Berkeley council approves plans to green downtown

Map of major projects prioritized in SOSIP

Map of major projects prioritized in the Downtown Streets & Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP)

Berkeley City Council last night unanimously approved both the Downtown Streets & Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP) and a schedule of fees that will help fund the proposed projects. SOSIP aims to help create a more pedestrian-oriented neighborhood downtown, and will help guide the design of parks, plazas and streetscapes in the area.

The SOSIP is the first concrete action on the streets and open space provisions of the Downtown Area Plan, which was approved by the council in March 2012.

“I’m very excited about a lot of the projects put forward,” said council member Jesse Arreguín, whose district includes downtown. “If we can do even a fraction of these projects, it would really make a difference in making downtown a much more pedestrian friendly and vibrant environment.”

The major projects identified in the SOSIP as priorities are: 

  • Center St. Plaza (Phase 1): Close Center St. to automobile traffic between Shattuck and Oxford, while providing access for emergency vehicles and commercial deliveries. Include green infrastructure features. Provide infrastructure for a future water feature if feasible. Create a “Center St. Greenway” between Milvia and Shattuck.
  • Shattuck Square and University Ave. Gateway: Reconfigure Shattuck to allow two-way traffic on the west side of Shattuck Square. On the east side, consider options including: a slow street for local traffic, on-street parking, a transit plaza limited to buses, pedestrians and bicycles. Widen sidewalks at the east end of University Ave., reduce travel lanes, and add a focal point.
  • Shattuck Blvd/Park Blocks: Widen sidewalks, add green infrastructure features, and develop “Park Blocks” in the middle of Shattuck Ave. between (a) Allston and Kittredge (high priority) and (b) Durant and Haste.
  • Hearst Ave./Ohlone Greenway Extension, Phase 1: Bike lane, landscaping, sidewalk, and green infrastructure improvements.
  • Bike Lanes: Milvia and Shattuck Avenues

Wendy Cosin, Deputy Director of the planning department, told the City Council that the Shattuck Square reconfiguration had the potential to be an early demonstration of SOSIP’s benefits. Her views were echoed by John Caner, Executive Director of Downtown Berkeley Association. He said that improvements to the east side of Shattuck Square was “low-hanging fruit,” and that it tied in well to already planned measures to improve the nearby BART Plaza.

The agreed SOSIP fees should provide about one-third of the funding for the projects, said Eric Angstadt, Director of the planning department. A fee study by the planning department determined that the maximum feasible fees would be $2.23 per sq ft for new residential use, $1.68 per sq ft for new commercial use, and $1.12 per sq ft for new institutional use. Those fees were approved by the council.

“I haven’t received any pushback saying it’s too high or it’s too much,” said Mayor Tom Bates, noting that the fee study had been publicly available for more than a year.

Bates and council members raised questions on whether UC Berkeley would pay a share for the SOSIP improvements. Angstadt said the institutional rate was designed with the university in mind. “We have that fee there and we hope that they’ll pay it,” he said.

“The university has a tremendous amount to gain from this plan and I hope they will participate in the fees,” said council member Susan Wengraf.

Bates said that SOSIP projects should be eligible for regional and state funding, which will help close the gap between the fees and the costs.

“This is one of the best shovel-ready projects anywhere in the East Bay,” Bates said. “I would be very disappointed if we didn’t get funded. There are no sure things, but it’s a great, great opportunity.”

After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan [03.21.12]
Taller buildings, open spaces on the cards for downtown [03.09.12]
A green, pedestrian-friendly vision for downtown [02.08.10]

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  • anon

    I absolutely love how our city council does this: spent a lot of time drafting a plan and then dictates to the people they expect will pay for it. How about managing our current taxes better? By saving us money.

    Eliminate defined pensions.
    Eliminate retiree public employee healthcare.
    Actually fix potholes.

    That’s good enough for me. I don’t need a city council to solve world hunger or poverty.

  • Hilly

    Wow! This looks pretty exciting, especially closing Center St.

  • I love the concept.


    Do city plans incorporate financing to pay for all upkeep in perpetuity?


    I love trees, but as we’ve seen across the city (and my block), they also degrade infrastructure as the roots move under roadways and sidewalks. The trees are city property & so are the sidewalks, but as the trees grow and degrade sidewalks, the repair costs (performed by the city) are passed directly to the property owner directly in front of the sidewalk in need of repair. The property owner can neither trim the tree branches, nor cut the tree down if it has invasive roots that are destroying the sidewalk.

