Backlog Forces Commissioners To Double Up Planning Meetings

By Richard Brenneman
Friday September 26, 2008 - 04:01:00 PM

Berkeley planning commissioners are working on two parallel projects that will reshape the city center—the new Downtown Area Plan and the proposed route and configuration for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). 

Commissioners have to finish their own proposed revisions to the downtown plan and hand their version to the City Council in February, which has meant the commission has been meeting weekly instead of the normal routine of twice a month. 

The plan’s chapter on access will be the focus of the commission’s meeting on Oct. 1, starting at 7 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave. 

The second downtown plan meeting for the month will follow on the Oct. 15, where members are scheduled to finish their work on the sustainability chapter and take a look at implications for the plan’s chapter on land use in light of the proposed Climate Action Plan. 

Next up, on Oct. 22, will be the plan’s housing element. 

The chapter on land use—in many ways the regulatory core of the plan—is up for consideration on Nov. 12. 

The City Council must adopt the plan before the end of May or face a loss of some of the mitigation payments UC Berkeley agreed to pay the city to settle a lawsuit that threatened to delay the university’s plans to build more than 800,000 square feet of off-campus construction in the downtown area. 

At the same time councilmembers consider the commission’s revisions, they will be examining the original plan, which was prepared over a two-year period by a specially appointed citizen committee that also included current commission members James Samuels, Patti Dacey, Jim Novosel and Gene Poschman. 

The BRT project promises the installation of a speedier bus line between the downtown BART station in Berkeley with one of the two BART stations in San Leandro (either downtown or Bayfair).  

The timing of the BRT project is much less certain given that three cities must each come up with a proposal for the shape of the service within their own city limits, with Oakland—the locus of the longest section—yet to begin serious planning. 

Only when the citizens have crafted their so-called locally preferred alternatives (LPAs) can the fourth agency and ultimate operator of the system, AC Transit, prepare the environmental impact report that it must approve before work can begin. 

A fifth variable is the Berkeley electorate, which will decide Nov. 4 whether it wants to be the decider when it comes to turnings thumbs up or down on the LPA. If voters pass Measure KK, the LPA would be subject to the electoral process—though the question of whether the vote would require a special election or could be consolidated with a regularly scheduled election is still undetermined, planning staff told commissioners Wednesday night.  

In the interim, the city Transportation Commission is also weighing in on BRT, and workshops to gather more commission and public input will be held in coming months before both commissions. 

BRT is nothing if not controversial, raising worries especially along Telegraph Avenue, where business owners have expressed concerns about loss of trade should on-street parking be eliminated to accommodate dedicated BRT-bus-only lanes and residents have said they fear increased traffic on side streets and loss of neighborhood parking spaces. 

And if buses and downtown buildings aren’t enough, planning commissioners will be taking on a revision of the city general plan’s housing element starting next year, their own role in reviewing the draft Climate Action Plan, the continuing work of reshaping zoning ordinances for West Berkeley and—if Commissioner Larry Gurley has his way—taking up the long-delayed plan for South Berkeley. 

For more information on BRT, see www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=27038 

For more on the downtown plan, see www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=832 

For more information on the Climate Action Plan, see www.berkeleyclimateaction.org/ 

And for information on the West Berkeley “project,” see www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=10764