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John King: Keeping downtown Berkeley’s design distinctive is a tall order

BAM:PFA. Photo- Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
The newly emerging BAM/PFA building in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

By John King / San Francisco Chronicle

A walk through downtown Berkeley reveals a treasure of pre-World War II architecture, different styles and materials blending together in comfortable structures that were built for their time but seem to grow in stature with each passing decade.

The newer buildings? Not so much. And the ones on deck — one as tall as anything now there — could be even less satisfying.

The problem isn’t the scale of what’s proposed, or the architectural mishmash in the mix. It’s the way that a confusing process encourages checklists over creativity, while opponents would rather fight to stop nearly all change, rather than find ways to make that change enrich downtown’s sense of place.


Nearly 20 projects are now in the works in the area roughly bounded by Berkeley Way on the north, Dwight Way on the south, UC Berkeley on the east and the Civic Center on the west.

Together they include more than 1,500 housing units. There also are two hotels, plus the new home for the Berkeley Art Museum /Pacific Film Archive that will open in January. In size, they range from discreet mid-block additions to a trio of proposals more than 10 stories high.

A big reason for the boom is the underlying appeal of Berkeley itself, with its campus and its tumultuous legacy of cultural adventure. Downtown has a BART station, and nearby Emeryville is home to such desirable employers as Pixar and Novartis.

Paul Chinn
Early construction on the residential and retail Stone Fire project is underway at University Avenue and Milvia Street in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Several multi-level residential and commercial development projects are changing the landscape of the downtown area. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

The stepped-up development is being encouraged by Berkeley’s political establishment and the City Council, which in 2012 passed a downtown plan that emphasizes the environmental virtues of centered growth. When opponents tried to undermine the plan last year with a ballot initiative that in essence would raise the bar so high as to prevent almost any substantial new buildings, voters rejected it by a 74-26 percent margin.

But if the momentum for growth is real and steeped in social trends of the moment, the buildings that result are mired in the past.

Not taking risks

Forget Berkeley’s political liberalism: For many local residents, conservative architecture is their creed. The review process, meanwhile, is a confusing journey that many applicants respond to by doing just enough to win their approvals.

Unlike San Francisco, where the Planning Department hashes out design issues before a project goes to the City Planning Commission for a yes-or-no vote, Berkeley’s planners exist mainly to make sure paperwork is in order. Design issues are hashed out at either the Design Review Committee or the Landmarks Preservation Commission before going to the Zoning Adjustments Board.

In other words, design by committee. There’s a presentation and then a series of responses from intelligent but opinionated appointees. Citizen commenters weigh in, not always on point. Architects retreat to lick their wounds and compare notes, then return a few months later with changes in hand for round two. Repeat as needed.

This explains why many projects play it safe. A building going up at Shattuck Avenue and Dwight Way, for instance, is in streamlined moderne style — a design motif found nowhere else downtown except for the decade-old neighbor next door. The corner of University Avenue and Milvia Street is about to sprout an eight-story building that began as Tuscan Lite but now is a subdued collage of setbacks and bays in no discernible style…

Striving to be noticed

Two of the largest projects now being reviewed are more ambitious. They also show the strains of trying at once to stand out and fit in.

One is a 12-story box of 98 apartments that would replace what now is a low corner of retail buildings at Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. The longtime landowner hired Bay Architects, founded in 1980 by James Novosel. The firm has done some good work, especially in historic restoration, but it has never worked on anything of this scale.

First shown in April 2014 to the Design Review Committee, the fourth iteration of the proposal was presented this month. Initially, it came in washed-out hues with a pitched roof at each corner, then a vaguely southwestern theme with three peaks along Shattuck, then a darker and more stately package vaguely reminiscent of a 1920s East Coast apartment block. Now the bottom nine floors wear light terra-cotta … topped by a three-story glass summit with horizontal metal accents.

This is architecture as camouflage, like a portly man trying on a procession of snug suits to see which one best hides his girth. After a back-and-forth during which unimpressed-looking commissioners offered comments, committee Chairman Burton Edwards sent off Novosel — himself a planning commissioner — with a dutiful “perhaps it needs a little bit of tweaking.”

