DAPAC Endorses Priority Development Declaration

By Richard Brenneman
Friday June 01, 2007

In a lop-sided vote Wednesday night, DAPAC members voted to urge the City Council to declare downtown Berkeley a Priority Development Area (PDA). 

The Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee’s action followed by a week the Planning Commission’s refusal to make a similar endorsement. 

The only opposition vote this week came from Gene Poschman, one of three planning commissioners who had opposed the notion last week. Two other DAPAC members, Jesse Arreguin and Patti Dacey, abstained, while 16 others voted for the proposal—including Planning Commission Chair James Samuels. 

The final decision on the designation rests with the City Council. 

Planning and Development Director Dan Marks presented the PDA proposal to DAPAC, making a stronger and more detailed pitch than he had a week earlier. 

The designation would make the city eligible for state bonds funds that may—or may not—be released by the state legislature under Proposition 1C, a bond measure passed by California voters last November. 

The money would be available to local governments through the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), a state-mandated regional planning agency which also acts as a conduit for some state funding programs.  

The one condition DAPAC members urged was that any proposals be strictly in accordance with the adopted city plan—whether the existing version, with its 1990 downtown plan, or in the form that will result from DAPAC’s proposal, as adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council.  

Wednesday night’s vote followed presentations by Matt Taecker, the planner hired to work on the new downtown plan, and Marks. 

Both dealt with increasing density in the downtown, with Taecker airing proposals for the new plan and Marks citing the city’s existing downtown plan. 

The key to winning funding under the ABAG-administered state bond allocations will be conformance to the policies of Transit Oriented Development, Marks said, with creates higher density along transit corridors and in the downtown. 

“It’s perfectly consistent with what we’re already doing,” said Marks. “The issue for Berkeley, as always, is process,” he said. “The bottom line is that I need to get a sense of the group ... the only group I can go to in terms of what is planned for the downtown.” 

DAPAC Chair Will Travis backed the proposal enthusiastically, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission he serves as executive director is one of chief sponsors of the ABAG-administered program, along with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. 

“The notion is that from the state planning perspective, smart growth—that is, transit-oriented development—makes all the sense in the world,” Travis said, adding that worries he was hearing from the community were “essentially bullshit.” 

“All this does, it gets Berkeley in the queue” for receiving bond funds, he said. 

Turning to Jesse Arreguin, a housing advocate who had questioned the designation, Travis said, “If you want affordable housing, Jesse, here’s your chance.” Turning to Juliet Lamont, who had also raised questions, Travis said, “If you want Strawberry Creek daylighted, here’s your opportunity to do it.” 

Noting that participation was voluntary, he added, “if you don’t want the money, you don’t have to take it.” 

Marks said no changes would be needed to apply, either for the downtown or for the San Pablo Avenue corridor. 

Arreguin said he remained unconvinced, “given the potential fallout,” a concern Lamont echoed. 

But as members commented, one after another, working their way around the table, the evidence for support was overwhelming. 

“We definitely should go for this,” said Rob Wrenn. Helen Burke agreed. 

“Go for it,” said Judy Chess, a university planner who serves as one of UC Berkeley’s ex officio DAPAC members. 

“Yes,” said Winston Burton. 

“I move that we direct staff to make downtown a Priority Development Area,” said former Councilmember Mim Hawley. 

“I second,” said Planning Commission chair James Samuels. 

Gene Poschman spoke for the longest time, noting that no one on DAPAC lived, worked, owned property or ran a business downtown. “We’re not stakeholders,” he said. 

More than that, he said, there was no guarantee the funds would go for any projects sought by committee members. “The simple truth is, we don’t know what it will be going for,” he said. 

But when it came time for the vote, Poschman was the sole opponent, and Marks will be able to carry their endorsement to the city council, where he said he would seek approval prior to submitting an application by the June 27 deadline. 

Just how much money will be available and for what have yet to be determined.