Public Comment

Hancock: The Developers’ Ally

By Martha Nicoloff
Thursday May 15, 2008 - 10:04:00 AM

Most people who know of Loni Hancock remember her as mayor of Berkeley, from 1988 to 1995. At that time she faced very real and important criticisms for the way she ran the city. 

A good illustration of Hancock’s failures back then are several major planning decisions that she actively supported that were originated by a group called “Urban Ecology.” In it’s essentials, their vision was to move Berkeley’s population into high-density towers connected by ramps, and then pack these structures around BART stations and up and down transit corridors. 

The first impractical consequence of Hancock’s support for Urban Ecology was an experimental “slow street” on Milvia, running between University Avenue and Cedar. This curvy bump street was rushed through at great expense to the city in order to impress urban planning academics attending a conference here. The Mayor’s ardent support was made to look foolish given the confusing result, a real textbook example of “token” city planning. 

Another example supported by Urban Ecology was the neighborhood-busting development at Rose and Shattuck Avenues. In this instance, the mayor was confronted by a solid wall of opposition by surrounding neighbors when a 55-unit ticky-tacky, residential/commercial project was promoted for a small corner lot. Her only supporters were: Urban Ecology, her own city staff and the developer. Incidentally, the developer was also a big contributor to the successful effort to raise Hancock’s salary. The justification for approving the project was that the building site was on a bus route. 

A third policy decision spread dissension in other parts of the city. Having first failed to persuade residents of West Berkeley that their homes were blighted, Hancock’s redevelopment staff focused on South Berkeley. Once again Urban Ecology’s contribution was to trot out its favorite panacea of high-density towers. Only this time it was adjacent to South Berkeley BART station. If it hadn’t been for major grassroots opposition we might have had Hancock’s political cronies indulging their conflicts of interest for the duration of a 40-year redevelopment plan. 

How has Loni Hancock furthered Urban Ecology’s goals during her stay in the state Assembly? She has modified the provisions for “Transit Village” developments by reducing the need to show benefits to the surrounding community and limiting citizen participation. She has not introduced any measures to halt the use of eminent domain in California as several other states have done. 

After checking out Loni’s list of contributors for her Senate race, can anyone be in doubt about her pro-development connections and support? 


Martha Nicoloff authored the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance.