Public Comment

Commentary: UC Berkeley Students Take On City Planning Issues

Tuesday March 11, 2008

Editors, Daily Planet: 

Keeping Manufacturers in Berkeley 

The city of Berkeley, being a diverse community as it proclaims to be, must keep its integrity and endorse flexibility, in this high-tech age. 

As a one of Berkeley residents, manager of a small business and a student in UC Berkeley’s Planning Dept., in response to the article published in your newspaper on March 4th, 2008, “West Berkeley Zoning Tour Reveals Land-Use Tensions", I tend to agree with Ted Garrett of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, when saying that he was “looking for some flexibility so we can keep manufacturers here in the city.” 

The bay area, and Berkeley in particular, is a crown jewel in California’s landscape in term of its population quality, manufactures, artisan and education facilities, such as UC Berkeley, and this notion must be kept as more and more new high-tech companies are seeking to relocate, along side well known companies, such as Bayer Industries, Cliff Bar and other, already located within the city’s unique fabric. As technology progresses, so does the demand for change. Nonetheless, facilities and locations within the city boundaries remains the same, as not much of the land left to be newly developed, hence new ordinances should be considered to accommodate the needs of those companies. Another unique component of the city inhabitants is the small business and artisans, which had found the city, years back, to be accommodating to their special needs, and in turn, supplied the city with financial gain, diversity and the weaving of the fabric in which Berkeley is made of. It is no wonder that Berkeley is an attraction for many real estate developers from all around the country, and it is refreshingly surprising to see that they too would like to keep the artisans and small business within their buildings. Therfore, the city’s officials should endorse and maintain the same line of thinking, and activity. 

It is unfortunate to hear that due to some technicalities within the zoning ordinances, a company such as Cliff Bar is looking to relocate to a neighboring city, which is seeking to provide the proper zoning to their needs, rather than doing every effort to maintain those businesses which are the core and heart of Berkeley. Not only for financial gain, but also not to drive away those who compose the city’s diverse community ranging from artists, craftsmen, green-construction companies, cutting-edge manufacturing companies and high-tech software and web companies, action must be taken, and sooner rather than later. 

The action should be taken after a close inspection of the West Berkeley district, its zoning, as well its transportation capabilities, to result in a new zoning ordinance that will be able to keep, as well welcome, more unique occupants to the area, without harming the already existing and functioning facilities, residential area and business. This could be achieved by flexing the existing zoning ordinances, bringing them “in line” with modernity and the ever-changing needs of small businesses. Another aspect need to be taken into account, is being on the front lines of sustainability and the implications on the environment with the new mindset of the planned zoning changes. While the city of Berkeley would like to preserve and welcome more of those small business, artist and others, we need to keep in mind the air quality in the area, as well the resources that are available for disposal for the district’s residences. 

Or Dobrin 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Transporation Issues 

As a recent arrival to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley from my native Los Angeles, there has been one issue that is seminal in my mind when thinking of the similarities between the two places. Problems with the transportation system. Transportation was defined by John Levy, a noted City Planner, as an attempt to create connections for development while achieving the goals of mobility to far away areas and access to local homes and businesses. First off I intend to address the problem of mobility. The similarities in the problems plaguing Los Angeles and the Bay Area lie in their overused Freeway systems. In William Fulton’s book California Planning, he states that 70 percent of Californians drive alone to work while only 1 percent uses the rail system in their respective cities. Although the rail system number is higher in the Bay Area, this leads to a great deal of people on the freeways during the peak hours traveling to and from work which creates gridlock. A recent study by MSNBC states that San Franciscans lose $1,121 in wages a year because of traffic delays. These delays create not only an emotional burden on the people stuck in traffic but also a financial burden as well. In order to deal with these problems a serious look at the motives of transportation systems and their methods must be considered. One serious method of rectifying this problem of mobility is increasing funding for public transit. In John Levy’s chapter on Transportation Planning, he states that the future of alleviating traffic stress is not in a rail system but rather in expanded bus systems. Levy finds that the bus system will have lower costs and the routes that the buses run can be easily changed to accommodate growth. These buses will also be able to hold great amounts of people than in heavy rail or in cars. The examples for these systems can be found in the Orange Line in Los Angeles and the potential BRT line which is currently being planned in the East Bay.  

