Despite What City Thinks
The City of Berkeley is developing its General Plan, which has not been updated since 1976. There are already a lot of good policies in the plan, but many of the existing ones haven\’t been heeded. There is actually a policy on the books giving the goal to reduce automobile use, and ones calling for for the encouragement and increase of bicycle and transit use.
The reason that automobile use has increased is in large part because of land use decisions. More and more parking lots and office developments are being pushed through, which only bring more cars, while housing stock has been reduced, transit has been cut, and despite lots of energy from activists, bicycle improvements have been slow coming. A temporary moratorium has just squeaked through to halt development of huge office parks and parking los in west Berkeley, but we have for now lost on the Underhill parking lot and the Oxford lot, right next to campus where students are desperate for affordable housing, is being targeted for more parking ad nauseam.
One of the decisions that the General Plan will make is whether to allow car-free housing. Right now, there are zoning ordinances which require parking to be built when housing is built. This eats up available land for more housing and more open space, while greatly increasing the costs of building the housing. The business \”community\” has come out opposed to Car-Free housing, claiming that it will increase traffic problems. Even though over 40% of people who live downtown don\’t own cars, and over 66% of those in South Side don\’t own cars — and are a captive audience for local businesses — their opposition is strong.
The business interests\’ goal is to build more parking garages, in hopes of turning downtown and Telegraph Avenue into suburban mall affairs, although they\’ll need a \”freeway\” straight into the heart of Berkeley to succeed. The ironic thing is that they say that \”Downtowns are back\” (kind of like \”America is #1\”), without realizing why downtowns are becoming popular again — it\’s because people are realizing the heartlessness of the car-based suburb. The most unpleasant thing about being in Berkeley\’s downtown is the excessive traffic and its resultant harsh air and noise pollution, and how uncomfortable and unsafe it is just to cross the street.
When you look at a map of downtown, you see lots of huge paring garages. It looks like a mouthfull of missing teeth. Not to mention the insanity of placing parking garages rather than mixed use buildings so close to a BART station — one of the most busy in the whole system. Studies have shown that placing parking near BART stations reduces transit use and send the absolutely wrong message.
A major independent Transportation Demand Management (TDM) study is just completing that proclaims that no new parking is needed (but rather, existing resources need to be handled better), but in the past the right wing 4/9 of the city council (including Mayor Dean) will ignore such studies so all progressive issues continue to squeak by if they make it at all.
Another issue to be decided is whether to include the Ecocity Amendment to the General Plan, which would allow transferring development rights so that buildings could be taller but open space would increase — more parks and space for people, and more environmentally sound buildings. This has got wealthy \”NIMBYs\” from the hills up in arms as they oppose tall buildings and are unsympathetic to environmental issues. The Ecocity Amendment would also plan a pedestrian zone in downtown and the daylighting of creeks, which would replace certain streets with a wild creek area and park space.
Protests to call attention to these issues are needed now. The final hearing is set for April 25th. Contact the BCLU at (510) 273-9288 to get involved with planning actions to support more sane city planning.