Density, BRT Dominate Planning Commission Meetings

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday April 08, 2008

Berkeley Planning Commissioners face back-to-back meetings this week where they’ll juggle two political hot potatoes on succeeding nights. 

Tuesday night, it’s a session to vote on temporary density rules that would govern the city’s developers should Proposition 98 pass during the statewide election in June. 

That measure, officially described as a law to restrict eminent domain actions designed to benefit private developers, casts a much wider net, with abolition of the state’s last vestiges of rent control being a target that has drawn big bucks from apartment owners and their lobbying groups. 

The two alternative measures being presented to the commission are the same ones presented to the City Council and passed before another eminent domain measure failed during the November 2006 election. 

The more restrictive of the two was created by a subcommittee created by the Zoning Adjustments Board and later expanded to include members of the Planning and Housing Advisory commissions. 

Councilmembers rejected that measure in favor of a more developer-friendly version prepared by city staff. 

One group which will be on hand to argue for the staff version is Livable Berkeley. Chair Erin Rhoades, has called for members to come out in support of higher density growth on transit corridors. She’s the spouse of former city Land Use Planning Manager Mark Rhoades, who is now a business partner in the for-profit Memar Properties development company of Ali Kashani, formerly the director of the non-profit Affordable Housing Associates.  

Erin Rhoades is also asking members to come out the following night, Wednesday, when the commission holds a joint hearing with the Transportation Commission on Bus Rapid Transit. “They need to hear from people who support BRT and want full consideration of workable design systems,” she wrote in an e-mail to members. 

Clarence Johnson, AC Transit’s media affairs manager, said Wednesday’s meeting is informational in nature, with the agency looking for public and city comment of the proposal which would create a bus-only transit lane from Berkeley to San Leandro along Telegraph Avenue and International Boulevard. 

One projected loop would take buses from Telegraph down Bancroft Way and into city center and the downtown BART station. 

“There are several possibilities” for design of the system, Johnson said. “None of it is set in stone at this stage,” he added. 

Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. 


Southside plan 

During the weeks ahead, planners will be reviewing another city plan and the key environmental documents for another. 

Commissioners are currently reviewing the Downtown Area Plan as they prepare their own recommendations for the City Council to consider alongside the original draft by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee. 

They will also hold a hearing during their April 23 session on the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Southside Plan, which has just been posted on the city’s website at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=17998. 

That document also briefly addresses the Draft EIR that AC Transit prepared on four BRT options, two controversial variations of which would narrow heavily trafficked Bancroft Way to a single traffic lane.  

The project would also limit traffic on Telegraph Avenue, which has raised concerns of merchants and residents.