EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was sent to the mayor, City Council and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, as well as other city officials and local newspapers.
As president of the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), it was with considerable dismay that I read of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee’s (DAPAC’s) approval, on Jan. 18, of a motion to support one and only one alternative for the block of Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford. This action was a cynical rush to judgment in which a few members subverted their own subcommittee report. That subcommittee report recommended study of three different alternatives with the implication that there would be a thorough public discussion and evaluation of those alternatives. The five renegade members rammed through their personal preference, and ended up getting the DAPAC to ratify their motion that one and only one alternative model for Center Street henceforth be considered.
In recent months, there had been considerable thoughtful discussion of how Center Street might be configured in light of the development of two large properties adjacent to the street—the Berkeley Charles Hotel and the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). Three distinctly different alternatives of merit had emerged in very preliminary form. Each option will affect Center Street and the surrounding areas in every different ways, with important implications for the downtown as a whole.
Before any one of the three receives support from the DAPAC, the responsible course would be for the DAPAC, or a qualified consultant, to do a thoughtful and professional evaluation of each alternative, including some preliminary designs, which could have indicated how each alternative might work. The assessment of the relative merits would then be part of the record on which the general community could base its own evaluation. DAPAC must also consult with the business and property owners who will be affected to obtain their views on how the three alternatives might affect them and include that input in the evaluation of the alternatives.
Instead, despite protests from a number of committee members, including the chair, five members of the Center Street Subcommittee used a parliamentary maneuver to gain an 11 to 8 vote for their motion which allows DAPAC to consider only one of the three alternatives.
The twenty-one member DAPAC, appointed to prepare a new plan for downtown—the economic and cultural heart of Berkeley—has no members that represent businesses, property owners, or arts and entertainment venues in the downtown. I would hope there would be some opportunity for a councilmember to add at least one such representative to DAPAC. At the minimum, each councilmember and the mayor should caucus with their appointees on the DAPAC and insist that they behave responsibly and engage the business community on an ongoing basis.
It is my profound hope that the DAPAC will place on its agenda in the near future an opportunity to reconsider this action. The council and the mayor should inform their appointees that the three alternatives should be given intelligent, professional consideration, and that design concepts should be discussed with the affected businesses, long before options have been reduced to one.
Mark McLeod is president of the Downtown Berkeley Association.