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Updated: Planning Commission "Holds Nose" and Adopts Southside Plan

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 10:13:00 PM
Citizens line up to speak during the Southside Plan Public Hearing.  Most offered specific criticisms of the draft document.  The Planning Commission majority adopted a single one of the recommendations of the public hearing speakers.
Steven Finacom
Citizens line up to speak during the Southside Plan Public Hearing. Most offered specific criticisms of the draft document. The Planning Commission majority adopted a single one of the recommendations of the public hearing speakers.
Near the end of the meeting the Commission discussed the Downtown Plan in front of a sea of empty chairs, and just four members of the public.
Steven Finacom
Near the end of the meeting the Commission discussed the Downtown Plan in front of a sea of empty chairs, and just four members of the public.

Like a hungry restaurant customer deciding to gorge immediately on a stale and possibly rancid dish rather than waiting while it is sent back to the kitchen for improvement or replacement, Berkeley’s Planning Commission majority “held its nose”, complained profusely, then voted in favor of what several members called a flawed draft Southside Plan at its Wednesday, April 6, 2011 meeting. 

The Commission voted 6-2-1 to send the draft Plan on to the City Council for adoption. In a second vote Commissioners approved, 5-3-1, proposed zoning amendments to implement the Plan and in a final 6-0-3 vote approved Design Guidelines for the Southside Plan area. 

The Plan itself and the zoning amendments must be confirmed by the City Council. The Design Guidelines are effective after Commission action. 

The Southside Plan revises city planning and zoning policies for the Southside neighborhood, roughly the district immediately south of the main UC Berkeley campus, west of Panoramic Hill, north of the southern properties along Dwight Way (with a few exceptions) and east of Fulton Street. 

The neighborhood is a densely developed and populated matrix of University housing and other facilities, the Telegraph / Bancroft retail district, private housing of many types from single family homes to large apartment buildings to student cooperatives, and a number of private institutional properties. 

Spectators—or, perhaps, specters—at the feast, about a dozen community members from broadly differing backgrounds and perspectives watched from the audience while the Commission adopted, largely unchanged, staff recommendations on the Plan. 

Earlier, community members who ranged from neighborhood activists to merchants, to a big Berkeley developer, testified during the Plan public hearing, and offered a smorgasbord of eclectic criticism of the draft document.  

With two exceptions, speakers called for specific substantial revisions and more time for the Commission and the public to review the complex and detailed documents, some of which were just made available by staff the week before. 

The only people to speak wholeheartedly in favor of the current Plan during the public hearing were two representatives of Trinity United Methodist Church, a small congregation with a large, developable, property on Dana Street between Durant and Bancroft, and two students representing the Students Cooperative Association, an organization that has several housing properties in the Southside and—according to their testimony—would like to develop another. 

In the end the Commission majority accepted only one recommendation offered at the public hearing, a plea from the Rapid Bus Plus Coalition to strip from the document outdated language that make appear to make the Plan favor both Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) dedicated lanes on Telegraph Avenue, and a “transit mall” on Telegraph between Dwight and Bancroft. 

Last year the City Council decided not to endorse dedicated BRT lanes in Berkeley, and the “transit mall” concept—closing four blocks of Telegraph to all but buses and emergency vehicles—is an artifact of long ago discussions that currently has no identifiable advocates or constituency. 

There were four vocal critics of the draft Plan on the Commission. Of them, Chair Harry Pollack and Commissioner Jim Novosel voted for it, while Commissioners Patti Dacey and Gene Poschman voted against it. 

It was a vaguely surreal scene as Pollack and Novosel repeatedly both talked about the Plan being flawed—Pollack saying there were “20 to 25” things he would change in it, and Novosel noting specific things he didn’t like—then pronounced themselves in favor of passing it immediately without major change.  

Pollack said he was withholding detailed criticism because he didn’t want to open up the whole document for what he felt would be endless further revision.  

Novosel more than once announced himself “exhausted” with the work leading up to the current document. He also said he’d like to see one-way streets in the Southside eliminated and the Plan doesn’t call for that, “But basically we need to move this Plan forward.”  

