Comments for Berkeley City Council Special Meeting on North Berkeley BART Development

Harvey Smith
Sunday May 12, 2019 - 06:41:00 PM

My fellow North Berkeley Neighborhood Alliance neighbors have raised many important issues about the development of the North Berkeley BART station. I agree with many of their observations about the one-size-fits-all plans of BART for our unique, totally residential BART station neighborhood. 

However, in the interest of equity and spreading the benefits of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), I’d like to view the broader context and suggest a project that would bring the benefits of development to another area of Berkeley. This idea came to me when I noticed that there’s a seven-story development slated for the Goodyear Tire store on Martin Luther King near University. I realized people in Berkeley are going to stop using their cars and will be taking bicycles and Uber and Lyft from the Berkeley Hills to the North Berkeley BART so no need for parking there and no need for tire stores, gas stations or auto repair in Berkeley. The folks in the gig economy can get their autos repaired wherever they come from. 

Taking this further I thought of the transportation corridor along Highway 13 and the unnecessary gas station and auto repair shop across the street from each other and close to the Claremont Hotel. Why not spread the benefits of TOD to that neighborhood? I’m certain UC Regent and mega real estate mogul Richard C. Blum and his wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein, would not mind some development near their hotel. Just the kind of development that would have been enabled if Blum’s real estate company had sold the Downtown Berkeley Post Office. We all know high rise development brings “vibrancy” to any neighborhood. 

Now envision this. Two glitzy towers of at least ten stories, but perhaps up to 18, would not dwarf the Claremont. These LEED certified, market rate apartments would have wonderful views of the Bay and the tennis matches at the Berkeley Tennis Club. Of course, we’ll throw in a few low-income and affordable apartments on the lower floors, with a separate entrance, to sweeten the deal. 

Between the two towers would be hung a permanent sign reading “Welcome to the City of Berkeley and Ohlone Territory.” After all, what could be more fitting? I mean saving open, green space like the Shellmound and People’s Park is so ground level, so non-residential. A high rise sign would signify Berkeley is going up and up and up. 

Harvey Smith has been a Berkeley resident since 1966. He is the author of Berkeley and the New Deal.