Finding himself without City Council allies in support of a rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes, Mayor Tom Bates backed down Tuesday night in his request for the pro-Bus Rapid Transit Transporta-tion Commission to lead city efforts in exploring AC Transit’s BRT proposal.
Instead, Bates asked Council-member Laurie Capitelli to work with Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who had submitted his own proposal, to recommend a process to guide city commissioners and staff in their evaluation of the $400 million proposal.
In the council discussion of the proposed project itself, Councilmember Betty Olds summed up what appeared to be the majority council and audience opinion: “Closing lanes on Telegraph is about the stupidest thing the city could do,” she said.
The council also decided Tuesday to withdraw the operating permit for U-Haul on San Pablo Avenue, to give city funds to the Downtown Jazz Festival, to support the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its refusal to grant landmark status to property at 2747 San Pablo Ave. and to approve a home addition on Berkeley Way.
Bus Rapid Transit is a $300-$400 million proposal by AC Transit to build a bus system emulating light rail that would run from San Leandro, through Oakland, to downtown Berke-ley. Full implementation calls for dedicated bus lanes, widely-spaced stops, automated fare machines at the stops, easy street-level boarding and more.
AC Transit has asked the three cities to weigh in on the project. After a public process and staff analysis, the City Council will vote some time next year to accept full, partial or no implementation of BRT.
Bates, who sits on the Metro-politan Transportation Com-mission, suggested in his proposal to the council that the Transportation Commission take the lead in reviewing the plan. The Transportation Commission previously discussed the proposal, generally supporting it.
Worthington’s competing proposal calls for the Planning Commission to take the lead in developing the city’s position since, he said, it looks more broadly at where transportation fits into other planning concerns.
He further proposed that the commission consider BRT as just one part of larger, perhaps more urgent, transit needs, such as providing citizens or workers as providing citizens or workers with eco-passes—bus passes which would be free to individuals or workers in Berkeley and paid for by public monies and, in some cases, employer fees.
Worthington also called for consideration of rapid connections between the rapid buses now running along Telegraph and San Pablo avenues. And he said he wants a study of the impacts of BRT on merchants and neighborhoods.
BRT “doesn’t do the most important things,” Worthington told the council, noting moreover, “Every report I’ve read says that the eco-pass costs a lot less than the $400 million [for BRT].”
Creating BRT would take about five years, but Berkeley could have an eco-pass much sooner, Worthington argued. “Then we’d have people riding those nearly empty buses.”
Speaking before the councilmembers in the queue to speak, Bates told Worthington he’s not willing to include the eco-pass, connectivity and other elements of Worthington’s proposal. “I don’t have that much time on Earth to see that happen,” he said.
Funding for Worthington’s proposal would be dicey, Planning Director Dan Marks told the council. “We’d ask AC Transit to fund the mayor’s proposal,” he said. “I don’t know who would pick up Worthington’s.”
Bates defended his proposal: “There are too many cooks making the broth,” he said, referring to BRT discussions that have taken place in the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee and the Transportation and Planning commissions.
Having the Transportation Commission take the lead would be more efficient. “It would allow us to come to a decision early next year,” Bates said.
Len Conly of the Friends of Bus Rapid Transit was the only public speaker indicating he favored the BRT option with dedicated lanes. Eight or nine opponents spoke against the proposal.
“It will make the service more efficient,” Conly told the council.
Friends of BRT argue further on their website: “The reason Rapid [bus] is not good enough is that we are planning for the future, and the future promises nothing but more congestion. Ultimately the Rapid will be slowed by that congestion and will no longer be an attractive option. Any gaps in the dedicated lanes will degrade reliability of the entire system.”
The rapid bus currently is in place on Telegraph and San Pablo avenues, using some of the features of BRT including wider spacing between stops and priority signalization, where the driver can hold the green signal longer to allow a faster flow of buses.
Bruce Kaplan owns Looking Glass, a photography store on Telegraph Avenue and Oregon Street, and is a member of the Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association, which opposes the BRT with dedicated lanes.
“There were tears when Cody’s closed,” Kaplan told the council, referring to the book store that shut its doors on Telegraph a year ago due to declining revenues.
He said that creating a dedicated bus lane would increase traffic on Telegraph, making it more convenient for people to shop at the Emeryville mall than at smaller Berkeley stores. Kaplan urged the council to “have a discussion with the public.”
Other groups on record opposing BRT with dedicated lanes include the Claremont-Elmwood and Willard neighborhood associations.
“There’s clearly significant opposition to BRT,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “There are some very legitimate concerns on the potential impact of the bus lanes. The merchants are clearly concerned.”
A new proposal for the city’s decision-making process on BRT is likely to be on the council’s Oct. 9 agenda.
Neighbors have been complaining about U-Haul on San Pablo Avenue and Addison Street for years.
In June, the Zoning Adjustments Board recommended that the City Council revoke U-Haul’s permit to operate. The business was using the street to park its trucks, which is not allowed, and had some 50 trucks on site, when its permit allowed about 30.
Despite admission of the problems by the vice president of the company and promises that it would do better, the council voted unanimously to revoke the permit.
While criticizing the Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival for hiring few African American musicians for its summer festival, the council voted unanimously to give the festival $2,500 for expenses incurred.
Councilmember Max Anderson suggested creating a committee to work to increase the festival’s diversity for next year. Agreeing with Anderson, Councilmember Darryl Moore said he hoped “next year we’ll do a better job of reviewing it up front and making sure we have a diverse [festival].”
Other council matters:
• The council unanimously upheld the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s denial of landmark status to the property at 2747 San Pablo Ave.
• The council refused to schedule a hearing for a zoning board appeal by the neighbor of a proposed second-story project at 1625 Berkeley Way. The neighbor said the addition would impact the daylight shed on his property. Voting in favor of upholding the zoning board were councilmembers Capitelli, Anderson, Wozniak and Moore; voting in opposition were councilmembers Olds, Worthington and Mayor Bates. Councilmembers Maio and Spring abstained.
Other city matters
Bates will be out of the country from Sunday Sept. 23, on a trip paid for by the government of Great Britain, returning Monday Oct. 9, according to Bates’ Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries. The mayor will be vacationing with wife Assemblymember Loni Hancock for one week and attending a climate change conference the second.
Acting as mayor will be the vice president of the council, a position that rotates each three months. Councilmember Worthington now occupies the position.
Worthington told the Daily Planet he had only learned that Bates would be absent when the mayor mentioned it at Tuesday’s council meeting and had not been informed by the mayor of the exact dates of his absence.