In contrast, Commissioner David Stoloff seemed largely pleased with the Plan as presented and commented to that effect, while Commissioner Teresa Clarke voted for it, but delivered focused objections and questions regarding several elements that troubled her. 

The other three Commission members were largely silent, then all voted approval as part of the majority. 

Work on the Southside Plan commenced in the late 1990s as a joint effort of the University of California and the City of Berkeley (Disclosure; I was one of the University staff who worked on the earlier plan. I was not involved as a University employee in the latest revisions and reviews).  

After several delays and staff changes at the City a revised Plan was prepared in 2003. Then it stalled. There was little activity on it between 2003 and 2009, when the Planning Commission began a new subcommittee process to complete it, including a long-delayed environmental impact report.  

(This aspect of the process was apparently not clear to some of the newer Planning Commission members, who argued that something that had been worked on for “15 years” (sic) shouldn’t be further delayed by even a week. In fact, the Plan was started about 14 years ago, and there were extended periods--years at a time—when no work took place on it). 

City Planner Elizabeth (Beth) Greene has shepherded the Plan since work renewed. She is, by my count, the seventh City staffer to have lead responsibility for the document. Greene was present at the staff table at the Commission meeting, along with Planner Alex Amoroso.  

Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson watched from the audience, and came forward to comment to the Commission a couple of times during their discussion. 

The current Southside Plan, as presented to and approved by the Commission, incorporated most of the language from the 2003 draft, with italic “updates” on issues that had substantially changed.  

Often this structure creates weird dissonances. For example, the Plan language carried over from 2003 might suggest in detail how a particular site be developed in the future; the following italics then clarify that by 2011 the project had already been built, years ago.  

The plan is also largely “updated” to 2009, the beginning of the Environmental Impact Report period, so it’s either 14, or 8, or 2 years out of date, depending on one’s frame of reference. 

No matter to those who passed the draft on to the Council. In fact, Harry Pollack began the Commission discussion with one emphatic statement that essentially foreclosed substantial changes to the draft Plan by the Commission or the City Council. 

He said there has been a decision “not to revisit the essential policy decisions made in 2003.” 

After Pollack made his opening statement, Commissioner Patti Dacey responded with an opposition view. Recalling the work on the draft Plan in the early years of the last decade, she noted, “one of the big things about the Southside Plan was affordable housing.”  

The Plan was structured, she said, to allow increased housing density in some parts of the Southside in exchange for building in developer exactions that would also produce affordable housing when the new market rate housing was developed. “That was such the air we were breathing.” 

Since then, two major court decisions have upset the affordable apple cart, and cities have been stripped of their traditional planning and zoning tools for requiring affordable units be provided in exchange for greater density. 

“Until that’s fixed, I think it’s fatally flawed”, Dacey said of the current draft Plan. “We’re ending up with density without the affordable housing we believed we would get out of the Southside Plan.” 

“I think the Council is addressing that City wide”, said Pollack, noting there would be a May 31 workshop on how the city might still require affordable housing. 

About a dozen people lined up to offer testimony from the audience during the public hearing on the Plan. 

The first was Michael Katz, identifying himself as a representative of the Rapid Bus Plus Coalition. He noted that the Plan still included “a bunch of legacy language” on Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated bus lanes, and even the idea of making Telegraph Avenue into a car-free “transit mall.”  

“This is basically ancient history”, he maintained, asking that the Commission consider striking language about BRT “that doesn’t reflect community sentiment”, and also does not reflect the City Council’s decision in 2010 not to endorse dedicated bus lanes on Telegraph. 

If the outdated language stays in, Katz pointed out, “you’re inviting hours and hours of contentious meetings in which people will quote this language”, although it no longer reflects City transportation policy.  

“Conform the Plan to the decisions that have already been made” on BRT, he concluded. 

John English spoke next, wryly noting he had been involved in monitoring the Plan as a community member for “only 12 years”, and noting there were “still some loose ends.” 

He was particularly critical of the fact that City staff had released the draft zoning ordinance amendments related to the Plan for public consideration only a week before. “There are unfortunately many obvious mistakes and internal inconsistencies” in the zoning amendments he told the Commission.  

