SQUEAKY WHEEL: Reprieve for Aquatic Park

Toni Mester
Friday November 10, 2017 - 06:43:00 PM
600 Addison Site
Toni Mester
600 Addison Site

Instead of holding an EIR scoping session on a proposed 475,000 square foot development on the north east corner of Aquatic Park, the Zoning Adjustments Board sent the property owner Jason Jones and his architect Joe DeCredico packing with instructions to come back with a more sufficient plan. Acting Chair Denise Pinkston called the submission “woefully inadequate” and not worthy of CEQA review.

600 Addison Street is the first time that the City has received an application under the current chapter 23B.36 of the Zoning Ordinance, the Master Use Permit, described as a building allowance somewhere between a use permit and a development agreement like Bayer. The applicable zoning is MULI, mixed-use light industrial, developed by the West Berkeley Plan that was finalized in 1993. Ms. Pinkston said that the application did not approach the level of specificity required for a use permit, and other Board members backed her up with a motion demanding building elevations and massing, pedestrian circulation plans and connectivity, topography, and the phasing of construction, which could take ten years: in other words, everything short of the architectural details of individual buildings that each would have to go through design review, which is a subcommittee of the ZAB. 

Presenting slides of two basic schemes, DeCredico said they were examples of an almost “infinite” number of possibilities for development. That didn’t sit well with the Board, who to a person showed unease at contemplating approval of such vague design potential given the size of the project. It was clear that Jones and DeCredico want to secure a “capacity entitlement” in order to attract a developer before a specific project has even been identified. The anticipated uses would be a typical R&D (research and development) split between laboratories and offices with 830 parking spaces. The ZAB action puts the owner in a bind because he admitted that developers are “skittish” at not knowing the square footage approved, while the Board members were equally skittish at approving a vague application. 

Before the Flood 

In the public hearing Charlene Woodcock, Curt Manning, and I emphasized impacts on the bird habitat, flood hazards, visual impacts and threats to park use. Board members echoed our concerns and spoke at length on these and other environmental issues. 

Patrick Sheahan said that Aquatic Park is a major stop on the Pacific avian flyway and Audubon should be a consultant. About 70 species use the park: both year round nesters and those who migrate here from both north and south. Impacts on biological resources should be anticipated as significant. Increased night lighting and human use can have a negative effect on the habitat and the egrets, herons, ducks, and shorebirds that feed at the lagoons. 

Sea level rise, anticipated to be at least three meters this century, will have an effect on the site as well as flooding within the park. Sea level rise and flooding are related. As the bay rises, high tides and storm surges push water into the pipes that drain much of the City: the Strawberry Creek culvert to the north and the Potter Creek culvert to the south. When the king tides of December and January coincide with winter storms, flooding occurs in Aquatic Park and much of West Berkeley. 

Water also drains into the park from the east-west street storm drains from Bancroft to Heinz in the West Berkeley watershed. It is impossible to predict the size and severity of future storms, but we can expect that they will increase in intensity with climate change and plan accordingly. Any buildings on the site should be placed on higher ground, which would also decrease the impacts on the bird habitat. The Aquatic Park Improvement Plan recommended a large bioswale along the shoreline. 

Although funds from Measure T1are available to repair the central tide tubes, the civil engineer who has been hired to oversee the task cannot promise that the repairs will prevent future flooding. Repairing the tide tubes is necessary to improve water circulation but may not be sufficient to ensure that the park will not flood in future storms. The hydraulic infrastructure of Aquatic Park is deteriorating, and some of the original tide tubes are derelict or occluded, reducing the tidal flow into the lagoons and the flushing of storm water. 

Without knowing the exact nature of the laboratories and their science, we can’t say what contaminants might be present on site, but the lagoons are public trust lands that are highly regulated under state and federal laws. The plans and the EIR would have to account for disposal and mitigation of any hazardous materials. Hydrology and water quality impacts may rise to the significant level in the CEQA review. 

Transportation and Cultural Resources 

The Board was concerned about the potential for 800 additional cars coming into the site across the “pinch points” of the two railroad crossings at Addison and Bancroft and their effect on the traffic patterns that are already problematic. There is growing lack of street parking in West Berkeley, and a BART shuttle has been imagined but not developed. The Board suggested reduction and even elimination of parking and the possibility of live-work units. The EIR consultant projects that traffic impacts will be significant. 

The other acknowledged negative impact would involve the remnants of the Ohlone Shellmound, which has proven to be a huge concern in the development of another nearby site, 1900 Fourth Street, which has stalled due to Native American objections. ZAB member Carrie Olsen thinks that the Shellmound might extend to Dwight Way. 

The 8.67 acre site and adjacent property to the south comprised Berkeley’s candidate in the competition for the second campus of the LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory aka “the labs”) in 2011. To aid the chances of the site being chosen, Mayor Bates tried to increase the height allowance of master use permit sites from 45 to 75 feet and put the MUP standards on the ballot in November 2012 as Measure T, which was narrowly defeated City-wide but hugely disliked in West Berkeley. Board member Sheahan said the current plans were reminiscent of the site depiction that was defeated in the election. 

Perhaps it was too early to discuss any community benefits, but a project this size usually includes some contributions to the community, and none were offered. The Bayer development agreement gained wide approval because of the many infrastructure improvements and subsidies to local non-profit and educational programs. 

The site lies at the gateway to the City, and its visual character will become a hallmark first impression of Berkeley. For this reason alone, more citizens should provide input and guidance. 600 Addison Street is on the agenda of the Design Review Committee on Thursday November 16 at 8 pm at the North Berkeley Senior Center, MLK and Hearst.  

Toni Mester is a resident of West Berkeley.