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Committee Adopts Downtown Plan

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday December 04, 2007

Downtown Area Planning Advisory Committee (DAPAC) members voted 17-4 to adopt their draft of a new downtown plan, but one of the nays came from the head of the Berkeley Planning Commission. 

The proposed plan gets its next public airing Dec. 18, when city councilmembers will hold a workshop on the document from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Planning Commission Chair James Samuels was joined in his opposition by former UC Berkeley development executive Dorothy Walker, former city school board member and Zoning Adjustments Board member Terry Doran and Erin Banks, the spouse of former city Planning Manager Mark Rhoades. 

Shortly before the meeting ended, Walker said she wanted to submit a minority report. 

Thursday night’s vote passes the plan and accompanying documents to Samuels’ commission and the City Council. 

“It’s a terrific document and I’m very proud to be associated with it,” said city Planning and Development Director Dan Marks. 

“The university is pleased with everything that’s happened to date,” Mayor Tom Bates told committee members at the start of the meeting. “I’m pleased that we’ve reached a place where we’re all on the same page.” 

It was a city lawsuit challenging UC Berkeley’s expansion plans into the heart of the city that triggered a lawsuit which was settled, in part, by the agreement to create a new plan for the city’s central business district. 

The new plan significantly enlarges the district beyond the boundaries of the current Downtown Plan, adopted in 1990, in part because the settlement requires space to accommodate university plans to add 800,000 square feet of new buildings and 1,200 new parking spaces. 

Marks said some of the plan’s transportation element appears to be inconsistent with other plans, leaving those decisions to Samuels and his commission. 

He said the planning commissioners will also set the final details of the land use plan to be used in the state-mandated environmental review, which will begin in February and end with the presentation of the final environmental impact report (EIR) to the City Council the following January. 

And then, following revision by the City Council—and if the University of California agrees—the plan would be adopted in May 2009 as a city ordinance, Marks said, making it self-enforcing. 

“Our goal is that when the plan goes to the City Council for approval in January 2009, it has or will soon have the support of the university,” Marks said. 

The settlement agreement, which was signed on May 25, 2005, mandates that no downtown plan can be adopted without the university’s concurrence, and Marks said the university will be conducting its own review while the city runs through its adoption process. 

The university’s planning staff, represented by Kerry O’Banion and Jennifer Lawrence McDougall, have attended most of the committee’s meetings, and McDougall was present in the audience Thursday night. 

The university also holds veto power over the EIR, which must be complete before the plan can be adopted. Work on the EIR will begin early next year. 

For Matt Taecker, the planner hired by the city to work on the plan, the emphasis now shifts to the Planning Commission, where members will come up with their own recommendations. 

Thursday night’s DAPAC meeting, which ended with a group photograph, marked the 50th time members had gathered, including two public workshops and joint sessions with the city’s Landmarks Preservation, Transportation and Civic Arts commissions. 

Members spent their final session making last-minute changes to the eight chapters they’d already adopted, including the closely contested sections on historic preservation and land use. 

The land use chapter passed last month on an 11-1-8 vote, with four more members joining Thursday night’s opponents in abstaining on a proposal that set lower limits on building heights than critics had wanted. 

Foes also said they would not vote for any height limits without an economic study showing that the city would still get the affordable housing, open space, parks and other benefits included in the plan if the proposed limits were adopted. 

Early in the meeting, Downtown Berkeley Association President Mark McLeod urged the committee not to adopt the plan without providing for the economic study. 

The fate of DAPAC’s plan remains uncertain. 

Early Thursday evening member Lisa Stephens asked Marks whether their plan would be one of the options considered in the EIR. 

“I presume so,” said the city planner. 

But there was no assurance that their plan would be the preferred alternative considered in the EIR process. 

“There may be five votes for a different idea,” she said, referring to the Planning Commission, where Samuels—often in the minority on DAPAC votes—usually votes with a five-member majority. 

And then there’s the City Council, which will make its own decisions on the plan. 

After the meeting ended, Commission Chair Will Travis handed out ceremonial coffee mugs, complete with a scanned copy of the city seal, to committee members. 

“There are two versions,” he said. “One has a historic building on the back, the other has a point tower.” 

But the mugs had only one image, downtown’s landmarked Wells Fargo building, which rises to the same height as the controversial point tower projects repeatedly rejected by the commission’s majority.