Public Comment

Commentary: Democracy in North Shattuck Planning

By Helene Vilett
Friday March 02, 2007

Your recent article on the North Shattuck Plaza Forum left out many supportive statements made at the workshop, and seemed to emphasize the negative ones, many based on misrepresentations that need correction. 

Some said that the proponents of the plaza are “outsiders” and “our distrust of outsiders rises from when the Temple Beth El was built.” Outsiders can hardly apply to an institution and to citizens who have been in the neighborhood for decades. Moreover, 17 of the 20 active members of our group either live or work in the north Berkeley neighborhood. I personally have lived and shopped here since 1960. This is where my husband and I manually built our home and raised our children. 

The North Shattuck Plaza (NSP) group was referred to as a “private self-selected group.” This term would apply to just about any group that is formed to influence public policy or improve the infrastructure, including LOCCNA, Friends of the Fountain and Friends of the Rose Garden. 

“The process is not democratic. . . .” Democracies rely on the dedication of individuals organizing to contribute to their community, from the local to the national level. Our group was formed at the request of the North Shattuck Association (NSA), an organization of merchants from Rose to Delaware, to help implement one of the recommendations of the “North Shattuck Urban Design and Circulation Report” approved by the City Council in 2001. Further, in the fall of 2005 the City Council passed a motion to support our efforts. 

“How can a group of people …decide what to do with a strip of land that belongs to the city.” We are not deciding anything. After 18 months of work by volunteers and urban designers (whose fees are paid by the NSA), we are proposing an idea for public review and input. Only the City Council can approve a specific plan. Such a plan would require neighborhood consensus. 

Opponents “wanted to know whether the plaza was a precursor to high-rises.” Based on the clarifications stated above, the answer is no.  

The merchants who have organized in opposition are working contrary to the goals of their own business association (NSA). To say that “Seventy-five percent of the merchants have signed a petition opposing the development” is misleading. It may have been signed by 75 percent of owners, or their staff, adjacent to the study area, but that is not 75 percent of the NSA. It is understandable that some merchants would be concerned about the issues as they are described. However, I would hope that with dialogue and good will, we could resolve potential problems for the benefit of our shopping district. 

This area of Shattuck has an inefficient layout of roadways and parking spaces that can be reconfigured to gain a pedestrian plaza, with the goal of maintaining the same number of parking spaces. Most successful shopping areas do not have parking right in front but have satellite parking lots. An inviting gathering place with pedestrian amenities will actually bring more neighbors and shoppers to the area and will help the businesses thrive. 


Helene Vilett is a member of the North Shattuck Plaza group.