Secondly, a major problem is the lack of access to smaller communities due to the overflow of congestion from motorists leaving the crowded freeways. I see a great deal of this in my adopted hometown of Berkeley where the city must deal head on with the gridlock in the Bay Area’s crowded freeway system. The city of Berkeley was designed much like other cities with different series of roads for different purposes. Main Arteries that will connect to the freeway as well as connector streets which connect our neighborhoods to the cities which Fulton describes as vital to commerce. However, increasingly due to a high amount of traffic on the freeway, particularly the I-80, freeway traffic is flowing into our community and clogging up the streets that were initially designed for residents. In Fulton’s book he stated that a way to deviate these types of issues is through a variety of limits on the mobility cars can have in a street. One of Fulton’s methods is through a series of “humps and bumps” where streets are broken up by speed bumps as well as road blocks to force high speed traffic to move away from the residential areas. Finally, it is our duty as residents of the Bay Area to come up with the best plans to alleviate transportation issues which hassle us daily. 

Adam Serrano 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Bus Rapid Transit 

As a Berkeley resident and a student at UC Berkeley, news of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal piqued my interest. The idea of a bus route that is fast, reliable and affordable is extremely alluring and attractive, and the implementation of such a plan will bring a greener and healthier Berkeley. 

I feel that such a project will enhance the city and demonstrate its commitment to green-solutions. If we as a society are serious about mitigating global warming and environmental degradation, it is imperative that people utilize public transportation rather than cars. Although the 40L buses were recently replaced by the 1R buses, without dedicated bus lanes, these buses are subject to the same sluggish traffic patterns as cars. The proposed route will run along International Boulevard and Telegraph Avenue and will create an expedited and fuel efficient transportation. 

There are fears that the project will adversely affect the retail industry and traffic along Telegraph Avenue and that traffic congestion and parking shortages will be exacerbated by BRT. While people will initially have to make adjustments, ultimately the bus lanes will be accepted as part of the streetscape and will prove to be beneficial to the East Bay community. Business will be helped because of the increased ease of transportation and the efficiency of the buses will lead to more transit riders and less automobile traffic. 

Experts such as William Fulton, a Senior Scholar at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at USC, and Paul Shigley, Editor of the California Planning & Development Report, emphasize the need to shape travel demand rather than respond to it and to rethink traditional transportation planning strategies. It is not enough to say that we are a city dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. We need to be provided with opportunities to be environmentally conscious and the built environment plays a large role in creating such opportunities.  

Despite increased spending on public transit since the 1970s, only a small number of commuters rely on it. This is due in large part to suburban land use patterns, which cater to automobile use rather than public transportation and bicycle use. Putting BRT in the context of transit-oriented development will allow for the revitalization of the retail industry as well as encourage residents to ride public transit. 

I believe it is important for planners to make the impacted communities more aware of the potential of the project and involve them in the planning process. Those who are planning BRT are likely not part of the population that will utilize it, thus it is vital to the integrity of the project that the public is informed and involved in the process. 

Aisha Qamar 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

More on Bus Rapid Transit 

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has been an issue of contention since its proposal. Many Berkeley residents remain unaware that there is a proposal to change AC Transit to a BRT system and it should be better advertised that residents should go to to review the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).  

In a city like Berkeley where at times, there can be heavy traffic congestion, a proposal like BRT can be beneficial to minimizing residents’ travel time. As of now, streets become increasingly congested with drivers navigating around bikers and pedestrians and buses that are rarely on time. Public transportation was at a national all time high in 1945 but it has drastically declined since then due to an extreme hike in automobile ownership. Suburbanization caused families to move into areas where automobiles decreased travel time. We must realize that Berkeley is not a suburban area and the dense population calls for public transportation to decrease automobile use and traffic congestion.  