“Most of them could be fixed within a couple of days work”, but if the Commission acted that night there would be no opportunity to correct them. 

English also spoke to unresolved policy issues embedded in the Plan, including Floor Area Ratios (the allowable size of a building relative to the size of a development parcel), policies on group living accommodations, and some language that would appear to allow “by right” certain times of commercial uses to set up shop in one of the Plan’s residentially zoned areas. 

“Please, don’t even think of taking a final vote tonight”, English urged. 

Evan McDonald, a local developer with one big project currently in the planning stages in the Southside and others periodically rumored, initially told the Commission his firm “thinks it’s a great plan” because it intensifies housing density near the UC Berkeley campus.  

However, he objected to provisions that limited the number of residents on a given lot. “The problem with the density limitations is they’re too small”, he said. “The density limitations are too low and not necessary at all.” 

“The Zoning Board can just say no to a project when they think the density is detrimental,” he asserted.  

Commissioner Poschman noted that the Southside Plan proposes a limit of one resident for every 350 square feet of lot area. McDonald said that the Fine Arts Building (Haste and Shattuck), which he helped develop, has in comparison a density of one resident for about every 100 square feet of lot area. 

McDonald was followed by two representatives from Trinity United Methodist Church. The historic church complex occupies most of the end of the block bordered by Durant, Bancroft, and Dana, and part of it, including the sanctuary, is vacant since the congregational has dwindled in size. 

Both representatives, including Charlotte Strem, stated “we’re looking forward to having the Southside Plan in place”, and “we really like this Plan.” 

Just what is the church hoping to do with its property, asked Poschman? The answer was ambiguous. The Trinity representatives said they just wanted certainty in what was allowed so they could proceed with planning.  

They then returned to their seats near Evan McDonald, whose firm is developing a large private dormitory on the other end of the block on land owned by another small congregation, St. Mark’s Episcopal. 

Jurgen Aust, like many of the speakers a longtime participant in the Southside Plan process, spoke next, saying that the Plan should not be adopted and housing development intensified until there’s a coherent transportation strategy for the congested Southside neighborhood. 

“Don’t put any additional density above R-3 until we have an effective transportation plan” he argued. 

Two representatives of the Student Cooperative Association, which owns or leases several housing sites in the Southside, spoke next, briefly stating that they supported the Plan, particularly its suggestions of creating a detox center and down zoning some residential areas.  

They also said that the Co-ops leased a piece of undeveloped property, Davis Park (on Dwight Way west of Telegraph) from the University and “we are interesting in working with UC” to pursue development there. 

Bob Viener, a resident of the Le Conte neighborhood south of Dwight Way urged the Commission to revise the zoning boundary between the Southside and Le Conte. The Plan presently presents it as a straight line running down the middle of the block between Blake Street and Dwight Way, from Telegraph to Shattuck. 

The line should slightly zigzag to conform to the actual property parcels on the blocks, Viener said, urging the Commission to “draw the boundary appropriately,” to reflect the change in scale of residential properties from the Southside into the somewhat lower density (but still extensively developed) Le Conte district. 

Having higher density zoning incorporating some smaller residential parcels in Le Conte has “led to all kinds of problems in the neighborhood” he said, as developers have sought to turn single houses into large structures with numerous bedrooms to rent to students. 

(There have been two such disputes recently, one on Ellsworth between Dwight and Blake, the other—still ongoing—on Parker west of Fulton.) 

“Send this back to staff and get them to draw that boundary correctly”, Viener urged, or move the zoning boundary one lot north and draw it down the middle of Dwight Way instead. That would be “quick, easy, simple, and would solve a whole bunch of problems”, he concluded. 

The next speaker told the Commission that the Southside Plan maps are drawn in a way that inaccurately shows a block of Prospect Street north of Bancroft (and behind International House). That block is a public street and should be shown as such, he said, but “UC has been occupying that public street as if it was their property.” The City, he said, should get the map right. 

Gale Garcia, the next speaker in line, yielded her time to attorney Yolanda Huang who spoke at length about the problems with group living accommodations.  

