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.

Richard Moe on Preservation and Sustainability

Our speaker last night mentioned Richard Moe's talk on preservation and sustainability. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on it. Moe made some interesting points about older buildings and energy efficiency:

"Buildings designed before the widespread use of electricity feature transoms, high ceilings, and large windows for natural light and ventilation, as well as shaded porches and other features to reduce solar gain....

"According to a formula produced for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, about 80 billion BTUs of energy are embodied in a typical 50,000-square-foot commercial building. If you tear the building down, all that embodied energy is wasted.

"What's more, demolishing that same 50,000-square-foot commercial building would create nearly 4,000 tons of waste....

"Once the old building is gone, putting up a new one in its place takes more energy, of course, and it also uses more natural resources and releases new pollutants and greenhouse gases into our environment. ... It is estimated that constructing a new 50,000-square-foot commercial building releases about the same amount of carbon into the atmosphere as driving a car 2.8 million miles. ..."

Jon Carroll, “Searching for Bernard,” SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, April 8, 2008, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/08/DDUE1008UQ.DTL

Sunday, April 6, 2008

B-Town’s Silent Majority


According to an Internet survey on KitchenDemocract.org, nearly 87 percent of Berkeley registered voters said the city should implement Mayor Tom Bates’ “Public Commons for Everyone Initiative.” However, this majority is considered a silent majority and rarely voices their opinions at council meetings. Instead, the public reaction to the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative has been negative with homeless activists declaring that the initiatives pick on the poor and criminalize the homeless.

The Public Commons for Everyone Initiative has several proposals for controlling the homeless problems in Berkeley. They include extending the hours of public restrooms and making sure there are enough signs directing people to them. Another is a law that would allow the police to ticket anyone who urinates or defecates in public instead of having to arrest them on misdemeanor charges. A third proposal is to ensure that police actively enforce existing antisocial laws, such as prohibitions against spending the night in parks or on city streets when there are shelter beds available.

Another initiative that may be most significant in affecting homeless behavior is the mayor’s plan to ban smoking in commercial districts. Studies have shown that homeless people are more likely to smoke. Therefore, this initiative may result in forcing many of the homeless off Telegraph and Shattuck Avenues. Interesting, this initiative met with the least resistance from homeless rights activists.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

When the homeless lose or abandon stuff, it gets frozen

Here’s an interesting article about abandoned possessions left by the homeless.

Berkeley not only tolerates its homeless people, it also takes good care of their stuff when they abandon it in shopping carts. The city of Berkeley stores abandoned shopping carts left by the homeless in a huge container for up the 90 days. The items in the container are refrigerated at a temperature of 0 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2003, Berkeley bought the 40-foot-long, 8-foot-wide refrigerated container for $8,200 because public works officials complained that the shopping carts, which were then stored at the city's outdoor corporation yard, were vermin-infested. The city needed a place to put the container, so it signed a five-year, $61,500 lease with Caltrans for land under the University Avenue overpass at Interstate 80.

Why does the city store the abandoned shopping carts? Deputy City Attorney Matthew Orebic asserted that the city is abiding state law, which requires storage of lost goods. He concedes, however, that it is unclear whether the law applies to unattended shopping carts because they may not be lost. Given the lack of clarity, the city opted to do what was safe and fair, that is, to make sure that it are not violating any laws and to be fair to homeless persons.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Solutions to homeless problem hard to find

Every winter, Key West sees a large increase in its homeless population and the call for action takes on a more desperate tone. The city often claims it is unfairly burdened by vagrants who panhandle on the streets and sleep on the beaches. The same sunny weather that drives the crucial winter tourism rush also attracts an inordinate number of homeless from the snow-blown streets of northern cities.
The city made major efforts in the last year to push the homeless from public areas, including the city's last stretches of wetlands, but has run up against a wall. A no-panhandling law went into effect for the Duval Street strip and Mallory Square, severing a main source of sustenance for homeless and leading to a number of arrests. Though the panhandling ban may be considered a success, a new law banning homeless from camping in wetlands has gathered dust for months. The city cannot enforce the ban, which would effectively eliminate the last safe area for the homeless, without risking a major lawsuit. Miami and Orlando have both been sued for barring the homeless from life-sustaining activities such as sleeping in public. The courts ruled in favor of plaintiffs who argued that the cities must provide an alternative for homeless that are roused from sleep.
So the city has been struggling to create a "Safe Zone" where the homeless could go and not be bothered by authorities. Such camps are not popular with the public and few are willing to allow one in their neighborhood.
The road ahead will likely be long and difficult, as it has been for years.

Travis James Tritten, Solutions to homeless problem hard to find, KeyNews.com, http://www.livableoldtown.com/solution_to_homeless.htm.