    Has this issue been addressed in the plan, or do we march forward with the knowledge that a lot of property owners will be taxed beyond what the city is currently advertising in its beautification plan?

  • cutsbothways!

    West Bezerkeley, just consider it a teeny, tiny little taste of what it is like to be on the wrong side of the same gentrification. Don’t worry, it’s mostly harmless in such small quantities.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am glad the Council finally passed this. I would say the most exciting part is straightening out the intersection of Shattuck and University. This will make the intersection much safer and more inviting for pedestrians. It will also take through traffic off the east branch of Shattuck, so the sidewalks there can be widened. These wider sidewalks could give us a network of pedestrian friendly streets, like Center St, which extend all the way from Center St. to the east branch of Shattuck, to University Ave, to Bonita St. to the Helios Center complex. Walking along these streets could be like walking in a European city, with wide sidewalks and sidewalk cafes.

    Also exciting is the improved Milvia St. bike boulevard, which could make it safe and comfortable to bike to downtown for the first time ever.

  • Charles_Siegel

    But what happened to pricing policy for parking? From what I have seen, the SOSIP included plans for something like the ParkSF program, which sets meter rates in parts of San Francisco with prices that create a vacancy rate of about 10%. The idea is to get long-term parkers out of the metered spaces and into parking garages, which would open up the metered spaces for shoppers – creating more turnover and attracting more customers for businesses. It would also raise some revenue that would help fund the plan.

    Does Berkeleyside know if this parking pricing policy is in the SOSIP that the council passed?

  • anon

    The improvements to Shattuck sound great. Less concrete, and more and space for plants, bikes and pedestrian!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Disqus is really acting weird today. It removed one and then both of my comments. I don’t know if that is temporary or permanent.

  • It has nothing to do with gentrification and everything to do with an invisible tax

  • EricPanzer

    It’s understandable why the commenter would be frustrated by the notion that the City had approved large new expenditures in the face of looming budget deficits, but luckily this is not the case.

    Approving the SOSIP does not commit the City to embark upon projects for which it does not have funding. Rather, SOSIP establishes a list of priority street improvement projects; enacts guiding policies, both for specific projects and for the general streetscape; and establishes a fee (at a legally-permissable level) to support the plan.

    The City can charge the SOSIP-related development fee because there is a rational and demonstrable nexus between new development and the need to maintain and improve the Downtown streetcape. Not only would it be illegal for the City to apply such revenue to its pension obligations, it would also be bad politics. One of the ways you get buy-in for such fees is to show developers and future residents (i.e., the people paying those fees) how the benefits redound to them, at least partially. While it’s not inconceivable that the City may choose in the future to spend General Fund money on SOSIP projects, adopting the plan does not obligate the City to do so.

    At least directly, the approval and implementation of this plan should have a neutral impact on the City’s finances. I would argue, however, that the indirect fiscal impacts would be largely positive. Improved Downtown streetscapes would increase property values, as well as potentially attract new residents and shoppers to the Downtown—which would subsequently lead to a stronger local economy and additional tax revenue.

    The development, adoption, and—hopefully—fulfillment of the SOSIP are, in my mind, an unalloyed good for the Downtown and Berkeley as a whole.

  • Sorry about that, Charles. We’ll keep an eye on it and troubleshoot if necessary.

  • Andrew Doran

    Forward progress is good, any plan is better than arguing in perpetuity, and this one looks well thought out from what I know of the history of the downtown area plan.

    I have a question about a small detail that perhaps someone reading this knows the answer to:

    There is a huge amount of traffic that flows into and out of Hearst above Oxford due to the University and LBNL. Much of this traffic comes from/goes to University Ave. Many cars both eastbound (primarily in the morning) and westbound (in the evenings) use Oxford to traverse between the two major east-west arteries. In fact, the Oxford and Hearst intersection was turned into a three way light a few years ago so that two lanes of westbound traffic from Hearst could make the left onto Oxford without oncoming traffic (there are already two left turn lanes at the top of University onto northbound Oxford). In the map above I’m having a hard time picturing where that traffic will now go. If both University and Hearst are “calmed” between Shattuck and Oxford, where are cars going to make the left turns needed to get the same volume of traffic through those blocks?

    I love the change for northbound shattuck traffic, that whole jog at University has made no sense to me my entire life.

  • ongettingsqueezedout

    West Bezerkeley,

    You ask for a plan to pay for “upkeep in perpetuity”.