John M. Levy writes in Contemporary Urban Planning that “masses of jobs concentrated in the urban core and masses of apartments concentrated near transit stops” is the ideal environment for public transportation. If the City of Berkeley can show that BRT will increase bus reliability and decrease travel time, residents will be willing to ride public transport in lieu of driving personal automobiles. But, the current BRT proposal shows that passengers making short trips will benefit from continuing to use their cars because there will be fewer BRT stops causing longer walking distances. Potentially, more residents would use BRT for longer trips but the majority of riders that like traveling short distances would prefer to drive due to unwillingness to walk longer distances.  

So how do residents convince Berkeley city planners that BRT is not as beneficial to decreasing traffic congestion as it appears? For example, turning the 1/1R AC Transit line on Telegraph into a BRT line allows for only one land of traffic flow in either direction. Pedestrians would no longer be able to cross at all intersections and would have to walk farther to reach an intersection with a stoplight. Drivers would no longer be able to make left turns due to the BRT lane and drivers would start to turn onto side residential streets to make it to their destination.  

Implementing BRT does not simply put an end to traffic congestion in Berkeley. William Fulton writes in the Guide to California Planning that “traffic mitigation programs represent the most important growth area for local transportation planning” and acknowledging this, residents and the city planning commission must realize that BRT does not solve traffic troubles. It only exacerbates them by eliminating parking and driving lanes for a bus system that stops fewer and farther between. A better solution might be to analyze ways AC Transit can be improved to speed up service instead of completely changing to a bus rapid transit system.  

Jennifer Chiu 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Oil, Oil Everywhere, but not a Drop of Water to Drink 

One of my fondest memories of Berkeley was when I first moved into my apartment last year. Sitting on the roof of the building at night, I was actually able to see stars illuminate the night’s sky. This was a rare experience for a kid who grew up in Southern California, where the only thing you could see at night were large spotlights that were being used to promote the newest, hippest club. For the past year I have been blessed with night after night of amazing sky views from my window, but lately my attention has been drawn closer to earth. After I finished awing over Berkeley’s successes with regard to air pollution and light pollution, I began looking around my neighborhood with a more critical eye. Everywhere I looked there were people washing their cars and watering their flower beds. That is when I realized where Berkeley has been failing, water conservation. 

What happened to the conservation element of the general plan where planners are supposed to deal with the conservation of natural resources? Many say that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil. Now, if that is not a warning that we should be actively pursuing alternative forms of water conservations here in Berkeley, then I don’t know what is. Every faucet, toilet and hose pulls water from the same domestic water lines. Every time a car is washed, roses are watered or a toilet flushed, that is fresh, potable water that we are carelessly wasting away. Forgot the exploitation of oil, bottle water companies are selling 12 oz. bottles of water for two dollars apiece. They have us paying for the same water we are using to flush our toilets with. We really would be better off just flushing our money down the toilet because that is essentially what we are doing whenever we buy bottled water. 

Absurd? I agree, but the remedy is simple, reclaimed water. The most successful reclaimed water system can be found in Southern California. Of all places where water conservation could take place, it happens 400 miles from Berkeley in the city of Irvine, California. That’s not to say there aren’t other cities that use reclaimed water, Redwood City and Daly City have similar systems, but they do not that match Irvine in terms of magnitude. The city of Irvine treats all of its waste water and then recycles it throughout the city for irrigation, which per household, is the largest form of water consumption. This way, whenever someone in Irvine washes their car or waters their lawn, they are doing so with treated waste water. Therefore, saving potable water for its intended use, drinking. Current action in Redwood City prevented the expansion of their reclaimed water system to irrigation and toilets because of the stigma that is associated with reclaimed water. Members of the city council were fearful that kids or dogs might accidentally drink the water. Yes, the water once was sewage and that’s a fact that people need to get over. Workers at the Irvine Ranch Water District have even said that if the federal government permitted it, they would have no problem drinking the water themselves. They know the source of the water should not be the issue because if it’s clean it’s clean, regardless if it came from the sewer or an aquifer. 

