Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Makes a Good Downtown

Chronicle Guest Speaker:
John King, Writer on Architecture & Urban Design

  • What makes a good downtown for a city of Berkeley's size?
    • A true civic purpose, a reason for being
    • A mix of different things to do when you are there
      • retail—essentials and frills
      • quick places to grab coffee and fine dining
    • An enticing landscape
      • Open spaces
      • Buildings of different eras, scales
    • Different functions for spaces
      • Shops
      • Housing
      • Social activity
    • Genuine crossroads
      • Tightly knit with the community
    • Sense that something is going on, unexpected & fresh
      • 'Un-quantified' measurement of downtown

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Density Bonus Proposal

On Monday night the Berkeley City Council rejected a proposal to have a city density bonus law in place in case Proposition 98 passes in the June 3rd election.

Critics of Proposition 98 claim that it would limit eminent domain actions and would end rent control in the state, thereby ending most attempts to regulate development in California. The state law density bonus allows developers to expand their projects by 35% over local limited in exchange for providing affordable housing. The ZAB formed a sub-committee to draft a proposed measure that would give them more control over projects.

Last Tuesday the council voted 5-4 to send the council a recommendation that it pass the proposal so that the state would have a measure in place in case Prop 98 passes. At the meeting Monday night, Major Bates said that no ordinance was needed because it is unlikely that Prop 98 will pass. The ordinance wasn’t given a place on the agenda for the upcoming April 22 council meeting. If Prop 98 does pass, the policies criticized the ZAB would remain in place until the full consequences of the proposition become clear.

Richard Brenneman,, Council Rejects Interim Density Bonus Proposal, The Berkeley Daily Planet, April 15, 2004, available at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-04-15/article/29739.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Survey Boosts Funding for Berkeley Homeless

Forty percent of Alameda County’s chronically homeless spend their nights in Berkeley, according to detailed findings released Thursday from a county-wide homeless report.
The $241,000 survey, conducted last year by the Alameda County-Wide Continuum of Care Council, found what casual observers and trained professionals in Berkeley have recognized anecdotally for years. Compared to their brethren across the rest of the county, Berkeley’s homeless are more likely to be adults, unmarried, male, substance abusers and mentally and physically disabled. They are also more likely to be chronically homeless— a category the federal government defines as someone who has been without shelter for the past 12 months.
Survey results will be used to drive the county’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness, said Megan Schatz, the care council’s survey coordinator. Completion and approval of the plan is a prerequisite for receiving funding from the Bush administration, which has refocused its priorities over the next decade from providing services to homeless to finding permanent shelter for the chronically homeless.
In Berkeley, 47 percent of the service users are African American and 42.3 percent are white. However, the chronically homeless included more whites and fewer blacks. Seventy-seven percent of homeless service users in Berkeley and 55 percent of housed service users are disabled, compared to 56 percent and 42 percent countywide. Among the more common chronic conditions, 15 percent have been told they have asthma, 8 percent have been told they are diabetic and 11 percent have been told they have tuberculosis. Housed users of services in Berkeley were more likely to report learning disabilities (48 percent to 3.5 percent) and mental illness (44 percent to 38 percent). Homeless users were more likely to report disabilities due to alcohol abuse (14.5 percent to 3 percent) and drug abuse (9.2 percent to 3.5 percent). Among chronically homeless using services in Berkeley, 54 percent claimed to be alcoholics, 48 percent claimed to be drug addicts, and 40 percent claimed a mental illness. In Berkeley, 34 percent of the housed, 60 percent of the homeless, and 65 percent of the chronically homeless service users reported receiving mental health services in the last year. Homeless and chronically homeless service users were nearly twice as likely to receive mental health services as housed service users.
The city has already reoriented its resources towards helping the chronically homeless and combining social services with housing assistance. Despite the city’s budget shortfall, Berkeley government officials have pledged to maintain the level of funding to community agencies that serve the homeless. Of that money, City Manager Phil Kamlarz has shifted $168,000 from other homeless programs to fund an initiative that provides homes and intensive services for the chronically homeless. Berkeley would seemingly stand to gain from the Bush Administration’s pledge to end chronic homelessness, but Micallef said that so far, the federal priority hasn’t translated into a lot of money for cities. Still, she said, Berkeley’s disproportionately large percentage of chronically homeless could serve it well when it seeks federal grants.

Matthew Artz, Survey Boosts Funding for Berkeley Homeless, Berkeley Daily Planet (May 14, 2004), available at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2004-05-14/article/18854.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More on Richard Moe and Historic Preservation

A variety of class speakers have introduced the issue of historical preservation in the discussion of downtown development. This article titled “Sustainable Stewardship: Berkeley California” is actually the text of a speech given by Richard Moe, the seventh and current president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation non-profit organization. The speech highlights some main arguments, as well as emerging arguments, from the historic preservation constituency.

