Page One

Joint Panel Readies Downtown Vision

By Richard Brenneman
Friday February 23, 2007

The downtown panel subcommittee exploring possibilities for joint city/UC Berkeley coordination on the university’s downtown expansion plans steamed full speed ahead Tuesday, pushing towards a quick wrap-up. 

The group also heard from Dena Belzer, an economic consultant hired by the Downtown Berkeley Association to prepare recommendations for revitalizing a city center plagued with more than its share of vacancies and ailing businesses. 

Subcommittee Chair Dorothy Walker, who served until her retirement in 1995 as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Property Development for the university, presented members with an eight-page 38-point draft report, setting a Saturday morning for submission of changes. 

The group Walker chairs is the Subcommittee on City Interests in University Properties, and is comprised of representatives of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) and from the university. 

The only mild dissent to Walker’s report came from Helen Burke, former chair of the planning commission, who asked for more discussion and point-by-point votes. 

The final report will be presented to DAPAC, which is formulating policies to be incorporated into the new plan for an expanded downtown area mandated in the settlement of a city lawsuit challenging the university’s Long Range Development Plan 2020. 

According to Walker’s draft, “Downtown will not become a prime retail destination” and the university and arts and entertainment will serve as the two key engines of the downtown’s future. 

Among other key points, the draft calls for: 

• Transforming Oxford Street into a streetscape “to knit the campus and Downtown together and to orient the University population to use the Downtown”; 

• Attracting more university students to the downtown to spur economic revitalization; 

• Construction of new housing for current and retired university faculty in the city center; 

• Allowing the university to replace the old Department of Health Services building north of University Avenue with a taller building than would normally be allowed downtown in exchange for allowing retail uses along the Shattuck Avenue frontage; 

• Adding more intensive development at the location of private developments along Shattuck Avenue north of University Avenue and on University between Milvia and Oxford streets; 

• Adding new green space along the Oxford Street right of way, along with more street trees and a possible redesign of the crescent-shaped entry lawn at the university’s western edge along Oxford; 

• Relocating 300 of the parking spaces planned for the 911-space underground lot western of Memorial Stadium to a downtown location.; 

• Creating a new city parking structure at the site of the city’s Berkeley Way parking lot; 

• A joint city/university grant application to seek funds to plan new joint parking facilities, organize coordinated parking and transit fees, creation of ride-share programs and transit subsidies, creation of new bike facilities, new shuttle services and reorganizing AC Transit service; 

• Relocating the Haas business school executive education program from its projected Bowles Hall location to the downtown. 

Members will take up the plan again when they meet next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 


DBA consultant 

“Our work is really to do strategic thinking and not the number crunching,” said Belzer. 

“One of our first conclusions is that downtown Berkeley is too big to define as an area,” she said. Rather, downtown is better conceived as several areas, with he best known being the arts district with its theaters. 

“We are focusing on the areas where there are good buildings and other things which offer the potential to focus activities,” she said. 

One question both the DBA and DAPAC are confronting is the possibility of attracting major retailers to the downtown, in hopes they will act as spurs to promote the health of smaller businesses. 

Matt Taecker, the city planner assigned to work with DAPAC, said one possibility is so-called junior anchors such as Circuit City or Pottery Barn, rather than a major department store like a Nordstrom’s. 

Major anchors aren’t locating in city centers anymore, instead preferring to locate in shopping malls, he said. 

“An anchor for the downtown will come from a good synergism of a lot of different uses,” Belzer said. “We won’t have a department store downtown.” 

Belzer also urged the city not to mandate ground floor retail on all downtown buildings. “It won’t work, and there are other ways you can make a pleasant streetscape,” she said. 

“We also shouldn’t be focusing all our eggs on the Shattuck basket. We should also focus on the arterial” streets. 

Belzer urged the city to concentrate more on office uses, rather than solely on developing housing as a means of bring potential consumers to downtown shops. 

Some DAPAC members want the university to include space for a significantly sized retail store in their plans for the Department of Health Services site, but Kerry O’Banion, the university’s principal planner for downtown projects, said that the city would have to provide parking because the university wasn’t in a position to provide parking for a business. 

Without the assurance of parking, he said, the university would probably build smaller retail spaces along Shattuck, possibly for an optical shop and other uses that would fit in with community health services that may be located at the site.