Planning for the future takes action today and unless Berkeley gets its act together, future protests will be over wars for water. But who wants to see picket signs reading, “No Blood for Water.” Unless planners take notice of the egregious misuse of water taking place in Berkeley, those wars will be fought and protestors will have no merit because they aided in the waste of water every time they washed their cars or watered their lawns.  

Kevin Chiu 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

More People Will Lead to Less Traffic 

We all know that traffic in the Bay Area is terrible; it’s frustrating, annoying, and perpetual. And the answer to the problem seems ironic: density. I know people are probably thinking density is the cause of traffic in the Bay Area, and that notion is partially true. However, there is a gap in the amount of people living in suburban areas and the amount of people living in transit central cities like Chicago and New York. Mass transit systems in both of these cities are efficient because they provide a service that allows people to get to work. Yes, both Chicago and New York and very different environments than Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco because they don’t really have less populated suburbs. In the Bay Area, one of the major causes of congestion is suburbia. 

The suburban way of life cripples the ability of most transit systems to function properly. With commuters from Concord, Walnut Creek, Dublin, and Freemont flooding 580, 880, and 80 on a daily basis, the rush hour commute literally crawls. The average speed on 580 through Berkeley is a mere 6.5 mph. Moreover, an estimated 100 millions hours are lost to sitting in traffic each year in the Bay Area. As respected planning and transportation expert John M. Levy reported, total commutation to work increased by 13.2 million people from 1990 to 2000: of that increase nearly 12.9 million of people drove alone. Americans enjoy the freedoms of suburban life throughout the country, but this lifestyle is completely reliant on personal vehicles as the primary mode of transportation. 

A major problem arises when both public transit and individual vehicle share the same roads. Inconvenience is an understatement when it comes to using public transportation to travel any sort of distance. Referencing Levy once again, the mixed uses of our roads result in buses that travel at an average of speed of around fifteen miles per hour. Take into account the six mile an hour average of driving in gridlock, and the only option left is BART. However, as a resident of Berkeley it is well known that getting to a BART station, waiting for the Orange Line, and eventually arriving in San Francisco can take an hour or longer. Not to mention getting from Berkeley to the Oakland Airport by way of public transportation takes nearly an hour and a half. It is hard to sell a public transportation system that mimics the likeness of growing grass. This brings me back to my initial point on density. 

The latest plan for downtown San Francisco as well as Berkeley calls for densification. Although densification seems as though it will bring more overpriced housing to communities, it is in the interest of such communities to allow for such growth so long as affordable housing is stressed. As cities such as Berkeley become denser, the efficiency of mass transit will rise, leading to faster travel times, and eventually the traffic on our freeways will dissipate. It is equally important that we press our city planning committees to promote zoning practices that only allow industry and commercial space on, or near, our freeways and arterials. Likewise, such zoning measures should be enacted along BART routes as well. The reason why Chicago and New York have maintained such efficient means of transportation is through the reliance on public transportation to get people to work. If jobs are located near transportation routes and hubs, the necessity of driving vehicles will disappear. It is apparent that the suburban lifestyle is much enjoyed by commuters in the Bay Area, and it would be idiotic to use current resources to promote urban living. Rather, a simple reevaluation of current zoning ordinances, and an implication of business and industry along major transportation routes instead of residential allotments would solve the transportation crisis in the Bay Area for good. 

Nathan DeWindt 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Progressive, Yet Stuck in a Rut 

I am a current Cal student studying architecture. I recently attended a planning commission for the city of Berkeley in which plans for the development of downtown Berkeley were discussed. One of the issues that was brought up briefly at the commission was with regards to day lighting Strawberry Creek at Center St. As an architecture student in Berkeley I have heard about this issue a number of times. I remember doing a project in one of my intro classes that required a redevelopment plan for the Oxford corridor along the UC campus and many of the students, to the approval of the professors, chose to rip apart Center St. turning it into a park. I am writing to suggest that this plan for the creek would be incredibly beneficial for the city of Berkeley and would be a strong statement to the rest of the country that we truly understand the value and importance of nature. 

