An estimated 120 people showed up to the South Berkeley Senior Center on a recent weekend to learn about a new planning process underway by the city to consider what could be big changes along the Adeline Corridor.
The Jan. 31 meeting was primarily an information session to let people know how they can participate in the process, set to last 24-30 months, which will be overseen by Berkeley-based consultant MIG. Last year, the city of Berkeley won a $750,000 planning grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to fund the process, which is set to look at everything from community character and business activity to open space, jobs, housing, parking, sidewalks and lighting, historic preservation and transit.
Many in attendance were forceful in their insistence that the city must commit to keeping the neighborhood, and the process, inclusive and diverse.
Read more about Adeline Street in past Berkeleyside coverage.
“They were setting the anchor point for future negotiations,” said Berkeley native and Planning Commission member Ben Bartlett, of the crowd. He said some longtime residents told the city they were concerned the process would be a repeat of a previous plan to rezone the area, a plan he said neighbors managed to derail. “It was emotional, but I’m confident the issues will be worked out.”
Bartlett also said the area has many positive attributes already, from vibrant community events such as Juneteenth, and numerous non-profit and service agencies that offer job training and other needed assistance, to its antique shops and recent spate of new restaurants. Not to mention its “tremendous history” and continuing tradition of culture and art, he added.
“There’s a good culture here,” he said Monday. “There’s work to be done for sure, and too much asphalt that needs to be reshaped. But I think we have a good start.”
The city has created a new website and email list, which ultimately will include more interactive ways for people to give feedback, to help residents stay informed about the planning process.
City land use planning manager Carol Johnson said the city will make every effort to spread the word about its plans through grassroots channels as well, via hand-delivered fliers and posters at local businesses, and outreach through neighborhood churches and other organizations.
Johnson said numerous attendees made it clear to the city that they are not happy with what appears to be declining diversity in the neighborhood, and asked the city to investigate what steps could be taken to limit the impact of gentrification in South Berkeley. She said the city will undertake a literature review to see what has worked elsewhere in that regard.
“The neighbors in general have said they see this area changing,” she said. “We want to understand what that change is about, and how to guide the change in the way that has the most positive impact for the neighborhood.”
Johnson said MIG will put together an “asset map” of the neighborhood that will provide an overview of its demographics, land use designations, historic properties, publicly-owned buildings and more. From there, MIG will launch a “visioning process” to hear from the community about what it wants to see along the Adeline Corridor.
“We don’t have any preconceived notions at all,” she said Monday. “It’s really up to the neighborhood to tell us what they want.”
In coming months, MIG will hold smaller sessions with faith-based organizations and social services providers, and other groups such as property and business owners, to collect feedback. MIG also plans to schedule meetings with small groups interested in specific issues; some possibilities that have come up include streetlights and sidewalk conditions.
The city plans to hold its next broad-based community workshop on the Adeline project in May.
Longer term, the city will analyze the ideas that come in to see what is feasible, said Johnson, and will look for dollars to fund physical changes to the local infrastructure.
Johnson said the city will definitely be looking closely at the Ashby BART station, with an eye toward how to make its sprawling parking lot “less of a hole or a dead space in the neighborhood,” and to make the area overall more pedestrian friendly.
The city is forming a five-person advisory group to help guide the process. The deadline for applications from those who wish to participate is Feb. 20, and details are online.
Patrick Dooley, a longtime neighborhood resident and the artistic director for Shotgun Players — on Ashby Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way — said Monday that he’s optimistic about what might be possible as a result of the public process.
“South Berkeley hasn’t really gotten much love in the 20 years that I’ve been around here,” he said. “I think just having that kind of a grant, with the whole community taking the time to look at it and see what’s possible, what’s the best way to use the open space: All of that seems exciting to me.”
Dooley said, too, that the BART station serves a physical obstacle that splits the area, and hopes the process will surface some solutions about how to make the neighborhood more connected. Finding ways to make Adeline less vehicle-centric, and safer for bikes and pedestrians, will be another challenge.
Dooley said “there were a lot of people that were very angry” about the changing neighborhood demographics and diminishing diversity around the Adeline Corridor. And he said the city didn’t do itself any favors by failing to address those issues head on at the meeting.
“They have to really make a seat at the table for everybody … and be willing to hear their concerns,” he said, of the upcoming process, adding that he thinks the city heard the issues that were raised, and will be more sensitive to them in the future. “No one’s going to have all the solutions: We’re going to need to find them together. And we’re not going to solve it by yelling and screaming.”
The area’s opportunities, as listed in a city presentation about the Adeline Corridor, include the possibility of sites for new housing, retail and public amenities; the potential for “placemaking” projects; the growth of the “Ashby Arts District,” as well as its restaurant and retail scene; and more support for low-income residents and the businesses that serve them.
Challenges listed (page 17) include a “high concentration of inactive uses” — such as vacant lots and storefronts — as well as illegal housing conversions, a lack of significant “destination retail” and office space, income inequality and an “unsatisfactory pedestrian environment.”
Mayor Tom Bates said he was pleased at the turnout for the Jan. 31 meeting, particularly as it was just an information session. He said Monday he sees many of the area’s challenges as “great opportunities” — from the width of Adeline Street, which could one day be partially converted into a park, to the sprawling parking lot at Ashby BART, which could eventually be home to other uses in addition to its popular flea market.
As far as the issue of diversity, Bates said maintaining economic diversity may prove even more of a challenge than keeping the area racially diverse. According to a city report presented Jan. 31, the median home price has gone up from less than $175,000 in 1997 to about $700,000 in 2013.
“We’re putting together some of our best thinkers to see what can be done about it,” he said. “I want to look at everything possible.”
Councilman Max Anderson, who represents South Berkeley, also attended the Jan. 31 meeting, but did not respond Monday to a request for comment about the project.
The area covered by the grant includes the Lorin District commercial area; the Berkeley Bowl, Walgreens and Any Mountain shopping area; the Ed Roberts Campus and parking lot; the Ashby BART station and parking lot; and the intersections of Ashby and Alcatraz avenues with Adeline.
The South Shattuck area is also involved, including the auto dealership cluster, an approved 155-unit mixed-use development project called Parker Place, and the Sports Basement store in the former Berkeley Iceland skating rink, according to a prior statement. That translates into 100 acres in Berkeley, from Dwight Way south to 62nd Street, according to the city.
Questions about the project can be directed to Alisa Shen, the city’s principal planner and project manager for the Adeline Corridor effort, at 510-981-7409 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the grant in past Berkeleyside coverage. See the city’s project website here.
Public meeting on Adeline Corridor on Saturday (01.30.15)
$750K grant may bring big changes to South Berkeley (08.19.14)
Domino’s wins approval to open in South Berkeley (07.11.14)
Berkeley kicks off Adeline Corridor improvements push (03.27.14)
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