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New: Berkeley City Council to Vote on Whether to Support Center Street Plaza

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday March 22, 2010 - 12:06:00 AM

When it comes to its city’s downtown, the Berkeley City Council can be extremely picky. But on Tuesday, a concept for creating a plaza with a water feature on Center Street could very well receive its unanimous blessings. 

At this point, the council is being asked to vote on a resolution supporting the proposed project, which is being called the Strawberry Creek or the Center Street Plaza. 

The council could also ask City Manager Phil Kamlarz to send the conceptual design to staff for review and to work with Oakland-based Ecocity Builders and Citizens for a Strawberry Creek Plaza on developing the plan. Private and public funding sources will also be studied. 

The council unanimously passed the UC Hotel Task Force recommendations in June 2004, which supported opening Strawberry Creek as part of a public pedestrian-friendly open space. (Plans for a hotel at the site are now on hold or have been abandoned.)  

About three years later, the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee also supported this idea. 

Berkeley citizens, with the help of nonprofit Ecocity Builders, asked renowned landscape architect Walter Hood to develop a proposal which aligned with the city’s objectives. 

Public meetings were held over a course of two years, and in July 2009, the Berkeley City Council adopted the Downtown Area Plan which called for “several small plazas,” most notable of which was the Center Street Plaza, 

Hood, who is the designer behind the gardens at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, began creating a blueprint of the plaza in 2007. 

His design would close off the block of Center between Oxford Street and Shattuck Avenue except for emergency and delivery vehicles to create a pedestrian-oriented gathering space which can be tied to the proposed Berkeley Art Museum at the old UC Printing Plant. 

Proponents say that Strawberry Creek will be partially “daylighted” or excavated from underground storm drains which currently bury it for people to enjoy and learn about creek ecology and the regional watershed, though the original creekbed of Strawberry Creek, which is open on the UC Berkeley campus to the east, is a block south of Center Street 

“This is an exciting time in Berkeley,” said Kirstin Miller, executive director of Ecocity Builders. “The project has the potential to catalyze economic development in the downtown area.”  

Hood’s proposal was presented to the Berkeley Planning Commission in 2009 and to the City Council in January. 

Councilmembers Linda Maio, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, who introduced the item on the agenda, urged the rest of the council to support the proposal in their report, especially in light of upcoming funding deadlines and grants. 

The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 23, at 7 p.m., City Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.