“Southside has changed from a diverse community into a monoculture”, she said. “It’s a ‘diversity’ of skin tone of people between 18 and 22.” The driving force, she said, is “a proliferation of what I’m going to call fraternity culture”, which often “revolves around binge drinking and dangerous alcohol consumption.” 

She observed that many fraternities have built wooden decks out to the edge of the sidewalk, which are used as “dance floors and recruitment tools for other young men” and are not well regulated by the City. Large parties spill into the street, disrupt neighbors, and create unpleasant conditions. 

She played a 911 tape in which a resident of Durant Avenue pleads with Berkeley police to send someone to deal with a crowd of neighboring partiers who have invaded his property, including climbing on the roof. 

This has all “driven out other people” from the neighborhood, Huang said. “I would call this a ghetto. Regular people don’t go to Southside to go shopping”, she asserted. 

The problems, she said, have been spilling over in the Le Conte neighborhood west of Telegraph and south of Dwight, where there have been efforts to establish new fraternities. 

“I would urge you to edit the Southside Plan. Group living or a dorm should be distinguished from a fraternity or sorority.” “The Southside Plan should encourage diversity, families, in addition to young people,” she told the Commission. 

“Neighbors have abandoned Telegraph, it’s unsafe, it’s dirty,” said George Beier, the next speaker, continuing in the same vein. Beier is the president of the Willard Neighborhood Association (south of Dwight, west of College, and east of Telegraph). 

“I want to challenge this whole idea that density is better”, he told the Commission. “I want to challenge this whole idea that density is ‘friendly’.” 

Beier said that “in a way, we’re doing the University’s job” by increasing development density on private parcels in response to a growing campus. The University should start by developing its own land, he said. 

“Who wants this thing?” he said of the draft Plan. “If you own property or are building a building you want this Plan. Neighbors are not for it.” 

“This thing (the current draft Plan) was done in ancient history. Most people have no idea what’s in it”, he said. 

Roland Peterson, Executive Director of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement Association (TBID) asked the Commission to recommend “abolition of the quotas” on business uses in the Southside. The current draft, he noted, only calls for the elimination of quotas on full service restaurants. 

As Katz did earlier, Peterson called on the Commission to also clean up obsolete language in the Plan dealing with dedicated bus lanes and a Telegraph transit mall. Those plan elements were drafted before the current plans for transit service were developed. “We now know what AC Transit is going to do”, he said. 

After Peterson mentioned quotas, Commissioner Novosel interjected, “You need the Councilmember to lead the way”, referring to Kriss Worthington who represents much of the Southside Plan area. “Good luck!” called George Beier from the back of the room. 

Christopher Lien, the next speaker, also focused on the transportation language. “BRT is dead in Berkeley. Those passages should be excised from this” Plan he said.  

He noted that the City’s General Plan calls for two acres of park space per 1,000 residents, but the Southside Plan makes no provision for any increased park space. 

Lien also argued that McDonald’s earlier assertion that the Zoning Board could be relied upon to prevent developments with too much density was wrong.  

He told the Commission about the current case on Parker Street where a developer has been converting a house into a structure with as many as 19 bedrooms, and the Zoning Adjustments Board and City Planning staff have been critical of the project, but say they have no legal way to prevent it from being built. 

Support for Yolanda Huang’s comments about the Southside came from Ann Einstein, the next speaker. She noted that in contrast to when the Plan development started in the 1990s, “cell phones have allowed people to call non-students to come to any place” for a party. This results in events that quickly grow oversized and out of control. 

The owner of a property on Bancroft Way next testified in support of eliminating the quotas on business types. “It’s a very important topic to discuss”, he said, noting that one property has 6,000 feet of unrented commercial space. 

“Whatever we can do to help the landlords to get tenants in that space would help.” 

The author of this piece next spoke about the deficiencies of the Plan in regard to open space. The Southside has a tenth of Berkeley’s population, I said, but no public parks or City recreation facilities and no plans by the City to provide any. The adjacent Le Conte neighborhood is in a similar situation. 

I urged the Commission to replace vague language about open space in the Plan with a clear set of policies that the City should seek to develop over the long term open space, park space, and recreation facilities in the Southside. I noted that while many people assume the residents of the Southside are served by University recreation facilities, a large percentage of the residents are in private housing and Berkeley taxpayers who currently receive no parks and recreation service in their neighborhood. 

