City Council looks for new Berkeley meeting space

The City Council currently meets in the Maudelle Shirek building but is looking for new meeting space.

After looking at 11 possible locations to hold future City Council meetings, Berkeley city staff is recommending that the council select between the auditorium at Berkeley City College, the multipurpose room at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and the auditorium at Longfellow Middle School.

Those three sites are centrally located, have sufficient capacity to hold the crowds that come to council meetings, are convenient to public transit, and can be fitted with audio-visual equipment to broadcast and tape meetings, according to a report that will be presented to the council Tuesday night.

The City Council has been meeting in the Maudelle Shirek Building at 2134 Martin Luther King Way since 1909, but needs to find a new spot because the building is seismically unsafe, according to Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a city spokesperson. The Berkeley Unified School District currently uses the building for its administrative offices, but will move to a newly refurbished building on University Avenue near Bonar in March.

The move of BUSD is prompting the City Council to move as well.

“We would like to have things in place as soon as possible because there are logistics we need to address,” said Clunies-Ross. “There is no firm deadline, but the building is not safe and, with the school district moving out, it will be harder to keep the building clean and functional with no one using it.”

The school district will spend $14.5 million to refurbish the West Campus, which was the site of the Berkeley Adult School until 2004. The school district will also remodel an old cafeteria at West Campus for another $1.75 million that it will use for school board meetings. It will be completed later in 2012. The City Council can use that site for its meetings, but some community members have concerns about its location. West Campus is far from Berkeley’s central core and BART, although AC Transit lines run nearby.

At a City Council meeting in November, a number of neighbors of West Campus said frequent night meetings at the new facility would be disruptive. (The city is looking for a space that can accommodate commission meetings as well as city council meetings.) One speaker said “this council meeting will be 15 feet away from my living room window.”

City Councilmember Darryl Moore does not favor using the West Campus for city meetings. The site is in his district.

“West Campus is not the location to have this chamber,” said Moore. “It’s more appropriate that we have our city council meetings in the downtown area.”

Concern about using the West Campus site prompted the council in November to direct staff to look at alternative sites. City staff examined 11 sites and compared their capacity, their access to public transit, their parking, the impact meetings would have on the neighborhood, and what it would take to install audio-visual and other equipment.

Staff looked at West Campus, the Berkeley City College auditorium, the multipurpose room of the North Berkeley Senior Center, the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, the Berkeley Adult School, the Berkeley Community Theater, the Black Repertory Theater, the Tamalpais Room in the Brower Center, the atrium in the Ed Roberts Building, the Florence Schwimley Little Theater at Berkeley High School, the community room in the Main Library, and the South Berkeley Senior Center.

The auditorium at Berkeley City College, the multipurpose room at the North Berkeley Senior Center, and the auditorium at Longfellow Middle School seemed to offer the most flexibility, according to the report. If city council members agree, city staff will come back to council in May with a more detailed study of those locations.

Berkeley has budgeted $400,000 to move and refurbish new meeting headquarters. It does not know what will happen to the Maudelle Shirek Building, but has set aside $100,000 to explore the questions.

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  • Kathy Harr

    Actually, the report recommends those three as Possible Alternatives to West Campus, whichis still staff’s choice, despite possible problems with public participation at a site away from downtown.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Kathy, the report’s recommendation is “Review the summary of alternate locations for City Council meetings and direct staff to report back by May 1, 2012 on the cost, schedule, and viability of the following three options: Berkeley Community College Auditorium, Longfellow Middle School Auditorium
    and North Berkeley Senior Center Multi-Purpose Room.”

    I did not interpret that as the staff choosing West Campus and recommending those three as possible alternatives. Where do you see a city staff report recommending West Campus?

  • EBGuy

    They dismissed West Campus (0.5miles from BART and easy access to the 51B line) and are considering Longfellow (1 mile from BART).  I appreciate the fact that the West Campus neighborhood appears organized, but everyone seems to have forgotten that:  “When the adult school was here there were 10,000 students
    registered and there were 300 people there on any given day or night,”
    Coplan said.

  • Guest

    I live very close to the West Campus.  The buildling is getting cleaned up and looking much better and as a neighbor just a block away I’m looking forward to BUSD moving in and I wouldn’t have an issue with night time meetings, etc.  It will bring more people to the area and hopefully more foot traffic and more businesses.  I’m sure this will result in lack of parking and maybe lead to increased traffic in the area but it will be much better than and empty building with a chain linked fence around it.
    There is AC Transit right outside and North Berkeley BART is 5 blocks away so most people can get there easily.

  • Bruce Love

    There are several indications:

    The directive that you link to from Worthington  may be slightly ambiguous but sure sounds like the direction was to measure up the alternatives to West Campus.   You wouldn’t expect the West Campus to be suggested as an alternative to itself.

