Planning Commission Continues Downtown Plan Chapter Review

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 26, 2008 - 09:24:00 AM

Planning commissioners continued their ongoing review of the Downtown Area Plan this week, taking up chapters focusing on economic development and historic preservation and urban design during their meeting last Wednesday. 

Commissioners are slogging through the city staff’s rewrite of the document created by Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), the citizen panel appointed by the City Council that spent two years drafting the plan despite staff opposition.  

While city planning staff had wanted the group to come up with policies and recommendations, DAPAC came up with formal chapters, and now Planning and Development Director Dan Marks and Matt Taecker, the planner hired with the help of UC Berkeley funds to steer the process, have been presenting those chapters to the commission. 

Several commissioners, including Chair James Samuels, also served on DAPAC. 

Marks told the commission that the city has received a $300,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to help draft the plan’s implementation measures. 

Dubbed a Station Area Planning Grant, funds are given to projects designed to boost public transit ridership and reduce passenger car travel by people who live or work in areas served by mass transit stations. 

Other objectives of the program include increasing low-income housing supply and jobs along transit corridors and encouraging other transit alternatives, including walking, biking and carpools. 

According to his memorandum to the council submitted along with the funding application, Marks said $25,000 to $35,000 would go to zoning ordinance modifications, $50,000 to $75,000 for planning public improvements, an equal amount for drafting a financing plan for the improvements, between $50,000 and $100,000 for a parking plan and $50,000 to $75,000 for studies to establish appropriate fees for new developments, zoning code amendments and design guidelines. 

“You guys get to see all of that,” Marks told commissioners. “That’s what will happen between January and May,” when the City Council is required to adopt the plan or face the loss of funds from UC Berkeley under the terms of the legal settlement of the city’s lawsuit challenging the university’s long-range expansion plans, which call for 800,000 square feet of new off-campus development in the city center. 

With the pressures for increased density downtown, both academic and commercial, the fate of the city center’s historic buildings became the focus of struggle on DAPAC, where Samuels found himself on the losing side—unlike on the commission, where he’s usually on the winning side. 

The dividing lines were clear within minutes of the opening of the discussion on the preservation/design chapter. 

“It ought to be called Urban Design Including Historic Preservation, because historic preservation is actually a subset of urban design,” said Harry Pollack, another member of the usual commission majority. 

But Jesse Arreguin, a DAPAC member sitting in for Commissioner Patti Dacey, defended the existing name, citing discussions by the joint DAPAC/Landmarks Preservation Commission subcommittee that drafted the chapter. 

Commissioner Gene Poschman, another DAPAC member, defended the existing name because “quite clearly, historic preservation is important in Berkeley,” and the chapter’s emphasis is also shared by other California cities such as Pasadena. 

George Williams, sitting in for an absent David Stoloff, said he preferred separate chapters for design and preservation. “They are different disciplines,” he said, and Susan Wengraf agreed. 

But it was Dan Marks who broke the emerging confrontation. “I would not suggest a change,” he said, though he did like a suggestion from Wengraf that perhaps preservation could be replaced with conservation. 

The ensuing discussion led to few confrontations, and fewer substantial changes—though commissioners weren’t finished when adjournment time rolled around.