in their detailed contexts. 

Matt Taecker, the city planner hired to prepare the plan, told the committee they would develop their own criteria to use in evaluating the structures—a remark that drew an immediate response from Jill Korte, one of the LPC representatives on the panel. 

“I am concerned,” she said, “because we already have an ordinance and there are criteria in that ordinance.” 

Korte said she was concerned because city staff had sent members a package listing criteria from other cities, “but we have our own local criteria. It’s a law here.” 

“I’m not sure that we have any other choice if something’s a law,” said Wendy Alfsen, a DAPAC member. 

“We have local criteria. It’s called the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO),” said retired planner John English, a preservationist and one of four audience members attending the gathering in the North Berkeley Senior Center. 

John McBride, secretary of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA), said the survey should also be mindful of the importance of the area’s mixture of architectural styles to the downtown’s overall character. 

Steven Winkel, vice chair of the LPC, said the survey should be extended to include structures on the opposite sides of boundary streets—one example being Berkeley’s Old City Hall. 

Other questions focused on whether the survey would note whether some already modified buildings had the potential to be restored, and just what level of alteration could disqualify a structure from consideration. 

The plan will also consider so-called opportunity sites suitable for new developments. 

Members and the public participants discussed the breadth of issues to be considered in the survey, and added several categories to those suggested by the ARG consultants—including the relationships of structures to their surroundings, the entries for historical and cultural associations of the buildings and assemblages of buildings, and a list of outstanding or unique features. 

Patti Dacey, a DAPAC member recently ousted from the LPC by City Councilmember Max Anderson, said she was concerned about whose interests the consultants would serve. 

“I’ve been very questioning of the DAPAC process and I feel the client is the city staff who want to upzone and tear down. I want the client to be DAPAC,” Dacey said. 

“Our client is the city as a whole,” said Maley, “not the staff, the mayor or the council.” 

The joint committee will hold its next meeting on Sept. 13 from 7 to 10 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center. 

Their work is being conducted during a period in which the city’s existing landmarks law is facing both a possible major revision at the hands of the city council and a November ballot initiative. 

The electoral measure was drafted by supporters of the current law, with revisions they say answer any legal timeline problems with the existing law as raised by the city attorney’s office. 

The rival measure, a new ordinance that passed the city council on first reading in July, also makes timing changes and creates a two-year exemption period during which property would be exempt from landmarking efforts unless preservationists acted quickly after the exemption was requested. 

Mayor Tom Bates, principal advocate of the council proposal, pulled the measure pending the outcome of the November vote on the ballot initiative. 

If voters nix that measure, the council could make the new ordinance law by voting yes on a second reading.