    If you look at the 20 point checklist appended to the staff report, you’ll see that West Campus scores equally well or  favorably compared to all three alternatives in almost every category.  It receives the special note:  “Purpose-built modern meeting facility.”

    Also, if you look at the staff report’s section titled “CURRENT SITUATION AND ITS EFFECTS” it reinforces the view that West Campus will be available and suitable in at least most respects, but the goal of this report is to examine alternatives.

    The cost to the city of using West Campus is essentially $0 and availability is September of 2012.   The recommendation of the report is to identify the cost, schedule, and viability of the three alternatives.

  • Completely Serious

    They don’t really need to accomodate all the crowds.  First, limit Council items that actually deal with COB business.  Second, put those agenda items at the beginning of the agenda.  Third, respect the agenda order as printed.  Fourth, limit comments from the public to Berkeley residents.  Poof!  The crowds will disappear.

     

  • Browning

    I also live just a block and a half from West Campus and see it’s use for evening meetings as a plus for the neighborhood.

  • Kathy Harr

    Bad news West Campus pub trans isn’t “easy”: If a Council meeting
    got out at the uncharacteristically early hour of 10:45, it would take most our
    civic leaders about an hour to get home on the bus, according to Transit 511.
    The good news? The three electeds whose commutes I looked at in detail could
    all wait for the bus together, since there is safety in numbers.

     

    I think we all know that Mayor Tom Bates sold his car in 2009. I’ve
    read that he walks everywhere, but I wouldn’t expect the Mayor – who will be 73
    in a few weeks – to walk home so late at night, even though I often walk home
    from our equally interminable Rent Board meetings. 

     

    According to Transit 511, if the meeting got out around 10:45, the
    Mayor would probably miss the 10:49 AC Transit 51B, so he could wait until 11:09 for the next one, or walk almost half a mile to catch the
    52. Tom Bates would then wait downtown for 8 minutes to catch the 1, and walk
    seven minutes to his home from Telegraph, arriving at 11:40 PM.

     

    Max Anderson would be waiting for the 51B with the Mayor, hop off
    one stop sooner, and wait only five minutes to catch the 18, if it was on time.
    That bus would drop him off about a block from home, where he would arrive
    about an hour after the meeting ended.

     

    Councilman Capitelli could be a nice guy and walk with the fellows
    down to Sacramento
    for the 52, or wait for the next 51B with them, as long as they didn’t violate
    the Brown Act by discussing any business. Then he would take the 18 from
    downtown in the opposite direction from Councilman Anderson. Laurie could also
    catch the 72 on San Pablo
    – and transfer to another bus at Solano – either way he has to walk about a
    half a mile once he gets off the bus. According to Transit 511, Councilman
    Capitelli would arrive home between 11:35 and midnight, depending on his luck
    with the bus transfers.

     

    I don’t know if any of our elected civil leaders take the bus now,
    but naturally they would fare much better coming from the current meeting
    location, or from any number of the venues more centrally located than West
    Campus. There are at least six buses that run through downtown during the later
    hours.

     

    For example, if the Mayor was coming out of Berkeley City College
    at 10:45, and didn’t think it prudent to choose the 20 minute walk home, he
    could catch the 1, 18 or F and be home in as little as 18 minutes, according to
    Transit 511.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am sure that most of the councilmembers drive to meetings now and will continue driving regardless of where the meeting is held. At the end of each meeting, there would probably be at least one councilmember who is still on good enough terms with Bates to give him a ride home. 

  • S. Marty Pantz

    Maybe they should just sell the Maudelle Shirek Building; the proceeds would probably cover most of Phil Kamlarz retirement benefits.

  • resident

    This assumes that all AC Transit lines are running on time–a rare thing indeed. But maybe more common late at night?
    I’d love to see pillars of our community waiting at bus stops at night. It would give them a taste of what it feels like to live car-less in Berkeley and try to rely on an unreliable public transit system.

  • Anonymous

    While I respect the benefits more foot traffic and eyes on the street may bring to the area around West Campus, I have to disagree with the idea that West Campus would come even remotely close to offering the convenience of the current Downtown location.

    At just over half of a mile away, the North Berkeley BART station is more than twice as far from West Campus as the Downtown BART station is from Old City Hall. This may not sound like a big deal, and perhaps for the young and able it isn’t, but for anyone with mobility problems, this is non-trivial. Moreover, from a safety perspective, I seriously doubt anyone would trade the quarter-mile walk up Center Street for the half-mile walk up University Avenue and across Sacramento or Acton Streets.

