UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium will get local landmark
status as designated June 1 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, a unanimous City Council said Tuesday night.
In other business, the council put off a decision on a plan for cultural uses at the Allston Way Gaia Building, approved a scaled-down housing and commercial development at Harrison Street and San Pablo Avenue, waived city fees for the installation of solar panels and approved standards for housing dogs outdoors.
Stadium landmark reversal
In an Oct. 24 report to the council, planning staff had called for a delay of the local landmarks designation for Memorial Stadium, calling for the question to be sent back to the commission. However, in an 11th-hour reversal on Tuesday, planning staff asked the council to uphold the commission’s designation of the stadium as a local landmark.
The last-minute staff recommendation was made orally by Deputy Planning Director Wendy Cosin.
The local landmarks status had been called into question by Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s community relations director, who pointed out discrepancies between the local and national applications for landmarks status. The City Council called for a public hearing to resolve the discrepancies.
Landmarks status is critical at this time, according to advocates of the designation, because the university is planning a number of controversial building projects in southeast Berkeley where the stadium is located, which will include remodeling the stadium. The UC Regents are expected to vote on the Southeast Campus Integrated Projects at their Nov. 15-16
While the half-dozen residents who spoke at the public hearing favored the landmarks designation, some asked why the designation had not happened months earlier. Speaking at the public hearing, Panoramic Hill resident Janice Thomas underscored that the Landmarks Preservation Commission had made its decision months earlier.
“Why the delay?” she asked. “The public would like answers.”
While he voted to support the new staff position on the question, Councilmember Kriss Worthington criticized the process, whereby the council was asked to make a decision based on an oral report.
During the council discussion, City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque responded to an e-mail she received that afternoon from former mayor Shirley Dean. In her email, Dean argued that the council had not taken correct steps in scheduling the public hearing on the landmarking decision.
“As the Council did not “certify” the action there is no appeal before the council at this time,” Dean wrote.
In a written response to Dean, Albuquerque said Deputy City Attorney Zach Cowan had “listened to the tape [of the council meeting] and it was absolutely clear that the council was asked to (and did) set this for hearing, in order to resolve discrepancies between the city’s … and National Register designation.”
On Wednesday, Deputy Director Wendy Cosin explained the 11th-hour change in the staff recommendation, saying, after public outcry and a Daily Planet story on the question, staff looked again at the need to address the discrepancies and concluded there was no need to do so.
It would have been procedurally incorrect “to have the council deny [the designation] for the purpose of sending it back to the LPC” to address the differences between the two, she said.
Why was the change in the staff recommendation made only at the last minute? “I don’t know. It shouldn’t have happened that way,” City Manager Phil Kamlarz told the Daily Planet on Wednesday. Dean said that she was “delighted” by the outcome, whether or not she was responsible for it.
The council majority voted 5-3-1 to delay a decision on a plan to make cultural uses a priority at the Gaia Building, at 2116 Allston Way. Councilmembers Dona Spring, Betty Olds and Darryl Moore abstained on the question, while Worthington voted in opposition.
While most of the council appeared to favor a plan that outlined the amount of time to be dedicated to cultural uses, several councilmembers raised questions on the definition of culture in this context.
The plan recommended by staff says that 30 percent of use would be dedicated to cultural events; non-cultural events would be permitted as long as cultural activities had priority and 51 percent of the weekend dates had to be devoted to some cultural use.
The city is involved in defining cultural uses at the building as well as designating how often space in the building should be used for such activities because developer Patrick Kennedy was allowed to build the structure two stories higher than would have been otherwise permitted in exchange for a promise to provide cultural uses on the first two levels of the building.
Kennedy addressed the council, arguing he had more than 100 cultural events at Gaia in the last six months and urged the council to approve the plan immediately. “The protracted dialogue has been ruinous,” he said.
Urging the council to send the question back to the zoning board for further definition of cultural use, Anna de Leon, who owns a jazz club in Kennedy’s building, argued before the council that Kennedy included church services and Haas School of Business dinners as cultural uses, but these, in fact, were “incidental” and not cultural.
De Leon further objected to the Gaia marquee outside her establishment that had advertised church-related activities for two weeks. (In response, Kennedy promised the church would use the marquee only on Sunday mornings in the future.) Others supporting de Leon complained of drunken patrons from private parties at the building interfering with the club operation.
The issue “should go back to ZAB [the Zoning Adjustment Board] for definition,” de Leon said.
“Both sides have said they will take us to court on this matter,” noted Mayor Tom Bates. But City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque downplayed the importance of the threat, saying, “People sue us all the time. The line forms around the block.”
Advising the council not to send the question back to the zoning board, Albuquerque argued, “The religious use issue is a red herring,” and that church services would not be considered a cultural use.
In other actions, the council approved:
• A five-story, 27-unit condominium project built over commercial space at Harrison Street and San Pablo Avenue, which was scaled down after neighbors appealed the project;
• Waiving city fees for those installing solar panels;
• Specifying requirements for shelter, food and water for dogs left outside.