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Council Postpones San Pablo/Harrison Decision for a Week

By Judith Scherr
Friday September 22, 2006

Prakash Stephen Pinto wants the deserted glass-strewn lot at San Pablo Avenue and Harrison Street near his Stannage Avenue home replaced by shops and new housing, but he told the City Council Tuesday night that the project before them “is a serious detriment to the neighborhood.”  

“From the point of view of the neighborhood, the (proposed) scale and density is disproportionate,” Pinto said. 

The meeting was the first after the council’s long summer break and included discussion of several land-use issues and city-wide street sweeping. 

Pinto was among more than a dozen neighbors, who had come to the council meeting to appeal an April Zoning Adjustments Board decision approving the proposed five-story 30-unit condominium project, with six “affordable” units built above commercial space. 

Having received the developer’s modifications to the project just before the meeting, the council voted unanimously to delay a decision until next week. 

“I have a question—what project are we considering?” Capitelli asked not without sarcasm, referring to the various iterations of the proposal strewn on the desk before him.  

“I just got this at 5 p.m. today,” added Councilmember Linda Maio, in whose district the project is proposed. “People need to know what’s going on.” 

The modifications included moving the fourth floor farther from neighboring residences, while adding height to the fifth floor, adding 18 parking spaces bringing the total to 56 and creating a more equal distribution of lower-income units. 

Project neighbors said they had told the developer they would accept a compromise proposal, a design that would include building three stories near existing residences and five stories on San Pablo Avenue. This solution was rejected by developer Jim Hart. It would make three levels of bridges between the units and three levels of stairs, project architect Don Mill told the council. 

Touting the benefits of the development, Hart said the units would be priced as “starter housing” at $300,000 to $500,000. Bringing more people to the area, “it will provide security on San Pablo,” Hart said, noting, moreover, that he had agreed to hire 50 Berkeley residents from the Berkeley First employment program. 


Build up, talk to your neighbor 

Harriet Berg’s neighbors built a large addition to their home in the Berkeley hills. “It’s offensive; it blocks my view of the bay” she said, urging the council to modify the city’s zoning ordinance governing major residential additions.  

“It’s reasonable to have limits on height,” she said. “It should be the subject of review.” 

In an effort to ease neighborhood tensions—especially with respect to what a letter from hill resident Margaretta Mitchell called “Intrusive second additions”—the body approved the revision 7-2, with Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Max Anderson, who represent flatland districts, voting in opposition.  

Now, additions of up to 499 square feet can be built “by right,” that is, with an easily-obtained across-the-counter permit. 

The new rules will permit people to build larger additions—up to 600 square feet or 15 percent of the lot area—but height restrictions that vary according to residential district have been added. 

Not everyone agreed the proposed changes are beneficial. Councilmember Moore pointed out that remodel costs will be raised significantly. “There need to be shadow studies, solar analyses and property-line surveys,” said Planning Manager Mark Rhoades. 

“For some people the choice is building up or getting out,” Moore said. 

The council added a sunset clause to the revised ordinance: if Proposition 90 passes, the ordinance will sunset in one year. According to the legislative analyst, Proposition 90 would “require government to pay property owners for substantial economic losses resulting from some new laws and rules.” 


City-wide street sweeping—maybe 

Moore was a member of the Public Works Commission nine years ago when the City Council approved the commission’s proposal to stop allowing neighborhoods to opt out of the city’s street-sweeping program. But the neighborhoods which previously opted out still have not been brought into the monthly program that keeps debris—some of it toxic—out of the storm water system. 

“It’s a question of equity,” Moore said, calling for city-wide inclusion in the program. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz said he would tackle the problem—which includes finding funding for additional personnel and machinery—and report back to council in a couple of months. 

Governing the housing authority 

Deemed a “troubled” agency by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the BHA is looking at various new governance structures, such as oversight by a commission that could spend more time working with the agency than the council can do at present, when it sits as the BHA. 

“There are so many things on the agenda, it’s hard (for the council) to focus,” said City Manager Phil Kamlarz  

Public housing recipients came to the BHA meeting, which preceded the council meeting, worried that the agency would be taken out of Berkeley hands if it does not show improvement.  

“Our first goal is to keep the Housing Authority in the city of Berkeley,” Kamlarz said..