    Tree-lined streets benefit adjacent properties and so help to support property values. Losses of tree-lined streets tend to have the opposite effect. Neither rule is absolute or easy to quanitfy. It is hard to say with certainty what the trade-offs will be against the costs of maintenance but conventional wisdom is that trees benefit the adjacent properties. I’m not sure what kinds of long-term balance sheet analysis you expect beyond that. Nobody has a crystal ball.

    Sure, somebody could face a problem where even though their property value is poised to go up, even so, the cash-flow requirements of ongoing tree maintenance is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Such a person could even be forced to sell to a buyer who can afford to park more illiquid money in the property.

    Such financial squeezes are the basic mechanism of gentrification.

    Not that the plan in the article is about West Berkeley but noting your nickname: I wouldn’t assume that the current generation of West Berkeley gentrifiers is the last, if I were you. I mean, it worked once so why can’t it work again? I think if Berkeley does not get it’s public policy right, a lot of the current gentrifiers are next for the slaughter.

  • guest

    go away race baiter

  • Yes, upkeep in perpetuity. And you can kindly take your gentrification baloney to another discussion because that is not what my posts are about.

    The city has shown that they are exceptionally skilled at spending money. They are NOT skilled however at fiscal planning beyond balancing the next budget, which means they never have enough for infrastructure maintenance.

    Tax and spend is not a fiscal plan, it’s a political strategy that caters to a specific demographic that doesn’t pay property tax. If the city wants to propose beautification, GREAT, I’m in favor, but do it fairly and transparently (everyone pays).

    I don’t care if it is downtown or next to me here in the flat lands. Everyone uses the sidewalks, but only property owners pay to repair them. That my friend is a steaming bowl of horse manure & it must change before the city plants one more tree.

  • bgal4

    Next door to us is an example of the city conflicted policies regarding removal of nuisance trees, an ash planted by the city about 30 years ago.

    Invasive roots invading, clogging and backing up sewer laterals of two properties, branches interfering with utility lines, broken up the street, broken up driveways and sidewalks. This is a health and safety problem yet the city will not remove the problem tree and plant a proper choice.

    During one of the more recent public works dept trips here after removing the broken up sidewalk and clearing roots from the line they moved the sewer line placing the clean-out directly against the tree trunk. Kinda a FU to the tree dept from the frustrated public works crew. Public works have been out here a dozen times, as has PGE.

  • guest

    Gentrification is about economic class, not race.

  • Sewer laterals are not cheap! Too bad the PW department couldn’t have just accidentally cut some roots forcing a removal. This would make a great case study in city mismanagement.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    Non sequitur of the year: the city adopts a plan to improve downtown and attract more business to Berkeley, and you respond “I don’t need a city council to solve world hunger or poverty.”

  • guest

    Everyone does pay for the trees but adjacent property owners can wind up paying more. They also receive more of the benefit. Done well, the property owners that pay more also come out ahead in property value but nobody can predict what will happen for sure or make that trade-off comfortable for everyone.

  • bgal4

    Agreed, a case study is in order. I have contacted a citizen on the public works commission about it before, not progress. Both PW and park dept (tree) know the history. Replacing the lateral runs $10,000-15,000, and without the tree removed the problems will return.

    Last year we had sewage in the basement, the public works guys who provide sewer service were great, but sh… this is not acceptable.

    Remove the ash, Berkeley. Proper tree choice and placement is important.

  • Reader

    Many would say that infrastructure degrades trees. Trees mitigate climate change; concrete accelerates it.

  • Margit

    A lot of this sounds delightful, but this one gave me pause: “develop “Park Blocks” in the middle of Shattuck Ave. between (a) Allston and Kittredge (high priority).” So close to both the high school and the university, this would seem destined to become a hang out place to eat, like the median strip opposite the Cheeseboard. Is it being designed to make that safe and appealing? How will people using it be protected from cars passing by? And if they will not be protected from cars, what is its function and why is it desireable?

  • Oh brother. I can’t even imagine where your head is with that comment. I’m in the camp that demands balance. It seems you are in this camp ==>

  • bgal4

    Good catch Margit, not a wise choice.

  • Native Son

    Great comment. That was my first reaction upon reading the article. Less parking which equals less shopping in downtown Berkeley. Already parking is so limited that I avoid shopping downtown unless there is no other alternative. Since I live in southeast Berkeley I have the options of going to Montclair or other parts of Oakland. All are preferable to downtown Berkeley. If the City would jack up the meter rates so that people only park for an hour or so, then Berkeley would become a good place to shop.

