Downtown Area Committee Pauses For a Vision Check

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday November 07, 2006

Citizens charged with guiding the creation of a new downtown plan called a halt to discussions last week, deciding instead to tackle “the vision thing.” 

Members of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) acted Wednesday after Victoria Eisen interrupted a discussion of planning scenarios with the remark, “Something feels very backward about what we’re doing.” 

Matt Taecker, the planner hired by the city with UC Berkeley funds to help draft the new plan, had been laying out two scenarios for development of the area surrounding the intersection of Shattuck and University avenues. 

One was dubbed the “Preservation Emphasis” alternative, while the other featured a new mid-rise development along Hearst and Shattuck avenues. 

But Eisen, a planner with a private consulting practice, said she wasn’t ready to make decisions about building heights and uses in specific neighborhoods.  

“It seems to me that if we can’t agree on what you’re calling a vision, then we can’t make these decisions anyway,” she said. 

“I agree,” said Linda Jewell, one of the university’s ex-officio representatives on the panel. 

The concept of a vision statement is reflected in the existing downtown plan, created in 1990, which lays out three goals and offers a one-paragraph vision statement. 

Others quickly joined in the discussion, focusing on the need to decide on an overall vision for what members wanted to see happen in the new, expanded downtown area. 

Preparation of a new plan was mandated in the settlement of a city lawsuit challenging the university’s Long Range Development Plan through 2020. That document calls for adding a million square feet of new university uses in the city center. 

“We gave some very big visions, but almost no sense of the land uses that will get us there,” said DAPAC member Dorothy Walker earlier in the meeting. “What kind of population do we need that will make this kind of vital, 24-hour place happen?” 

“A vital downtown ties into all these other issues,” said Rob Wrenn, a member of the city’s transportation commission. “Sustainability has direct impacts on other things, and if we want green buildings, that has an impact on height, and so on.” 

“One of my problems is that I wasn’t prepared to make choices tonight” about different scenarios involving building heights and other issues, he said. 

“I’d like to go adjourn now and go home and start writing my own vision statement,” said former City Councilmember Mim Hawley. “We all have to write it down, so when we come back it would be the first time we came to a meeting as a group totally prepared.” 

Juliet Lamont, an environmentalist and creeks activist, agreed, adding that “one of the philosophical issues we have to confront to resolve these issues is what constitutes function versus form.” 

Carole Kennerly, who works for the Alameda County Health Department, said members should also come back with a statement “of what the downtown means to us.” 

Patti Dacey, who described herself as probably the panel’s most ardent preservationist, said she wasn’t entirely opposed to altering landmark buildings. 

“There are a lot of beautiful examples of buildings downtown that are at least twice as big as they used to be,” she said. “Just because they’re landmarks doesn’t mean they can’t be changed.” 

Her remarks followed earlier comments from Walker that DAPAC might consider replacing some smaller historical structures in the downtown. 

“A lot of what seem to be tensions may not prove to be,” Dacey said. 



Members voted to cut short the discussion of alternatives and to go home and focus on their visions—but not before hearing reports from two subcommittees. 

The first, which is focusing on development in the one-block stretch of Center Street between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street, didn’t have anything to report because of another failure of vision. 

It seems that no one from the city had the vision to be on hand to welcome the subcommittee when they arrived at the closed doors of the North Berkeley Senior Center last Thursday evening. 

Locked out, the small group couldn’t adjourn to a restaurant as one member suggested because the meeting was covered by the Brown Act and had to take place—or not—where the previous public notices had declared it would be. 

The subcommittee will try again Monday night in Room C of the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

The other subcommittee, comprised of members of DAPAC and the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), is charged with preparing a survey of the downtown’s historic structures. 

Though city staff originally issued a contract calling for a detailed examination of 30 selected properties, Dacey—a former LPC member who sits on DAPAC—said the group had decided to use the funds to prepare a more thorough survey of the whole range of historic buildings downtown. 

“Unfortunately we weren’t asked beforehand, but I think it’s working out really well,” she said.