Public Comment

The Planet's Response

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday March 04, 2010 - 08:01:00 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE Rob Wrenn’s rant stands as proof of his assertion that “some of the opinion is poorly thought-out or poorly written, or, worse, full of misinformation.” The entitled attitude he exhibits is breathtaking. He shows his naivete about journalism by his suggestion that newspapers—any newspapers—have the time or money to employ factcheckers. Factcheckers, in the olden days, used to be people who worked for the New Yorker and a few similar select lavishly staffed magazines, but even the New Yorker makes its share of mistakes in the brave new world of the 21st century. Newspapers have always had a few mistakes, and they always will. The New York Times’ correction column is one of the most entertaining and well-read parts of the paper. And anyhow, this story was correct. Wrenn confuses an accurate report of what was actually said at the last city council meeting, which was recorded and is available online for anyone to check, with what he thinks should have been said or hopes was said. Given the self-righteous tone of his ill-informed and ill-mannered demand for “correction”, I have asked the reporter to set him straight below:  



Contrary to what Mr. Rob Wrenn says in his letter, the Feb. 25 Planet article “Mayor Bates Pushes New Downtown Plan for November Ballot,” simply reported what the Berkeley City Council discussed at its Feb. 23 meeting.  

1. Regarding his statement “Riya Bhattacharjee’s article on the Downtown Plan in the February 25-March 3 Planet presents a factually inaccurate picture of the differences between the Downtown Plan adopted by the City Council last year and the plan adopted and sent to the Council by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC) in 2007. She says the Council adopted a 225’ maximum while the DAPAC plan “suggested” a 120’ maximum.”  

Response: This is not what “I said.” What the article says is:  

“Opponents of the council’s downtown plan moved to referend it last August in order to put it on a future ballot for voters to decide, claiming it ignored Berkeley’s affordable housing needs, transit options, workers’ rights, greenhouse gas emissions and quality of life. Density and height were also major concerns. The group working on the referendum campaign, including Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, said they were against the 225-foot maximum height proposed in the plan and instead wanted to see the tallest buildings downtown be closer to 120 feet, as suggested by the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.”  

The article reported what Councilmember Arreguin said at the City Council meeting, which can be viewed here .  

In his letter, Mr. Wrenn also said “Bhattacharjee’s article says that Councilmember Arreguin was against the 225’ height [in the council’s original plan passed last July], when in fact he voted for a 225’ height maximum for up to two hotels as a member of DAPAC.  

To quote Councilmember Arreguin directly on what he said at the council meeting:  

“I just feel like it’s deja vu all over again. I mean we were here last July and one of the main concerns that people had raised to the City Council was the height of buildings and the need for more specificity regarding requirements that we are asking developers to provide in exchange of building those taller buildings. And one of the things that was suggested this evening have buildings up to a 180 feet. We have 160 feet buildings in this proposal, we have 140 feet buildings in this proposal. I and Councilmember [Kriss] Worthington—we were the only two councilmembers out there circulating petitions to referendum the [council’s original] plan and one of the major concerns 9,200 Berkeley residents had with the plan they passed last summer were the heights. I feel having heights that are a 160 feet or a 180 feet does not adequately adress what I feel was the major concern that residents had expressed with the plan that the council passed last summer. I really don’t see why we need to build buildings over a 100 feet, let alone 120 feet, which is what the DAPAC had recommended. So I am very concerned about the heights that are being proposed as a part of the proposal.”  

Arreguin’s statement is pretty self-explanatory about why the Planet reported what it did, and perhaps Mr. Wrenn should take his concerns about Arreguin’s actions up with Arreguin himself, instead of accusing the Planet of publishing “incorrect or incomplete information.”  

2. Regarding: “The Planet article goes on to discuss the Council's recent action on the Downtown Plan and reports that Councilmember Maio supports allowing up to three 180' buildings, one of which could be a hotel. Taken as a whole, with the inaccurate reporting of the DAPAC position, a reader could be expected to come away with the false impression that the DAPAC wanted a 120' limit, while the Council voted for 225' and that, now that the Council plan has been subjected to a successful referendum signature gathering drive, the Council is going down to180’, roughly midway between DAPAC and the Council.”  

Response This is an assumption Mr. Wrenn is making. The reason some councilmembers and the Downtown Berkeley Association support the 180 feet—the height of the existing Power Bar and Wells Fargo buildings—compared with 160 feet is because the strategic economic feasibility study said that 180 feet is the borderline height for something to get built in the next five years.  

The mayor’s plan is being labeled as a compromise between the council’s original downtown plan and the concerns raised by the referendum campaign. As is obvious from discussions with Planning Commissioners and city councilmembers, this compromise plan is being done to avoid further lawsuits and referendums of the downtown plan. It would be naive to think of it being done for any other reason.  

3. The rest of Mr. Wrenn’s letter is full of his own opinion on DAPAC/council differences and Planet coverage. He complains about the Planet not covering the most recent Planning Commission meeting on BRT, which we did in a front page article on Feb. 10. Perhaps Mr. Wrenn should read the Planet more carefully. I was present at both the City Council and Planning Commission meetings, and did my reporting firsthand. I don’t believe I saw Mr. Wrenn at either.