Letters to the Editor, Daily Planet

Here are some excerpts from The Berkeley Daily Planet’s Letters to the Editor that provide various perspectives on the development of downtown. It illustrates some unique angles and viewpoints that developers most likely face when handling projects in Berkeley:

“It is indeed alarming to witness the dominoes falling in Berkeley as elected representatives and city officials bow down to real estate developers, telecommunications giants, and university/corporate collusion called scientific experimentation and “green” progress . . . Will Berkeley become just another bedroom community for commuters, while long-time residents, taxpayers and voters are driven out of our community? And where will we go? . . .Berkeley’s citizens, leaders, and city officials concerned with housing and public health need to ally with counterparts in neighboring cities and San Francisco in a united fight for the rights of all people for decent housing and public health.” Marianne Robinson

“It seems that every edition of the Planet brings forth another letter from another technophobe decrying the cell phone towers proposed for the UC Storage building . . .I understand that conservatives fear change; different religions, different types of people, new buildings, and new technologies are all pretty scary until you get to know them better.” Fred Massell

“Another thousand times no, no and no on the proposed building of a new sports facility on the western edge of the Memorial Stadium . . . We have lived on the north south axisroad across the eastern edge of the campus less than a mile from the stadium for many years. We walk to football games and arts events on campus. Since the Haas Business School was built, where do all those people park? . . . congestion continue to obliterate the most beautiful and last natural edge of my Campus . . .Put our talented athletes nearer our degraded and neglected downtown! Put the athletic support staffs for all of Cal’s illustrious, popular sports teams, the vehicles and fans’ access where there is more parking than exists at the eastern edge of campus.” Judith Holland

“Letters to the Editor,” The Berkeley Daily Planet, January 11, 2008, available at: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-01-11/article/28904.

J. Cheung

The Berkeley City Council Wakes Up and the Daily Planet Hates It

An interesting article appeared in the Berkeley Daily Planet on Friday, March 28th (yes, I admit it, I have the Daily Planet bookmarked and I read the online version every day. It’s good for a laugh, if nothing else!), concerning a study of regarding matters that could have great impact on the downtown area.

The article, “Council Approves Controversial $40K Height-Profit Study,” begins with an odd recounting of what appears to be an even stranger occurrence, the performance of a song lauding Berkeley’s efforts to reduce its waste stream. From this unconventional jumping off point, however, the article gets down to the heart of the matter. Well, actually, that’s not true. It next describes a tax initiative to fund a new warm-water aquatic facility for seniors, and then documents the adoption of a “non-controversial” measure regarding condo conversions in the city, a measure that will “streamline the conversion process,” whatever that means in this bureaucratic nightmare of a city.

Finally, after covering these other matters, the article takes up the issue that the headline announces: the Height-Profit study. By a 6-1 vote, the Council approved spending $40,000 “for a study of the relationship between building height and developer profits.” After DAPAC rejected a staff proposal to undertake such a study, which will determine the economic viability of DAPAC’s proposed density adjustments to the downtown area, the Planning Commission took the issue directly to the City Council, which authorized the study. The lone ‘nay’ vote, Councilmember Dona Spring, would seem to have already undertaken her own economic analysis, claiming that this study is merely an end-run by developers seeking to build “point towers” around the normal funding process, and predicting that “they’ll say it’s unprofitable unless they go to 18 stories.”

While the Daily Planet’s coverage of the issues surround DAPAC can hardly be said to have shown themselves worthy of the vaulted Fox News tag-line, “fair and balanced,” this article seems particular offensive. After proclaiming how “controversial” the study is, the Planet decides to cover a few other matters before the city council before delving into the subject at hand, and then deigns to cover only the opinion of the sole opposing vote to the measure, hinting at a pro-developer slant to the Council’s decision in the process with the term “developer profits.” Fair coverage would have included a statement from a supporting Councilmember, and framed the greater issues surrounding the proposed density adjustment by considering the possible beneficiaries of high-rise towers in the area beyond the developers themselves.

The benefits of the newly approved study are self-evident: it will give the Council objective economic information regarding the realistic viability of the DAPAC proposal, which the Council can then use to modify the proposal as it sees fit. If the study finds DAPAC’s proposal economically viable for developers it could ease the plan’s adoption by allowing an up-or-down vote on the plan as it stands. If the study finds the plan uneconomical, however, the Council will at least have information on what height levels will be required for developers to turn a profit on new projects in the downtown area, allowing the subsequent debate to, at a minimum, be predicated on realistic assumptions. Considering Mayor Bates’ assurances that Berkeley has plenty of money in its budget, spending $40,000 on this study seems reasonable when its benefits are considered, especially given the enormous impact that the DAPAC plan stands to have. The Daily Planet’s brief, obscure, and one-sided coverage, however, leaves the reader with a sense of distrust for the Council and for the plan in general, and thereby does the city a great disservice.

Judith Scherr, Council Approves Controversial $40K Downtown Height-Profit Study, THE BERKELEY DAILY PLANET, Mar. 28, 2008, available at http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-03-28/article/29579.

Seniors moving into the city

Hey all,

There is a good article in today's SF Chron discussing the increasing numbers of seniors who are moving back to the city after their kids have left home.