DAPAC Tensions Continue Over Downtown Landmarks

By Richard Brenneman
Friday August 17, 2007

With their deadline fast approaching, eight Berkeley citizen-policymakers are setting the stage for an almost certain showdown over the fate of old buildings in the new downtown. 

Four members each from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) gathered Monday night to hammer out the final draft of a key chapter in the new downtown plan. 

DAPAC members are under the gun to come up with a draft plan by the end of November, and the DAPAC/LPC subcommittee is only one of several working to come up with critical language before the deadline expires. 

Three frequent critics of some of the panel’s proposals were in the audience for the start of the meeting: DAPAC Chair Will Travis, Planning Commission Chair and DAPAC member James Samuels and committee member Jenny Wenk. 

The divisions were apparent in the paperwork before subcommittee members as they began their line-by-line revisions of their proposed Historic Preservation & Urban Design Chapter. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I know we’re not very far apart,” said Victoria Eisen, a DAPAC member who is not part of the subcommittee. 

The subcommittee’s focus was the latest revision of the chapter, prepared by DAPAC members Patti Dacey and Jim Novosel. 

“I’m just a little confused,” said Samuels, speaking from the audience. “”I thought the operative version was the staff review. I’m a little confused now, because I see another chapter.” 

The chapter Samuels hoped to see was a revision of an earlier subcommittee draft that he had amended with suggestions from DAPAC members Travis, Wenk, former City Councilmember Mim Hawley and retired UC Berkeley development executive Dorothy Walker. 

The version had been dubbed the “minority report” at the subcommittee’s last meeting, a term chair Steve Winkel said Monday night hadn’t been intended as a disparagement of Travis and his four colleagues. 

“The staff tried to accommodate the views of others, then the subcommittee prepared another draft. I think some things were omitted I would like to see the subcommittee include,” said Matt Taecker, the city planner hired to oversee the planning process. 

Seeing the new Dacey/Novosel version, Travis said, “It appear to me” the Taecker revision “was rejected out of hand. It would be very helpful to walk through it and see ‘here’s why we rejected this or that.’” 

As they worked through the first two sets of goals—of a total of six—subcommittee members added some of suggestions from the staff revisions, but on the whole members kept to their own version. 

The first critical vote was unanimous, rejecting the proposal from the Travis/Taecker draft to rename the chapter “Historic Preservation & New Construction.” 

The committee then made a concession, to adopt a preamble drafted by Eisen, Dacey and Travis, incorporating it into the chapter’s opening strategic statement. 

The subcommittee was adamantly opposed to Travis’s suggestion that the document not call for creation of a new historic district in the downtown, a designation that recognizes both specific properties and the district they share as legally significant embodiments of an historic era. 

“You don’t need a historic district if you have these other policies,” said Travis, only to be greeted by an immediate chorus of “nos” from subcommittee members. 

The tension between strong infill development activists and preservationists reaches a flashpoint over landmarking, which gives legal protections to designated buildings and places restrictions on nearby properties. The protections are more extensive in a district, affecting all structures, new and old, within its boundaries. 

During his earlier tenure on the landmarks commission, Samuels often found himself voting against designations supported by the majority, a tension that carries through to his role as a DAPAC member. 

Subcommittee members insisted on keeping in the chapter a sentence mandating city support for any LPC effort to create a new downtown historic district. 

“I keep looking ahead to bringing something out of this subcommittee DAPAC can accept,” said Travis.  

“I would like this chapter to be adopted without any disagreement, but that’s unlikely to happen with any chapter,” said subcommittee and DAPAC member Jesse Arreguin, a supporter of the proposed district. 

Carrie Olson, an LPC representative to the subcommittee, said she was concerned about the hostility to the idea of creating a historic district, suggesting that some on DAPAC wouldn’t be satisfied until they “level downtown and build a new one.” 

The subcommittee will get back to work on Aug. 27.