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Planners Order Study of Narrowing Shattuck for Bus

By Richard Brenneman
Friday March 28, 2008

Planning commissioners Wed-nesday voted to conduct a transportation study on the impact of narrowing Shattuck Avenue from four lanes to two to make way for a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane. 

The vote wasn’t an endorsement of AC Transit’s controversial BRT program, but it did set the parameters for a transportation study required for the Downtown Area Plan’s environmental impact study. 

Planning commissioners are reviewing the plan, the culmination of two years’ work by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, before sending it on to the city council with their own parallel recommendations. 

The nine-member Planning Commission has already overruled one vote by the downtown committee majority, voting two weeks ago to call for a study that could be used to undermine DAPAC’s proposed height limits on new downtown construction, which the City Council has now approved. 

City planning staff, with the help of consultant Bill Delo of the IBI Group, determined that the DAPAC proposal to reduce both Shattuck Avenue and Oxford/Fulton Street to single lanes in each direction would overtax Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, as well as the two narrowed thoroughfares. 

City Planning and Development Director Dan Marks said the city had only enough funds to study one of the alternatives. In the end, commissioners opted to have the transportation study consider only the narrowing of Shattuck, since it’s the city’s main business street and a focus of the plan. 

While AC Transit would be required to do its own study on the effects on Shattuck traffic if the bus route runs down the street, planner Matt Taecker said Transportation Commission members had objected to delaying the survey because “it’s our main street, and we don’t know at the end of the day” which route BRT will take. 

City planning staff is recommending that the study include all other features adopted by DAPAC, including the diversion of both lanes of Shattuck onto the western side of Shattuck Square, which is now used only for southbound traffic, and the closure of Center Street to through traffic between Shattuck and Oxford. 

The eastern lanes would be used primarily to serve the hotel planned for the northeast corner of the Shattuck/Center Street intersection and businesses located along the two-block stretch that ends at University Avenue. 

Commissioners will work their way through the plan’s chapters with the goal of completing their review of their own revisions by Sept. 10. 

First up on the list is the plan’s section on economic development, now scheduled for Apr. 23, followed in turn by historic preservation on May 14, with the Landmarks Preservation Commission scheduled to provide its own input to commissioners two weeks earlier. 


Development standards 

Commissioners also voted to hold an April 9 public hearing on development standards governing the size of new mixed-use buildings, so the city can enact ordinances before the June 3 general election vote on two opposing measures that could radically alter development policies throughout California. 

Propositions 98 and 99 are rival initiatives that target eminent domain policies, with the former heavily bankrolled by developers and apartment owners and the latter supported by municipalities and counties as well as tenant advocates. 

Prop. 98 is a reincarnation of Proposition 90, a 2006 ballot measure that was defeated by a narrow 52/48 margin. 

Both 90 and 98 bear the fingerprints of the same coalition of forces that led to the passage of Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative approved by 65 percent of California’s voters. One of the major sponsors of 98 is the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, named for Prop. 13’s most famous advocate. 

Precisely what effects the measures would have remains an open question, said planner Alex Amoroso, who prepared a report that Commissioner Gene Poschman had repeatedly urged city staff to produce. 

“It will either have draconian effects or it will have minimal effects, depending on who you talk to,” Amoroso said of Prop. 98. 

“It could make us obsolete,” said Commissioner Helen Burke, “so it is very important.” 

“It could definitely put a crimp in certain career paths,” quipped Amoroso. 

He said the most dire predictions contend that the initiative would impact zoning by decreeing that “any rule that limits a person’s ability to make as much as possible off a piece of property would be considered an encumbrance and a take-back,” susceptible to costly litigation. 

“No one really understands what the implications are because the language is so ambiguous,” said Commissioner Susan Wengraf. 

DAPAC member Patti Dacey joked that passing the proposed limitations makes sense as a way “to get some insurance that I can do my nuclear-waste-dump/pig-farm.” 

The commission will hold its hearing April 8 on the same two proposals that went to the City Council before the November 2006 election. 

One proposal came from the Density Bonus Subcommittee, composed of members of the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Planning and Transportation commissions, while the second and more developer-friendly measure was proposed by city planning staff. 

In the end, councilmembers opted for the staff version. 

If Prop. 98 fails at the polls, the ordinance would quickly expire, leaving the commission precisely where it is today: struggling to come up with their own version of a density bonus ordinance. 

The measures would decide the size and scale of mixed-use apartment-over-commercial buildings that developers could erect in the city. 

Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan has told the commission that some elements of the subcommittee version would impose illegal limits on developers, a point hotly disputed by most of the members of the disbanded subcommittee. 

ZAB member Bob Allen has attended most of the commission meetings on the proposal, and Planning Commissioner Wengraf was chair of the group. One subcommittee member, David Stoloff, opposed the recommendations.