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N. Shattuck Plaza Plan Resurfaces, Angering Foes

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday April 04, 2008

After almost a year-long hiatus, the North Shattuck Plaza is back—this time as part of the recently launched public review draft of the Berkeley Pedestrian Master Plan prepared by the city’s Public Works Department Transportation Division. 

The city’s plan describes a two-phase process for pedestrian plaza improvement on North Shattuck, which would first restrict vehicle access to Shattuck and Rose streets to ease congestion and, if that works, then construct a plaza. 

For project opponents, many of whom have considered the plaza long dead, its revival came as a surprise and in some cases shock. 

“It’s sneaky,” said North Shattuck resident Julia Ross, a member of the Live Oak Codornices Neighborhood Asso-ciation (LOCCNA)—a neighborhood group around North Shattuck—which passed a resolution opposing the plaza. 

“This thing seems to ‘die’ and then, whoooooops, here it is back again,” LOCCNA member Ruth Peyton wrote in an e-mail to the city’s Planning Department. “Cats only have nine lives; how many do ill conceived and unwanted projects have?” 

Principal Transportation Plan-ner Matthew Nichols, who worked on the master plan, defended the proposal. 

“Some people think we are trying to sneak it back in but that’s precisely why we have a public comment period,” Nichols told the Planet Wednesday. “We want people to tell us what they think about it.” 

The City Council was presented with an information report on pedestrian issues at the March 11 council meeting and a public workshop was held at a March 20 Transportation Commission meeting to get feedback on the draft plan. 

The city’s Transportation Department is accepting public comments until April 11, after which transportation staff will revise the plan based on public comment, conduct an environmental analysis, and bring it to the City Council for adoption. 

Initially proposed by retired UC Berkeley planner and Berkeley Planning Commissioner David Stoloff seven years ago, the $3.5 million North Shattuck Plaza project proposes to transform Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto streetscape by closing off Shattuck Avenue between Vine and Rose streets and constructing a pedestrian plaza on what is now a small strip of paved service road adjacent to shops on the east side of Shattuck. 

After the City Council approved a schematic design of the project in 2001, it was tabled due to lack of funds. Stoloff introduced an updated design to the community in 2006 and described the “pedestrian-friendly” promenade as a way to attract people and help neighborhood businesses thrive. 

While some North Shattuck residents and businesses complained that the plaza would increase trash, panhandling and parking problems, others welcomed the idea of a green spot on which to eat a slice of pizza from Cheese Board and relax. 

The debate turned bitter at several community meetings held last year to discuss the project, with some attacks bordering on the personal. Efforts were made to unite project proponents, neighbors and merchants last March but eventually that fell through. 

Calls from the Planet to Stoloff for comment were not returned. 

The city incorporated the North Shattuck plaza concept into its Pedestrian Master Plan after Stoloff’s plan was endorsed by the council in 2001, Nichols said. 

“We pulled in the traffic changes from the earlier proposal with help from the city’s traffic engineer, Peter Hillier, and our principal consultants, Alta Planning and Design,” he said. “We were aware of the controversies surrounding the plaza, but we thought it was fine to go ahead with it.” 

North Shattuck resident Art Goldberg called the plaza’s revival a “backdoor attempt. 

“We found out about this by accident,” he said. “Who looks at things like master plans anyway? And this one was 300 pages long.” 

Goldberg said he had turned in a petition with 1,128 signatures opposing the plaza to the Transportation Department Thursday. 

“The North Shattuck Plaza project would make our community vulnerable to massive residential high-rise development,” he said. “It would escalate rents putting many local businesses in financial jeopardy ... The worst part is city money is going to be used for it. Where is this money coming from anyway?” 

Former Berkeley councilmember Mim Hawley supported the project. 

“I would suggest we try to do it,” she said. “It’s an environmentally friendly plan to create a pleasant place up there. It will bring more people and be very good for the businesses there. I think people were fearing that parking would be taken away, but the plan is flexible. People are welcome to tell us how we could make it more inviting.” 

The city’s plan proposes to spend $100,000 on expanding the island at Shattuck and Shattuck Place to slow motor vehicles. 

“This is a complicated spot for traffic,” Nichols said. “Some people drive very rapidly, which can result in traffic safety problems. The goals of the pedestrian plan is to increase pedestrian safety and also to create a welcoming pedestrian plaza.” 

This draft plan analyzes pedestrian safety and recommends a prioritized list of capital projects and programs to improve safety and accessibility.  

The plan also recommends changes in the city’s zoning, design review process and capital project design standards to further improve the pedestrian environment. 

Nichols said that although Berkeley was the safest city of its size for pedestrians in California, an average of 137 pedestrian collisions take place in the city each year. 

As part of its short-term goal for North Shattuck, the city proposes to restrict vehicle access to Shattuck and Rose and place bollards for emergency vehicle access, at a cost of $1,200. 

“If the traffic diversion works, then our long-term plan is to build a plaza with pedestrian amenities, which are lacking there,” said Nichols. “However the final design details and costs have yet to be determined.” 

Both Goldberg and Ross said that the neighborhood had no complaints about traffic. 

The plan “is unnecessary and unwanted,” said John Coleman, manager of the upscale clothing store Earthly Goods on North Shattuck. “There is nothing wrong with the area as it is. This whole experiment to see whether the plaza works is a segue for future development. We don’t see how closing the streets will help traffic. It’s like those superfluous traffic roundabouts popping up on the residential streets right now. The city should focus on street repair instead.” 


The Public Review Draft of the Berkeley Pedestrian Master Plan can be viewed at: 

Public comments can be addressed to Kara Vuicich, Associate Transportation Planner, until April 11, 2008, at 981-7064 or by e-mail:  

Hard copies of the Public Review Draft are available at Berkeley’s public libraries.  

For the latest information on Berkeley’s Master Pedestrian Plan see