Those remarks concluded the public testimony at the meeting. The Commission next turned to discussion. 

The topic of regulating group living accommodations came up first. Commissioner Teresa Clarke questioned staff about the intent of draft zoning amendment language on group living accommodations and the Floor Area Ratio issue.  

“I’m not happy with the result”, she said. “It’s a mess.” 

Beth Greene said that the Floor Area Ratio restriction on number of residents per square footage of lot space had been suggested in the last round of staff review “by current planning staff who work with this code on a regular basis.” 

“There are tensions with these issues but they are not policy issues we intended to resolve in moving this Plan forward in its current format”, Alex Amoroso told the Commission. 

Clarke initially disagreed, arguing that the zoning amendments didn’t need to be passed immediately. “The zoning language can wait. That doesn’t need to happen” tonight, she said. 

Commissioner Dacey jumped in to the issue, saying that “what Mr. McDonald said was just wrong” about the Zoning Board having discretion to stop projects with undesirable density. City staff has said the ZAB has no power over density, she noted. 

Amoroso said that staff had made a distinction between the formal “Group Living Accommodation” development type and people who purchased and sought to expand a house who “are trying to maneuver within the existing categories” of zoning—that is, create a de facto private dormitory with multiple bedrooms without seeking a group living accommodation permit. 

‘These are very different subjects!” he emphasized, referring to the discussion and testimony earlier about houses being expanded to multi-bedroom, de-facto private dormitories.  

“It is not, not, the same thing as a Group Living Accommodation as defined by the Zoning Ordinance.” 

Commissioner Stoloff complimented John English on his “thorough eye” in critiquing problems with the Plan and zoning amendments. Does staff need Commission action to fix obvious mistakes in the draft Plan, he asked?  

“We would not need your permission to correct mistakes”, said Greene. “We can easily go in and correct these”, referring to some of the comments English had presented in written form to the Commission. 

However, Greene said, “if there’s any question about the statistics for 1999 to 2003 when this was written we can’t touch those, we don’t have time.” 

Staff have already made a lot of changes to the draft in response to comments, Greene said. “John (English) has been very generous with his time.” 

Asked why dedicated bus lanes remained in the Plan when the City Council had taken that concept off the table, Greene said they were left in because staff had not been directed to take them out. Many of the recommendations in the Plan “have already been done” since 2003 she also noted. 

Amorozo added “these components people are asking to be removed have already been resolved through a process that renders them inert. If you want us to remove them, fine.” 

“This process is a struggle for all of us”, said Chair Pollack. “We’re faced with some choices none of which we like.” 

However, he asserted, the process can’t start over or last longer. The City has not budgeted for further Southside Planning. So the Commission, in his view, could drop the Plan, “or we can make do with this” Plan as presented. 

“Hold our nose and make it as palatable as possible. I’m doing the latter. I’m holding my nose.” 

“Are we better off with the Plan?” he asked. “If we’re really going to start down the road of making substantive changes we’ll never adopt this thing.” 

“Taking out the obsolete language of BRT is hardly a substantive change”, countered Commissioner Dacey. “Leaving it in is nuts.” 

“I think there’s some real tweaking we can do in one or two more meetings”, Dacey argued. “Importing some green standards would not be that difficult.” 

“We wouldn’t have to hold our noses quite so much,” she said. “We’re talking about a plan that is going to last for 15 years or more, and the whole legal situation has changed”, she added, returning to the issue of the court cases that have invalidated city strategies for requiring affordable housing in exchange for more density of development. 

“The bigger issues of this new plan are far more important than making it a perfect plan”, Novosel argued. “As this pointed I’m exhausted, and I can’t do it any more.” “I’m prepared to pass this Plan tonight,” he concluded. 

Dacey pointed out that Novosel was one of the relative newcomers on the Commission to the Southside Plan process, having only participated since the 2009 Commission subcommittee. Others who had worked on the Plan for far longer were willing to continue making improvements to it before adoption, she said. 

