Election Section

Enviro Commission Offers Tough Critique Of Downtown Plan Sustainability Chapter

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 09:15:00 AM

“It felt much like a dream to me,” said Robert Clear. 

“It’s a laundry list of desires, of things that could happen,” said Richard Harris. 

“It strikes me as lofty pie in the sky to make us feel good about living in Berkeley,” said Jason Kibbey. 

The sharp critiques from three members of Berkeley’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission targeted the proposed sustainability chapter that compromises one of the centerpieces of the proposed Downtown Area Plan. 

Timothy Burroughs, the planning department staffer who heads the city’s climate action plan program, presented the chapter to the commission to seek their comments before it heads to the Planning Commission next month for review. 

The City Council must adopt a new downtown plan by late May or risk the partial loss of funds from UC Berkeley mandated in the settlement of a lawsuit that challenged the university’s plans to build 800,000 square feet of new off-campus buildings in the city center. 

The Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, appointed by the City Council and including representatives of the Planning Commission, spent nearly two years developing the proposed plan for which the commission is now proposing its own revisions before it goes to the council in late December or early January. 

Clear, a research scientist in building technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said the chapter posed conflicts between the goals of increased density “and a lot of other things that people want,” concluding the chapter represents “a dream which not been thought through.” 

Harris, who manages water conservation programs for the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD), said that while the plan represents “a great start,” it didn’t offer specifics for prioritizing its goals, and included “a lot of redundancies.” 

“I was really looking for city policies,” said Harris. “What is the city going to do? What are different departments going to do? Where are the policies about not irrigating during the day?...It doesn’t even have policies.” 

Commission Chair Kibbey, an activist with a degree in business from the Haas school, said the plan needed “a realistic assessment of specific goals” and “fails to address the elephant in the room, which is Berkeley politics.” 

Nothing in the plans set of proposals “is going to happen in Berkeley unless it’s the law.” 

Any plan to implement sustainability policies needs a monitoring system, Harris said. 

Clear also said that some aspects of the plan, like that suggesting the daylighting of the now-buried Strawberry Creek, “suggest a fair amount of expertise that turns out to be flat-out wrong.” 

Since many of the commissioners hadn’t been able to study the plan in detail, Kibbey urged members to register their critiques in detail, and asked Burroughs to see if the Planning Commission would hold off on discussing the chapter until its Sept. 17 meeting, to give the environmental commission time to adopt a full suit of recommendations at its session earlier in the month. 


Drought issues 

Joshua Bradt, the city’s new watershed resources specialist and a former activist with the Urban Creeks Council, told commissioners he has been charged with drafting a new watershed management plan for the city. 

Harris, who will work with Bradt as liaison for the utility district, said his customers have been coping well with the current drought, though they haven’t reached the 15 percent reduction decreed by the district. 

Through the end of July, he said, the reduction in water use had reached 11 percent. 

The district will be buying 2,200 time slots on the air and on the Internet to present its spots featuring the animated character “Running Water” to encourage conservation, he said. 

Installation of a thousand listening devices on 250 miles of pipe is helping to spot water leaks, and the district is also doing free conservation audits of homes and businesses, he said. 

Consumers are also calling the utility to report extravagant water use, with about a third of the calls targeting public agencies—many involving the City of Berkeley, he said.