    As far as AC Transit is concerned, the 51B, the 800 (late-night only) and the 72 are the only lines within a quarter-mile-ish of West Campus. At a bit more than 0.25-mile you have the 88 and the 52, and the 49 is a little over half-a-mile away. Compare this to the Downtown location, where within a similar, rough quarter-mile you have the: F, 1, 1R, 7, 12, 18, 25, 49, 51B, 52, 65, 67, 88, 800, and 851. With the exception of the 72, I believe this list represents all of the non-transbay ACTransit lines in Berkeley.

    Add to this Downtown’s density of residents, employment, and services, as well as its proximity to the University, and keeping Council meetings Downtown starts to seem like a no-brainer.

  • Anonymous

    While I respect the benefits more foot traffic and eyes on the street may bring to the area around West Campus, I have to disagree with the idea that West Campus would come even remotely close to offering the convenience of the current Downtown location.

    At just over half of a mile away, the North Berkeley BART station is more than twice as far from West Campus as the Downtown BART station is from Old City Hall. This may not sound like a big deal, and perhaps for the young and able it isn’t, but for anyone with mobility problems, this is non-trivial. Moreover, from a safety perspective, I seriously doubt anyone would trade the quarter-mile walk up Center Street for the half-mile walk up University Avenue and across Sacramento or Acton Streets.

    As far as AC Transit is concerned, the 51B, the 800 (late-night only) and the 72 are the only lines within a quarter-mile-ish of West Campus. At a bit more than 0.25-mile you have the 88 and the 52, and the 49 is a little over half-a-mile away. Compare this to the Downtown location, where within a similar, rough quarter-mile you have the: F, 1, 1R, 7, 12, 18, 25, 49, 51B, 52, 65, 67, 88, 800, and 851. With the exception of the 72, I believe this list represents all of the non-transbay ACTransit lines in Berkeley.

    Add to this Downtown’s density of residents, employment, and services, as well as its proximity to the University, and keeping Council meetings Downtown starts to seem like a no-brainer.

  • Anonymous

    While I respect the benefits more foot traffic and eyes on the street may bring to the area around West Campus, I have to disagree with the idea that West Campus would come even remotely close to offering the convenience of the current Downtown location.

    At just over half of a mile away, the North Berkeley BART station is more than twice as far from West Campus as the Downtown BART station is from Old City Hall. This may not sound like a big deal, and perhaps for the young and able it isn’t, but for anyone with mobility problems, this is non-trivial. Moreover, from a safety perspective, I seriously doubt anyone would trade the quarter-mile walk up Center Street for the half-mile walk up University Avenue and across Sacramento or Acton Streets.

    As far as AC Transit is concerned, the 51B, the 800 (late-night only) and the 72 are the only lines within a quarter-mile-ish of West Campus. At a bit more than 0.25-mile you have the 88 and the 52, and the 49 is a little over half-a-mile away. Compare this to the Downtown location, where within a similar, rough quarter-mile you have the: F, 1, 1R, 7, 12, 18, 25, 49, 51B, 52, 65, 67, 88, 800, and 851. With the exception of the 72, I believe this list represents all of the non-transbay ACTransit lines in Berkeley.

    Add to this Downtown’s density of residents, employment, and services, as well as its proximity to the University, and keeping Council meetings Downtown starts to seem like a no-brainer.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I agree.  Of all the alternatives, Berkeley City College auditorium seems to be the best, because it is in a very convenient, central location in downtown.

  • Kathy Harr

    My pont was that three folks in three different parts of the city would take a LONG LONG time to get home. I used the Council because of COURSE they don’t take the bus, so it’s amusing.

  • Drew Dara-Abrams

    Let me make a small grammatical suggestion: “recommending that the council select” *among* “the auditorium”

  • Frank Olken

    I much prefer the Berkeley City College auditorium (if available).  It is close to BART and many AC Transit buses.  There are parking garages nearby.  It is also close to most Berkeley city offices.  I would guess that it has Internet access.  If not installation of Internet and wifi access would be helpful for students during the day.  It is also walking distance from my apartment.  It is close to South Campus area where many students live.

    Frank Olken

  • Frank Olken

    I much prefer the Berkeley City College auditorium (if available).  It is close to BART and many AC Transit buses.  There are parking garages nearby.  It is also close to most Berkeley city offices.  I would guess that it has Internet access.  If not installation of Internet and wifi access would be helpful for students during the day.  It is also walking distance from my apartment.  It is close to South Campus area where many students live.

    Frank Olken

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MVWHMZ6T65ESTFU6HEH3GFDZUY Frank

    I much prefer the Berkeley City College auditorium (if available).  It is close to BART and many AC Transit buses.  There are parking garages nearby.  It is also close to most Berkeley city offices.  I would guess that it has Internet access.  If not installation of Internet and wifi access would be helpful for students during the day.  It is also walking distance from my apartment.  It is close to South Campus area where many students live.

    Frank Olken