“I have a list of 20 to 25 items I’d like to see changed but I didn’t bring them up,” said Chair Pollack. “And I don’t intend to unless we start down that road.” 

Commissioner Jim Samuels expressed the view that the affordable housing issue shouldn’t delay the Southside Plan because “It’s a city wide problem and it’s going to be addressed on a City wide basis.” 

“It’s not like the community came together and said, ‘we want a really dense Southside’,” Dacey rebutted. Passing the Plan while the City’s tools to create affordable housing are invalidated by the courts means no affordable housing, just more density. 

“You’re basically saying to all the neighborhoods and Southside, ‘We’re going to have a huge student district with a lot more density and very few community benefits’.” 

“I’m assuming we’ll correct the issue of Palmer (the court cases on affordable housing) later on,” said Novosel, agreeing with Samuels. 

Turning to the provision in the Plan that creates a “car free” housing zone where parking isn’t required as part of new developments, Dacey said acidly, “This is not ‘car free’ housing. It’s ‘parking free’ housing” since the policy exempts developers from having to provide parking but does not require residents not to have cars. 

The Commission briefly discussed the request of Bob Viener that the zoning boundaries south of Dwight and west of Telegraph be redrawn. “The Southside Plan follows the boundaries that were part of the CT (Commercial Telegraph) and R-4 District”, argued Greene. She also noted that the area along Dwight would be down zoned from R-4 density to R-3, which would reduce the potential for large developments there. 

Why not just change the boundaries a bit, said Dacey who lives in the Le Conte neighborhood. “It was a big deal in my neighborhood.” 

“I will not vote for this (Plan)” said Commissioner Gene Poschman. But “I just hope it goes out and goes to Council tonight, because it will make the Council very angry” to receive a flawed Plan, he said. 

“It’s said the Excellent is the enemy of the Good”, he continued. But in the case of the Southside Plan “the Lousy is really the enemy of the Adequate, or the Good.” 

“The people (Commissioners) coming in tonight to vote to send this (Plan) out didn’t even have a copy of the language in front of them” he observed. “You don’t know what you’re voting on if you send this up now.” 

“There are a lot of things in the Southside Plan that we’re not looking at,” he concluded.  

Commissioner Eric Panzer said “If 15 years haven’t produced a Plan that the Council will like, how will a couple of additional meetings matter?”  

“Five or six years nothing was done” Poschman retorted. And “this is the first time we’ve had zoning amendments in front of us in 15 years” for the Southside Plan. 

“The zoning pieces have been part and parcel of the plan as you’re going along”, Alex Amoroso interjected. “The zoning text in this form may be the first that you’ve seen it”, but the essence has been in the Plan. 

Poschman turned to the density bonus issue. “We’re putting in all of these incentives for affordable housing, the (increased) heights get left (as they were in the earlier drafts), but now the affordable housing is gone.” 

“You are right, this language is left over from the original language”, Greene said. 

Pollack urged Poschman to finish his comments. Current Planning manager Debbie Sanderson stepped forward from the side of the audience where she had been watching the discussion. 

“This district will be regulated under density bonus like all other projects in the City”, she told the Commission. “Whatever is the allowed height without the density bonus would be the starting point” for granting additional height under density bonus roles. “It’s been very well tested City wide.” 

Stoloff jumped in to move that the Public Hearing on the Plan be closed, a necessary prelude to a Commission vote. Over the objections of Poschman and Dacey the Commission voted 6-2-1, with Clarke abstaining, to close the hearing. 

Stoloff then quickly offered a motion to approve the Southside Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and General Plan amendments are presented by staff. He offered one change, asking the staff “to remove the references to the transportation policy issues” having to do with Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes. 

“This is an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences,” Dacey said, as the Commission began a brief discussion before voting. “We’re in the process of directing all development away from Downtown.” 

The Downtown Plan, she said, is filled with ‘green’ building requirements for development, while the Southside Plan is not. Why won’t developers just go build in the next neighborhood over—the Southside—rather than in the Downtown, she asked? 

“You’re going to see all development take place in Southside or on San Pablo (Avenue).” “This is not in any way coordinated with what we’re doing in the rest of the City.” 

