Downtown Development Tops Council Agenda

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday July 02, 2009 - 09:42:00 AM

Development of downtown Berkeley will be much on the minds of Berkeley City Council as they meet Tuesday, July 7, for the next-to-last meeting before the summer break. On the agenda is certification of the environmental impact report and adoption of the Downtown Area Plan. 

In addition, after several delays, the council has scheduled a discussion to set direction for changes to the city ordinance regulating cellphone towers. 

Earlier this summer, the council began consideration of two versions of the Downtown Area Plan—one by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) and the other by the Planning Commission—that would set the goals and directions of future downtown development. A divided council then approved a proposal by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli that attempted to bridge the differences between the two original plans. Councilmembers Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington voted against the Bates-Maio-Capitelli proposal, and Councilmember Max Anderson abstained; the somewhat testy and time-limited debate ended with Anderson telling Capitelli—following the meeting—that he was “tired of having these things rushed through like this.” 

City staff, in what is certainly a complicated process, has been working since then to compile the DAPAC and Planning Commission plans and Bates-Maio-Capitelli proposal into one document, to be presented for a council vote next Tuesday. That document is not yet available on the city’s website. 

Meanwhile, cellphone tower placement in the city limits has been an ongoing Berkeley controversy, with permit approval sometimes held up for years, legal action filed against the city by at least one cellphone company, and neighborhood groups fighting almost every application for a new tower placement. While a new state court decision has somewhat altered the powers that cities can exercise over cellphone tower placement, the City Council is still prohibited by federal law from considering the issue most on the minds of the complaining neighbors: the health aspects of cellphone tower electrical emissions. One of the proposals being considered for inclusion in a new ordinance is that rather than waiting for cellphone companies to come in with new tower requests in areas that neighbors don’t like, the city itself establish cellphone tower zones that would take into consideration citizen concerns, cellphone company needs, and federal restrictions. No new ordinance is yet on the table, and Tuesday’s discussion is designed only for the council to give directions to staff on how to write one. 

After Tuesday’s meeting, the council meets again on July 14 and then takes a two-month break until Sept. 22.