Public Comment

Commentary: Saving the Strawberry Canyon Landscape

By Janice Thomas
Friday August 03, 2007

The rapid pace of proposed development for this town reminds me of post-war development, not only as in post-WW2, but as in post-Civil War. Buildings were decimated; towns pillaged; landscapes burned. People’s lives destroyed.  

OK. Southerners may have deserved it. I can say that because I was born a southerner, raised a southerner, and will always be one, I suppose. 

But here we are in Berkeley, and we did not ask for this. Our ideals are being manipulated and used against us. To save the planet and reduce urban sprawl, we are supposed to accept the destruction of buildings and landscapes that make a town a home, give a town definition, make a place special and less common.  

People can become attached to buildings and places when they harmonize and complement families and communities. And this, it would seem, is a good thing that is one small antidote to the potential alienation of modern American life in the 21st century.  

Artists are under siege in West Berkeley. This is the human landscape, being decimated, writ large. Affordable housing and live-work space are lost so that affordable housing and live-work space can be built. 

The downtown will somehow magically be transformed by the addition of out-of-scale buildings as if tall buildings did any good in previous iterations. 

And, the sleeper issue is the imminent loss of wild open space in walking distance of the downtown—Strawberry Canyon. Because this is “the university’s land,” we have incorrectly abandoned our sense of stewardship. 

Next week there are several opportunities to learn more about Strawberry Canyon. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) is sponsoring two events. One is a lecture by Charles Birnbaum, a nationally renowned expert on cultural landscapes, who will speak Thursday, August 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Town and Gown Club. The next night there will be a choice of four rambles around the canyon and a barbecue will follow at the Haas Club House in Strawberry Canyon. They promise to be most enjoyable evenings. Please check out the BAHA website for more detail. http://berkeley The events stand on their own; you can attend any or all.  

Equally stimulating will be a public scoping session on the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s proposed construction of two buildings in Strawberry Canyon. On Wednesday, August 8, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, the Lab will receive public comment on the scope of the draft environmental impact report for the proposed development of 310,000 gsf of new construction including the controversial Helios Energy Research Facility (HERF). Among other problems with the HERF, it would be built on undeveloped land in the interior of Strawberry Canyon. Additional information can be found at Community/Helios/ 

As we become an increasingly dense community, we need open space, and wild, undeveloped places, more than ever. This might be “university land,” but our stewardship transcends the university’s “ownership.”  

Strawberry Canyon needs us, too. The time is now. 


Janice Thomas is a Panoramic Hill resident.