“I can’t even understand why we would be doing such a thing unless there are specific people in line to benefit”, she concluded. 

Clarke said she still had problems with the wording of the zoning amendments. “I’m really disappointed with contemplating Zoning Ordinance changes we’ve had for less than a week”, she said, clarifying that she supports the Plan in general. 

Novosel said in regard to green standards for Southside, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful but we didn’t do it” when the Planning Commission subcommittee reviewed the draft Southside Plan.  

“I don’t believe it will deflect development (from the Downtown) and we’ll see if your prophecy comes true” he said to Dacey. 

“YOU can take responsibility, I suggested green standards” in the subcommittee process, Dacey replied. 

Poschman noted a problematic issue with car free housing in the Plan. “We’ve not even looked at the thought that if you don’t have any parking requirements you get no parking fees,” he pointed out, noting that this would be a big benefit to developers without any compensating community benefit such as a parking assessment fee that could be used for public parking structures or transportation improvements. 

“What are we asking from them for not putting in parking? Not a damn thing!” he concluded, calling the policy “a windfall for developers.” 

“The parking thing has not been thought through by the Planning Commission in any way, shape, or form.” 

He tartly characterized the Commission action on the Plan as “let’s do minimal things and not raise any issues that will slow things down.” 

Before the Commission voted Pollack asked Stoloff if he would separate the Plan and other issues from the zoning amendments in his motion, perhaps worrying that Clarke would not vote for the Plan otherwise. 

Stoloff accepted. The Commission then voted 7-2, Dacey and Poschman dissenting, to adopt all the Plan elements and staff recommendations except for the zoning amendments and Southside Design Guidelines. 

Stoloff then quickly moved “the zoning ordinance as presented”, with the understanding that staff could make “corrections but not policy changes” to the document being approved. Novosel seconded the motion. 

Clarke continued her concerns about the zoning amendments. “I don’t understand some of the things that have led from the Plan to the Ordinance.” 

One of the primary goals of the zoning amendments was to “shift the density” within the Southside, Greene clarified. The high-density development would be allowed in “a spine along Bancroft and a spine along Telegraph”. 

Clarke then brought up the Group Living Accommodations issue again. She noted that from her reading of the zoning amendments it would seem developers would have an incentive to build six bedroom apartments and not call them group living accommodations. “You’re just gong to create more of the problems that people in the Southside are complaining about”, she said. 

“We’re all concerned about the group living accommodation issues” Pollack said. “It’s a real issue, and it’s not just a zoning issue.” 

The Commission then voted to approve the Zoning Amendments 5-3-1, with Poschman, Clarke, and Dacey dissenting and Commissioner Larry Gurley abstaining. 

The Southside Design Guidelines were then approved by a 6-0-3 vote. 

Following their long Southside Plan session the Commission took up the Downtown Plan in front of a nearly empty room. There were three members of the public left in the audience. John English offered some comments to the Commission on the Downtown Plan, and Downtown Planner Matt Taecker asked the Commission that a public hearing be set on the Downtown Plan and associated General Plan amendments. 

May 18 was adopted as the public hearing date. 

There was a brief discussion of an issue Taecker noted, setting up procedures for in lieu fees paid to the City from development Downtown. Taecker said that the City Attorney had advised restrictions in the possible use of in lieu fees, since Measure R, approved by the voters last Fall, had contained implicit restrictions on how in lieu fees could be allocated. 

“I just hope we don’t have a LAWSUIT saying it doesn’t conform to the wording of Measure R”, Commissioner Novosel jibed from the Commission podium.  

This was an apparent reference to the ongoing lawsuit against the City alleging that the City has violated the terms of Measure FF by planning for the demolition, instead of renovation, of the West and South Branch Libraries. 

“It could definitely happen”, Dacey said soberly. 

The Commission had been scheduled to take up one other item of discussion at the meeting, a staff report on Association of Bay Area Government and Metropolitan Transportation Commission “scenarios” that Berkeley should grow by 16,000 households over the next 25 years. 

That item was deferred until April 27, however. Pollack told me after the meeting that this had been at the request of City Planning Director Dan Marks who had felt the Southside Plan would otherwise occupy the Commission at this meeting.