Public Comment

Commentary: Underneath the Shady Tree (Again)

By Winston Burton
Tuesday October 30, 2007

I was sitting outside at a restaurant, on Center Street in downtown Berkeley, when my friend Martin the mailman approached.  

“Hey Winston, what’s going on with downtown Berkeley and all that stuff you were dreaming about two years ago? Pretending you were sitting under a shady tree in front of a grand hotel, looking at a new museum, kids playing in a plaza, a creek on this very block, and a Jimi Hendrix statue down the street. Looks the same to me!”  

“Martin, Martin, Martin my friend, as I said before, sometimes you have to eat dessert first!” I told him. “If you mean DAPAC and the planning for downtown, we’re gradually moving forward to the end. But sometimes only visions can be enjoyed in the now, and reality can take a long time. If we had a dictatorship we could make decisions instantaneously, lop off the heads of those who object and move rapidly. But this is Berkeley! And we are striving for consensus, which takes more time, but ultimately in the end it’s worth it! Every body needs to take a deep breath and be patient.”  

“Well, what’s taking so long?” Martin said impatiently. I tried to explain.  

“People are concerned with the height of buildings, blocked views, sunlight and shaded neighborhoods, while others are focused on who or how many people should be in the buildings, open space—which every one wants, and how to pay for it! Then there’s build green, build smart and build in sustainability. Some people are passionate about preserving the charm and history of downtown, while others are convinced there’s very little history, nothing that’s charming so let’s plan for the future. Toss in the university’s role, NIMBYism, Bus Rapid Transit, classism, racism and best practices in Vancouver, San Luis Obispo and Paris. In addition to relevant topics about downtown businesses, density and capacity, over the past two years we’ve had presentations about everything else under the sun except a partridge in a pear tree or should we say oak tree! Trust me, I’ve listened and learned from them all, and I think we’ve got a lot accomplished! I’ve attended at least two three-hour meetings a month, for the last two years and have missed a lot of family time and Monday night football. Don’t you get it?” I said, my voice rising. “This is Berkeley! I could discover the solution to world hunger and Henny Penny would say I’m only contributing to overpopulation and global warming. You can’t please everybody!” 

Martin looked at me and said, “You sound kind of angry—are you burnt out?” 

“Not at all, I guess I’m a freak,” I told him. “I’ve always tried to be on time to hear the public comment part in the beginning of each meeting, which I still believe is one of the most important parts of the process. I will not be intimidated, and I’m determined to do my civic duty impartially. I actually enjoyed most of the meetings and I think that the other committee members were the brightest and nicest people I’ve ever worked with. I applaud them all for being willing to give up their evenings and family time to discuss and work on things that may never come to fruition in our lifetimes!”  

“So what’s next?” Martin asked. I told him, “Well, as the prisoner told the guard when he was being released from San Quentin, ‘My time is up, when’s yours?’ ” 


Winston Burton is member of the Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee (DAPAC).