Berkeley considers itself to be a progressive city yet in so many ways it is stuck in the same places as countless other cities in America. This city is full of creative free thinkers with ideals about the way the world is and should be, but the problem is that many of those ideals are just that, simply ideals. One ideal that comes to mind has to do with protecting the environment. Of course Berkeley has a high value for environmental change, yet in many ways this city is reluctant to make any major headway against global warming with regards to its urban fabric. Now I am not writing to criticize, as I know that there are many Berkeley residents honestly fighting to make a difference when it comes to the environment. Rather, I am saying that going through with day lighting Strawberry Creek would not only be practical way to inject sustainable green space into our downtown center, but would also be a statement about this city’s attitude towards the environment. If you think about it, the fact that we have no room for a natural creek in our city speaks to or true values. It is one way that shows our disregard for the natural landscape of the Berkeley area. 

Not only would the creek be an example to other cities, it would also improve the sacredness of downtown Berkeley. If Center St. were turned into a park with the creek running through it, it would become a major attraction improving the quality of life for those who live, work and play in downtown Berkeley. A design move such as this would add great vitality to downtown. As professor Randy Hester has stated in his book Design for Ecological Democracy “A shallow creek may stir memories of childhood magic, the headwaters and mouth fueling feelings of awareness and fullness, respectively.” My point being that an open creek does much more than simply add beauty to the area. Bringing nature into the urban fabric has the power to inspire and revitalize. Keeping nature separate from downtown residents serves only to shelter them further from the needs. The more a person is disconnected from nature the less likely they are to truly care about it. Hester goes on to say, “It is the language of the landscape that allows emotions that are within the community to take shape in the surrounding world.” Preserving the natural landscape in Berkeley connects our community to where we are on this earth and fosters environmental awareness. 

As a progressive city it is our responsibility to set an example of ways that we can reintegrate the natural landscape back into our cities. Greening our downtown center and unearthing a covered creek are practical ways to show that the environment is important to us. We can continue to be like most other cities in America and bow to the needs of the automobile, or we can choose to be different, to truly be Berkeley.  

Brian Flaherty 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

Berkeley’s Transportation Needs 

To meet the transportation needs of the City of Berkeley, and the Bay Area as a whole, I urge you to support and publicize the phenomenon of casual carpooling, also known as “slugging". For those unfamiliar with casual carpooling, it is an informal, ad-hoc practice that provides commuter carpools--essentially combining hitchhiking with rideshares. At various rendezvous points, drivers will simply pick up or drop off commuters who want to travel between those points. I bring this to your attention because I believe casual carpooling is one of the easiest and most cost-efficient ways to reduce congestion, gasoline consumption, and greenhouse gas pollution from the Bay Area. To bring about change in commuter habits requires a societal paradigm shift which your newspaper can bring about. 

I chapter 20 of “Guide to California Planning", Fulton and Shigley suggest shaping and streamlining the trends of transportation to reduce congestion instead of merely building new highways in response to increased automobile ownership. We are doing just that by drawing more attention to casual carpooling and encouraging commuters to utilize the thousands of cars already on our highways. Essentially, to promote this effort will curb commuters away from buying new cars and lead to less cars on the road, which is overwhelmingly advantageous in comparison to building new highways. 

What are the advantages of casual carpooling? Many of the advantages are moot: reduced consumption of gas, cleaner air, and less traffic. But I believe there is one distinguishing advantage than outweighs the others: a sense of community, especially in the combined effort to fight traffic congestion. Remember that this issue requires a paradigm shift, not incremental change. As more commuters commit to the casual carpool practice, more attention will spotlight the choke-hold that congestion has on our society. 