Moe states that historic preservation is “simply having the good sense to hold on to things that are well designed, that link us without past in a meaningful way, and that have plenty of good use left in them.” Although this is the core philosophy of historic preservation, Moe notes that the movement has evolved over the course of the last 150 years. Initially, the movement stressed paving and restricting iconic buildings to serve as the country’s patriotic shrines. Around the mid-twentieth century, the movement stressed economic benefit and adaptive reuse. Afterwards, the movement ties together the role of preservation in supporting societal values. Today, Moe argues that historic preservation not only continues to sustain societal values, but also addresses the climate change crisis.

“The challenge is to help people understand that preservation, but its very nature, is sustainability.” The current climate change crisis is characterized by the degradation of the environment and the consumption of energy and natural resources. Moe argues that because the remedy to the climate change crises will necessarily involve the conservation of energy and natural resources, “historic preservation has always been the greenest of the building arts.” Buildings are vast repositories of “embodied energy”, having taken up energy to extract, transport, and assemble building materials. The demotion of such building, as well as any construction thereafter, uses up more energy. Addressing the counter argument that historic buildings are energy hogs, Moe points out that in fact, some older buildings are as energy efficient as new ones. Moreover, since any new building represents an impact to the environment, “the greenest building is one that already exists.”

Moe advocates for a federal policy that will direct growth in existing communities. While land-use planning has traditionally been a matter of state and local government, Moe believes that where the federal government has a huge impact on local development by selecting carefully how to allocate its federal budget. Such federal policy should “stop rewarding unsustainable development,” “enhance the violability and livability of the [existing] communities.” And “encourage reuse and energy upgrades in older buildings.”

Richard Moe, Sustainable Stewardship: Berkeley, California. March 29, 2008, available at: http://www.preservationnation.org/about-us/press-room/speeches/sustainability-berkeley.html

J. Cheung

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Charles Hotel Proposal

Follow this link, then download the DAPAC Proposal. The sketches of what the building would look like are near slides 12-18.


Building preservation becoming green trend

Scott Lindlaw, Building preservation becoming green trend, Assoc. Press, April 6, 2008, available at http://www.helenair.com/articles/2008/04/06/weekly_features/at_home/top/50hg_080406_preservation.txt (last visited April 9, 2008).

According to this article from the Associated Press, Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, spoke recently at the First Church of Christ in Berkeley on preservation and sustainability.

Moe, as the article suggests, represents a contingent of preservationists whose basic message is that preservation of existing structures can be and often is more energy-efficient than new construction.

Describing the energy embodied in structures, Moe says: “It takes energy to manufacture, to extract building materials, more energy to transport them to a construction site, still more energy to assemble them into a building...All of that energy is embodied in the finished structure — and if the structure is demolished and landfilled, the energy locked up in it is totally wasted.” And so his argument goes that “buildings are vast repositories of energy.”

Scott Lindlaw, the article’s author, attempts to quantify that embodied energy in numerous ways throughout the article. Citing to the National trust for Historic Preservation, for example, Lindlaw offers that “the construction and operation of buildings sends up twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the entire U.S. transportation sector.” And according to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (which advises the White House and Congress on historic preservation policy, notes Lindlaw), a “typical 50,000-square-foot commercial building ‘embodies’ the equivalent of 640,000 gallons of gasoline.” Moreover, that same 50,000-square-foot building built new would release as much carbon as 2.8 million miles worth of driving.

The article does not, however, advocate a program of strict preservation. Rather, Lindlaw acknowledges the trend for urban infill and cites to Paul Mackie of Seattle’s Western Red Cedar Lumber Association for the hybrid position that “both renovation and new construction” are needed. And Mackie continues: “Using sustaintable building materials like wood – especially western red cedar—that have the best environmental values are great choices.”

Still, Moe is cited for the final perspective that our practice of “out with the old, in with the new” is merely something engrained in the American mindset and culture. “…[B]ut it is changing, thank goodness,” says Moe. “[W]e’re changing that.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Berkeley's new cause: Make homeless behave

After months of hand-wringing, the Berkeley City Council in November passed a law to hire monitors to patrol city streets and parks and report inappropriate behavior by the homeless and others to police and social service agencies.
The plan makes it easier for police to enforce a law against camping in public places. It bans lying down on commercial streets during the day and bars smoking on sidewalks on main commercial corridors.
It was Berkeley's reputation for tolerance and generous social services that helped attract so many homeless. One study estimated that 40% of Alameda County's chronically homeless reside in Berkeley even though the city represents only 7% of the county's population.
In recent years the city's openness to the unorthodox has given way to discomfort over aggressive panhandling and public urination and defecation.
Frustrated by homeless encampments, Berkeley residents and merchants recently helped reject a plan to build a public plaza near what is known as the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley, home of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant. Residents and merchants feared that the homeless would just take over.
Mayor Bates said Berkeley residents are no different than residents of other cities with significant homeless populations and they do not want to see poverty. But, he said, the city was not shunning the disadvantaged.
Maura Dolan, Berkeley's new cause: Make homeless behave, Los Angeles Times (Nov. 29, 2007) available at, http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-homeless29nov29,0,1339539.story.