Public Comment

Commentary: Oxford/Brower Is a Good Investment

By Marcy Greenhut
Friday February 23, 2007

The David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza Housing www.browercenter. org/ is quite possibly the best land use project proposed in Berkeley in this generation. It will serve as a model for other developers and cities who are considering building green; the way forward in building sustainably. 

Affordable housing for families in the downtown means less vehicle miles traveled to the downtown. This means less traffic congestion. Back to the more sustainable “old” days, when all our needs were within walking distance, sometimes called infill development, or smart growth. The point is to stop the unsustainable sprawl, where families can only afford to live far away from basic amenities, and therefore create a reliance on the fossil-fueled, air-polluting vehicle. 

A LEED-Platinum certified building is the current industry-acknowledged pinnacle of sustainable building, especially in an urban setting. LEED-certified buildings are environmentally responsible, profitable AND a healthy place to live and work. Imagine having this model building in Berkeley. The David Brower Center will be such a building. Anyone wishing to learn more about this new standard, can read about it at:  

So, it was dismaying to me that anyone would be protesting this project. I began to notice petition-signature-gathering at the Farmers Markets. I asked why the protest? 

Here’s what the signature gatherers told me: 

I was told that the city “sold” the property for $1. But the parking under the property will revert to city ownership once the parking structure is complete. The city will resume parking income. The statement that the city sold the property for $1 is a misrepresentation of the facts.  

I was told that all the city’s “affordable housing money for two years” will be expended on this project. Well, considering what the city and it’s citizens are getting, isn’t this a good investment? Isn’t real estate one of the best investments anyone can make? 

I was told that an environmental impact report (EIR) wasn’t done. Was one needed I asked? Yes, because of the project proximity to Strawberry Creek, I was told. The only part of the project that is close to the creek is the awning created to hold solar panels, and the solar panels themselves. This is allowable under the Creeks Ordinance. Strawberry Creek is considered for daylighting on Center St., but even this consideration isn’t jeopardized by the Oxford/David Brower project. 

A negative declaration was issued, meaning it was determined that an EIR was not necessary for this project. See this report for details: 

I was told there would be maintenance issues related to the creek. The project includes a retaining wall at least 30 feet from the culverted creek (the creek itself doesn’t flow freely, but is encased in a concrete culvert as it travels from campus through downtown), there has never been an overflow problem with the creek, and a hydrologist has determined the structure poses no threat, nor would flooding be likely.  

I was told that staff of the non-profit manager of the project, Resources Community and Development, were being paid high salaries, as a reason for the project proposal, support and approval. Does the opposition prefer a FOR-profit developer? Would the opposition like to report, publicly, what the salaries are for those who have worked hard to walk this project through years of public process and all necessary levels of government? The opposition had no factual information to provide on this point. 

One more thing the opposition to this project told me: That there is vacant, affordable housing all over Berkeley and we don’t need any more. I would like anyone who has been searching for affordable housing for their family to comment on this. I am not a realtor, landlord, nor have I been searching. However, the point in this instance is that the affordable, family housing will be downtown. 

A flat piece of asphalt currently in use as a surface parking lot will be turned into a state-of-the-art green demonstration project, office rental for environmental groups and others, retail, affordable family housing, AND a new city-owned parking structure and I’m telling you, the opposition doesn’t have a good enough reason to collect one signature.  

While at the Farmers Market, one woman told me she had the opposition remove her name from their petition because, she said, they aren’t “saying anything.” Their argument is devoid of reason.  

I have listened to both sides. I did my own research. This project will demonstrate the way forward. In all aspects of our lives, we must learn and figure out ways to counter global warming.  

The Sierra Club, Mayor Tom Bates, City Councilmembers Linda Maio, Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington support the project and urge everyone NOT to sign the petition.  

The only thing I can’t understand is why Gale Garcia and others are standing in the way of our society’s fight against global warming.  




Marcy Greenhut is a Berkeley resident.