Council weighs in on new downtown Berkeley plaza plans

For the first time last week, the Berkeley City Council weighed in on improvements planned for the downtown Berkeley plaza and BART station. (Click the image for details.) Image: BART

For the first time last week, the Berkeley City Council weighed in on improvements planned for the downtown Berkeley plaza and BART station. (Click the image for details.) Image: BART

Berkeley’s main downtown plaza is set for some major changes in the next few years, and the Berkeley City Council had a chance to share ideas about the project last week.

The project is driven in large part by BART, which intends to renovate its station entrances, improve travel through the plaza, at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, repave the area and make it easier to for visitors to navigate the area.

BART announced plans for the plaza late last year, and held public meetings in February and April to collect public feedback. 

Since the last public open house about the project, BART has held a series of meetings with numerous Berkeley groups, and came back last week with a new design for the main station entrance.

Berkeley Transportation Division manager Farid Javandel told the council last Tuesday night, July 1, about other changes since April, including the removal of landscaping and the addition of seating near buildings on the block, more attention to pedestrian travel paths and the needs of people making transit connections, and changes to an “art wall” to attach it to a venting structure on site.

Javandel said, currently, BART plans to pave most of the plaza with concrete, but will use a modular approach that would allow better materials to be added should more money become available.

Mayor Tom Bates said he is already trying to find money, from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission or other sources, to be able to pave the area with better materials, either from the start or at a later date.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he, too, would prefer “to have a higher grade finish” on the plaza, and those views were echoed by other members of the council, including Councilman Darryl Moore, who said the city deserves “something other than stamped concrete,” which “gets very dirty and nasty.”

The new BART rotunda, currently designed as a glass structure with triangular sides that’s set into a circle of walkable, obscured glass panels around it, met with mixed reviews.

Bates said the design had met with “almost uniform support” in a range of community meetings, and Councilman Jesse Arreguín — who represents downtown’s District 4 — said he liked the way sight lines throughout the plaza had been improved.

Arreguín described the project as a “huge shot in the arm to the downtown,” and said it was “incredibly exciting.”

Arreguín said he isn’t convinced, however, about the need for the glass panels in the ground, and suggested that money spent on those might be better used to improve the overall paving for the plaza. Several other council members concurred with that idea.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said she is concerned that the rotunda will become an “attractive nuisance” to people looking to climb on it.

“I’d hate to see this get all scratched up, and I’d hate to see somebody get hurt,” she said. She also asked BART to make sure there is ample space in the new plaza design for people getting dropped off from vehicles.

BART has the final say in what the rotunda will look like, and is somewhat constrained due to both cost and timing; the main entrance to the station would be closed during its construction, and BART must complete that piece of the project within 10-12 weeks.

Council members and members of the public also asked BART to add in more cover on the plaza for those needing shelter from rain or sun.

Officials asked, too, for BART to find space on the plaza or very nearby for a bicycle rental program that is slated to come to Berkeley next year.

Council members ultimately voted unanimously to approve the early designs in concept, and asked for better paving, more shelter and another look at alternatives to existing red brick structures around the satellite entrances that BART had planned to leave in place.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak injected perhaps the largest shot of creativity into the meeting, with ideas about public art on the plaza. Wozniak said he’d like to see an “iconic” structure on site, or “some whimsy,” such as “a mythical beast coming out of a netherworld,” like a dragon with wings, that could double as shelter from the rain.

“I’m not an architect or an artist, and it’s dangerous to ask people their opinions on these things,” he said, adding, “we want people to remember this BART station.”

The project team had planned for construction from September 2015 to February 2017. According to the staff report for last week’s meeting, state funding could potentially be delayed, so BART has applied for different state money to fill the gap. If BART does not receive that money, additional bridge funding will need to be identified to keep the project on schedule.

According to the staff report, the total cost for the project is listed as $11.2 million, to be paid for by federal grants and local matching funds. No fiscal impacts to the city budget are listed at this time.

Read more about the project in the City Council staff report prepared for last week’s meeting.

Berkeley BART plaza plans ‘not a bad first start’ (04.29.14)
Berkeley BART plaza workshop comes Monday (01.30.14)
Downtown Berkeley BART plaza slated for major overhaul (11.26.13)
Berkeley set for $12.7m in downtown transport grants (05.28.13)
Berkeley council approves plans to green downtown (01.30.13)
Berkeley’s downtown BART is all roses as part of clean-up (07.17.12)

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  • Ravening Lamprey

    which makes it obvious and derivative. As observed elsewhere on this thread, an opening like the gilt maw of a ravening lamprey is both apt and original.