  • Badgers

    So does this mean Jesse Arreguin will stop trying to make it easier for non residents to get RPP permits? Because ” green ” means LESS cars in Berkeley …

  • Guest

    Is this going to be the new “How Berkeley Can you Be” Parade route?
    We can finally have the “Green Bowl” at Memorial Stadium immediately following the Parade!
    Brought to you by Berkeley Patients Group?

  • Dass

    Bring back the Parade!

  • Japhy Writer

    Interesting point. Though I work downtown, I’m not familiar with the rush-hour traffic at those intersections. Are there any feasible traffic alternatives that still allow for an extension of the Ohlone Greenway to Oxford (which, by the way, would be great for cyclists)?

  • hilldah

    Do you drive to downtown SF to go shopping too?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    In principle, this sounds good. But how to prevent the greens from being a draw for even more street people?

  • Charles_Siegel

    That is one part of this plan that I expect will never happen. They would have to remove the diagonal parking to do this, and I don’t think businesses will go for that. And there are many other practical concerns about how it would work, as you say.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Downtown SF does have the sort of parking policy that I described. No matter how limited metered parking is, it makes sense to have pricing that keeps that parking available for shoppers.

    Sometimes shoppers do have a legitimate reason to drive to downtown SF to pick up some heavy object they purchased. It is good for those drivers to be able to park on the block where the store is, rather than parking many blocks away.

  • DerHerp

    Lock step with Cal long range development plans.
    Unfortunately neither Cal or Berkeley can pay for this without incurring massive debt :(
    You want to do it pay for it with bonds or save the money first.

  • Andrew Doran

    perhaps I’m over thinking it. If “calming” means one lane of through traffic, but dedicated turn lanes, like they did on lower Marin, it is probably fine. Look at the complete shit fit people had about that change that worked out just fine, exactly as the professional traffic engineers had predicted, but the “don’t change anything ever” crowd had insisted they knew better. I guess I’m just curious if that particular aspect of the traffic flow had been studied and considered solved/mitigated/dealt with.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There is another process where the consultants are studying in detail converting Hearst to two-lanes all the way up from Shattuck to Euclid. They are doing exactly what you say: keeping left turn lanes where they are needed, and even keeping extra lanes where they are needed for stacking cars. And as professional traffic engineers, they are counting the number of vehicles and making sure there is enough capacity for them.

    This is the “green bike lane” project that EBBC has been backing. You might have seen the mockup of it at the EBBC booth at Sunday Streets.

    At one public meeting, I told the consultants that they should look at the SOSIP and coordinate their plan with it.

  • RB

    I have a question that doesn’t at all pertain to the conversation at hand, but is there a reason you spell your name “Bezerkeley”? The usual term is “Berserkeley” or “Berzerkeley” with an R after the first E (the adjective is “berserk”).

  • So the comments section has dropped to the level of studying the etymology of a made up word (or in my case a name, which inherently gives it as much spelling flexibility as I want). Interesting & yet sad at the same time.

    There isn’t an agreed upon spelling

    You could always play the numbers game and do a Google search & count the reference results:
    1. Define Bezerkeley – 33,000 results
    2. Define Berzerkeley – 15,900 results
    3. Define Berserkeley – 8,110 results

    OR, you could stop there ask yourself the same question I’m asking myself right now. Can I ever get back the 5 minutes of my life that it took to consider this piece of Berkeley absurdity?

  • Andrew Doran

    Thanks Charles, I had seen some of the stuff regarding the green bike lane stuff on those same blocks of Hearst. Glad to hear that they may even be coordinated.

  • Igor Tregub

    I spoke with Planning Director Eric Angstandt at the Council meeting. Transit Demand Management pricing plans are not part of SOSIP per say. However, he plans to come back to Council in late 2013 with a proposal for Transportation and Parking Mitigation Fees, which would incorporate TDM policies. This will be the final leg of what amounts to the “three-legged stool” of SOSIP, parking impact fees, and the housing mitigation fee that passed last fall, finally comprising the major community benefits promised under the Downtown Area Plan.

  • That is the most convoluted B.S. I’ve read in a long time.

  • guest

    Maybe you can blame it on “Lori Hancock” [sic]?

  • Hi TL/BL, trolling again eh? They need a better IP filter on BS

  • I’m pleased about most of this plan. However, I’m curious why there is no explanation as to how cars will enter the parking lot behind BofA if that block of Center Street is closed to ordinary traffic.

    Also I hope that the “park block” (I can only guess what that means; it’s not defined) does not imply eliminating the traffic spaces on the East side of Shattuck between Kittredge and Bancroft. That’s a highly-trafficked block (Used Computer Store; Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, Peet’s, to name a few) and the spaces there are already at a premium.