In chapter 13 of Contemporary Urban Planning, Levy states that nearly 60% of public transportation is subsidized, while private transportation is mostly self-paid. One major cost advantage of casual carpools is that it provides a public, community-based system but at private cost. For the most part, commuters themselves pay for all the ordinary expenses such as insurance, fuel, and road construction through taxes so that public funding is not necessary 

To reap the advantages of casual carpooling, the city and its planners can make some vital changes. At the moment, casual carpool services are quite informal. If the city diverted funds to the program, casual carpoolers could incorporate new services into the practice: providing rider feedback on drivers, assigning a rating to each driver, providing tax incentives to drivers who provide casual carpool services. Essentially, the use of public money would encourage the utilization of the greatest resource that we have in our transportation system--the empty seats of the thousands of cars that commute in the Bay Area every day. The funding would eliminate the problem that may hold back most commuters from taking the first step in casual carpools--safety and security in the car of another driver. Once this hurdle is overcome, I expect that stressful highway commutes will be a thing of the past. 

Eric Wang 


Editors, Daily Planet: 

West Berkeley Zoning 

When I read your article, “West Berkeley Zoning Tour Reveals Land-Use Tensions,” (Brenneman) I thought to myself, how can our city be in such a zoning mess? How did we arrive to today’s buildings which is half MU light industry and half residential? Has our city been sporting with spot zoning, the “most abused type of zoning,” as Fulton declared in the Guide to California Planning (Fulton, 134) ? 

I wondered if politicking or lobbying astray from the West Berkeley Plan, deviating from which would lead us to inconsistencies and create opportunities for lawsuits that our city too often gets involved and squander funds that can potentially be vested elsewhere. 

Subdivision alone seems like excessive but ineffective micromanagement. Division within a single building just is not intuitive, and it creates bureaucratic situation that pleases no one and invites attacks left and right, literally. Within the larger context of planning as Popper observed at the national level, the inflexibility that may be produced provide conservatives with “strong evidence of excessive regulation,” of “programs [that] have fallen short of many of their stated objectives,” to attack planning and regulation in general, while still not satisfying the liberal complains that a more centralized, regional approach may be better (Popper). If it does not seem impractical, it seems legally questionable, fitting Levi’s descriptions of grounds on which charges “may be leveled against the municipality in court,” (Levi, 125). It certainly seems “capricious and inconsistent” when even within a building, we have different development, let alone comparing the broader area. It certainly seems like we are “treating equals unequally” when within the same walls, we declare distinct, divided development. How much of this divided mixed-use, left-wall-different-from-back-wall zoning can we completely justify on the “grounds of the police power?” 

“Zoning,” Levi points out, “is vulnerable to the criticism that it severely limits the freedom of the architect and site designer and may thus lower the quality of urban design,” (Levi, 131). Lets not forget that, from the summary of the last plan, our “Plan is centered on diversity and quality of life... celebrates and strives to maintain both the diversity of residents and business in west Berkeley,” (West Berkeley – Summary). We are not here to insert our hands to “radically” change anything, and likewise, let us be reasonably flexible so that designers may improve on the quality and diversity of urban design. 

Yet, I recognize that we don’t want complete deregulation so that business may run amok as they please. But as I have found out more about planning, our inflexible zoning pattern is also our advantage. The economic potential of the area seems greater than what we can achieve under the current scheme. We are really fortunate that amidst the national (and perhaps global) credit crunch, the tour manifests a line up of investments and plans to accommodate a variety of needs. Thus, we have a power beyond zoning itself. 

The need for changing or accommodation to zoning requirement so that development may proceed puts the city in a “strong negotiating position,” Levi remarks, so that we can “turn away an y development proposals” we do not like and likewise insist on certain features and investments as conditions of development (126). Such development agreements would still comply with and respect our plans (137), and exactions ("cost on the community imposed by development") paid by development would improve our community and infrastructure. The opportunities are there waiting for us, and all we need to do is to come to the table with some flexibilities and find the most satisfying outcome for all of us. 

However, I want to qualify that I do not endorse making every trade-off in name of progress. There probably is not one best approach to every situation. As Jacobs articulated, in our postmodern thinking, we need to “recognize the limited perspective that most participants bring” and work to “broaden [land use planning debate] to assure that all legitimate concerns and interests are taken into account.” We answer that principle when we draft the General Plan. We can continue that attitude during the intermittent periods. Thus I request that the planning commission, instead of through solely static zones and regulations, see our city with a little bit more fluidity and see us for what we need. 

Elton Chan