  • Devin

    I think we can both agree that the design is a bit understated – well pretty much non-existent, but that could be for the best and calculated to cause the fewest waves as the design gets pushed forward. I’d also note that, as someone who has made many rendered views using sketchup and other programs, finding photos of people (and the permission to use them) to insert into your views is often a problem, and making them look like they’re actually occupying the fake space you’ve created can be challenging to say the least. Would taking the additional time (and money) to add a hat or open guitar case on the ground to make the buskers look more realistic really do anything (other than create a more realistic distraction, that you purportedly are encouraging people to “look beyond” yet wish to improve? In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more disingenuous statement than “I call attention to and make fun of the rendered people in the picture so that they become easier to look past and see the design itself for what it is.” Argument for argument sake is at best a waste of time; you sir, should become a lawyer.

  • gusted

    No Smoking, yes that includes pot, is your dog licensed? Vaccinated?
    Put that butt in the trash not on the sidewalk, animal control will be here in 5 minutes

  • gusted

    Thieves, thugs, gang members and drunk drivers are part of the community. Why should we not tolerate their behaviors?

  • John Freeman

    Why are you so keen to apologize for the renderings of an $11M+ plus project and personally insult someone who criticizes it? $11.2M dollars in business is getting divvied up among some powerful people to make a lasting change the very center of downtown Berkeley. The result may be around for generations. I would hope and presume the rendering is not casually tossed off.

    In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more disingenuous statement
    than “I call attention to and make fun of the rendered people in the
    picture so that they become easier to look past and see the design
    itself for what it is.”

    First, oh c’mon. “Disingenuous”?

    Second, it’s absolutely true. The picture, with the people, is constructed to evoke an instant emotional response. It is constructed to tell a story.

    The story is bull on its face. The emotional response they aim for is unearned.

    Look at the picture in that light. Somebody did that to it on purpose. Parse it. It’s a propaganda form. See both what’s really in the design and what the advocates want you think is there that really isn’t.

    If you want to question motives, rather than mine I think you should start with theirs.

  • T

    There are some real use cases this design needs to solve. Hobos and transients are all over this plaza. If there are no policies or design features in view that will displace them, then it is disingenuous to present to design the does not depict them defiling the place.

  • guest

    This is a traditional style of architectural rendering, John.

    You’ll see images like this from all kinds of firms for all kinds of projects.
    Your personal dislike of the contemporary styling of architectural rendering doesn’t seem very relevant.

  • guest

    Here’s a hypothesis: [baseless, arrogant, angry class-based bigotry]

    If your goal is for people to discredit yourself to the point where no one will pay attention to anything you say you’re doing a smashing job.

  • guest

    Offer anything nicer and it quickly becomes destroyed and makes the area a magnet for homeless. See the bathrooms in the Civic Center park as an example.

  • susankl

    Aren’t people put into architectural drawings to indicate scale??

  • berkeleygrl

    i hope they really think this through and have some good ideas about preventing vandalism and removing the nasty elements that keep many of us away from downtown. and if the “art” they have in mind is anything like that abomination at the foot of university avenue, please save our money and forget it.

  • Whoa Mule

    The comments above are reflected in the reviews left on Yelp for some of the new apartment buildings in the area. The residents report on the shock of leaving thier $3K mo. apartments to find the street scene described above. And the panhandlers seem to have grown more aggressive as their numbers have swelled.

    The presence of the street people has become a significant headwind to the proposed residential buildings, which are already marginally feasible.

  • berkeleygrl

    i can’t remember being in any of the great plazas of the world which are populated by so many homeless people. gypsies, yes. other countries seem to have more pride in maintaining the quality of their public spaces.

  • susankl

    isn’t there a downtown business association, like the North Berkeley merchants association? Why in heaven’s name don’t they have security people and cleaning people? I went into Wells Fargo a few months ago to report a lot of trash in front of the bank and ask for a clean-up. “We clean once a day,” was the response. Whaaat? You don’t clean when it is necessary to clean?? If the area around the BART station were clean and pleasant, wouldn’t business improve??

  • guest

    SF has 25 public toilets:

  • John Freeman

    In part but as you can see they are arranged for other purposes as well.

    Aren’t people put into architectural drawings to indicate scale??

  • John Freeman

    The “style” of the rendering is not at issue. The content and the message it is meant to convey is at issue.

    This is a traditional style of architectural rendering, John.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Everyone in Berkeley and their dog has a Maybeck-style trellis.”

    That is exactly why it would be a good symbol of Berkeley. We could use a trellis that is reminiscent of all the other trellises in Berkeley but that is also distinctive – as the trellis on Maybeck’s church is.

    Modernists can’t resist the impulse to reject the past totally in order to be original, which is why their designs are meaningless. They don’t have the symbolic resonance that comes from long use.

    I expect that if modernists had been around during the middle ages in a European city that was beginning to build a cathedral, they would have said: “Every city in Europe has a cathedral. It is a visual cliche. We should build a blob coated with titanium instead.”

  • guest

    He objects to the fact that it depicts humans who appear happy. Misery and despair are the only acceptable conditions for humans in Berkeley, didn’t you know? Happiness (and any effort to increase it) is synonymous with oppression.

  • guest

    That would have been the most kickass European city of the Middle Ages!

  • Osowoofy

    Absolutely. It’s gotten really bad in Berkeley. My partner and I were gay-bashed in the past year and we haven’t been back there (Yes, police report filed — BPD were amazingly responsive).
    Drunken, drugged-out vagrants lying around screaming and harrassing people aren’t the types I want in my community. Have at it though if you want those types in yours, Toots.

  • Osowoofy

    Actually I was told by Berkeley PD that it wasn’t illegal to be screaming homophobic epithets by the thugs that gay-bashed us.

  • EBGuy

    Sigh… Perhaps you can lead us in a discussion of the similarities between gutter punks and gypsies. I’d start us off, but I’m at a bit of a loss.

  • Mbfarrel

    Well I have seen crowds like that many times Downtown; maybe not so many guys in shorts. But that was before being “Progressive” became such a fetish.

  • guest

    Clearly you have never tried to actually relieve yourself in one of those toilets-cum-homeless-storage-lockers.

  • John Freeman


    The Roma, like the kids you see on the street, are taking a lot of undeserved collective blame and scapegoating. Reactionary voices invoke old-school fascist tropes about moral degeneracy and societal decay. Extremists decry civil liberties protections when they apply to these groups and express interest in the collective removal of these groups by the state strong-arm tactics. These voices seem to grow louder during prolonged economic crises such as what we are in.

    Even berkeleygrl here has provided a soft-pedaled example by praising Europeans for (in her perception) purging its plazas of homeless even though they haven’t yet got around to the Roma. If the Right in Europe does start disappearing Roma from the main society I guess berkeleygrl has in some ways asked us to think its just a matter of tidying up the streets.

    Perhaps you can lead us in a discussion of the similarities between gutter punks and gypsies

  • guest
  • EBGuy

    And in other news of the world: Laura’s Law passes easily in S.F. supervisors’ vote. Hopefully well see a full scale roll out in Alameda County as well (after the 5 person trial). This will allow disturbed individuals to get the help they need. As a side benefit it should also make the commons accessible to everyone.

  • guest

    Don’t forget his love of the gutted out, decaying former Department of Health Bldg (now replaced by the Helios Bldg). A consistent champion of decrepitude!

  • berkeleyan

    >This is the role of the DBA Ambassadors
    As decided by whom?
    i’m not so sure i want a private security force in my downtown.

  • guest

    It is just incredible to me that so many in Berkeley defend this behavior and smugly believe it has anything to do with “free speech.” It’s OK to be weird and outlandish – I’m all for it! — and to espouse whatever beliefs you wish. It is not OK to assault and batter other pedestrians.

  • guest


    AAAALLLLL RIGHT! Goodwin’s Law invoked, I get to mark another square on my Berkeleyside Bingo card!

  • John Freeman

    As decided by whom?

    A few wealthy property owners. With a 71% vote (weighted by property value assessment) they imposed a special property tax downtown (called a “Property Based Business Improvement District”).

    Spending of the tax money is administered by the Downtown Berkeley Association, a non-profit org.

    The private security and cleaning crew are paid from those funds. The crew are not employed directly but through a national corporation that sells similar arrangements to other cities around the country. There is a similar crew working up at Telegraph now. (The green shirts are downtown, the orange shirts on Telegraph.)

  • guest

    If nothing else, how about a $1 per use toilet with an attendant so that there is at least a cash option for using a clean and safe bathroom. It isn’t the responsibility of local businesses to provide bathrooms for the public. Everybody needs a bathroom sometimes.

  • guest

    They are not a “private security force.” They are not armed or authorized to do anything other than talk to people. Mainly they pick up the truckloads of litter strewn about and help people with directions. They can also call the police when they see problems erupting (just as anyone can and should).

  • guest

    And Downtown has been greatly improved by their presence. It is noticeably cleaner and more filled with people from a cross section of the Berkeley demographic than it was prior to the BID. Telegraph so far appears more hopeless.

  • Jason D

    Boy, people here in “Berkeley” seem to love beating each other up and insulting one another. Did the image of “Peace and Love” that so many around the world have when they think of Berkeley ever exist? It certainly doesn’t now…

    With that said, I think designers could come up with a more original concept for $11 million. The main BART entrance we have now is glass too if I am not mistaken… Next time any of you use the escalators to enter or exit the station, take a good look up. See how filthy that glass is? What would make this “New” design any different and cleaner?

  • Whoa Mule


    Berkeleyside comments section has an inclusionary set-aside whereby 40% of the section is reserved for cranky people. We honor all members of the community.

    Peace and Love,

    da’ Mule