Despite its height, this project hasn’t stirred much reaction from growth-wary residents — maybe because their ire has been aimed at downtown’s largest development project in 40-plus years.

It’s an 18-story housing block that would rise behind the historic Shattuck Hotel at Kittredge Street and Harold Way. The height would match or slightly exceed downtown’s two existing towers.

A multi-story residential building under construction on Addison Street backs up against two smaller buildings accessed off of University Avenue in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Several multi-level residential and commercial development projects are changing the landscape of the downtown area. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle
A multi-story residential building under construction on Addison Street backs up against two smaller buildings accessed off of University Avenue in Berkeley, Calif. on Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Several multi-level residential and commercial development projects are changing the landscape of the downtown area. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Generation gap

Opponents have attacked 2211 Harold from every conceivable angle since the “conceptual application” was filed in December 2012 (it now is nearing a final vote, though critics already have threatened to sue). This includes a petition with 1,500 signers objecting to how the project’s north edge marred the view of the bay from the top of the steps to the Campanile tower, a campus landmark.

Most of the attacks, though, come from longtime city residents who seem repelled by the idea that young people with good jobs might want an urban buzz close to home. At the Landmarks Preservation Commission this month, for instance, roughly 50 people spoke against the proposal before it was approved on a 6-3 vote. The website Berkeleyside reported that one speaker told the commission he and other critics are in their 50s and 60s and should be listened to because they are the “the intellectual and cultural treasure of Berkeley.”

It’s a generation gap of sorts, the 1960s turned on its head. Don’t trust anyone under 40.

What gets lost in the acrimony is that 2211 Harold isn’t good design. It’s a real estate deal packaged for developer Hill Street Realty by SVA Architects as an unconvincing attempt to make one building look like three. The centerpiece would be 18 stories in thin-brick veneer, with lower glass-clad wings to the north and east. And when the 12-story northern wing was pulled back 23 feet to remove any impact on the view from the Campanile steps, the trimmed space was stacked on top of the eastern wing — boosting it to 16 stories, nearly the height of its brick “neighbor.”

Multiple pressures

In a different scenario, city planners would keep the setback but veto the inflation, like a squeezed balloon, of the eastern wing. Make the project a bit smaller, accept a smaller check for development fees.

Opponents, meanwhile, could pressure City Hall to make the project better — improving the details, thinning the bulk, putting pressure to include affordable housing. Instead, they seem to glory in the role of martyrs, true believers fighting the tide of techies and Manhattanization.

Berkeley remains distinctive. The downtown is more engaging than it was a generation ago, in large part because of the focused growth. But in terms of creating urbane structures that will endure, the city that gave us such renowned architects as Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck has seen much better days.

John King, the San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic and a Berkeley resident, took his regular Cityscape series and coverage to Berkeley in August. Story reprinted with permission from the San Francisco Chronicle. King’s new book,“Cityscapes 2: Reading the Architecture of San Francisco” published by Berkeley’s Heyday, was published on Sept. 1. Reach John King by email: jking@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @johnkingsfchron

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  • justiceplease

    Since I don’t have children, I actually have no opinion on the Berkeley school situation. I was simply stating that it’s hypocritical to be claiming there is no discrimination on the one hand while trying to improve the chances of discrimination in favor of your own children on the other.

  • justiceplease

    Actually, I wish I could fund the stamps. Because of the amount of bureaucracy handled by mail, the cost of stamps becomes an “unfunded mandate” that is foisted on very poor people, including people with no direct cash income at all. State of California job applications require stamps. Submitting the paperwork for student loan forbearances and deferments requires stamps. Having to pay bills via mail if you don’t have online banking requires stamps. Corresponding with Social Security requires stamps. If you are following up with any bureaucratic inquiry, that requires stamps. Writing your doctor requires stamps.

    There are tons of unfunded mandates pushed on to poor people, but the need to pay for all this bureaucracy is one of the most egregious.

  • Gusted

    My son lives in Oakland, but he’s more a part of the community than the self important transplants that feel so special because they moved here.

  • guest

    ATTENTION: To those who may have recently received the City of Berkeley’s acceptance of their application for “Victimhood”: Free lamination of your certificate and a reduced size placard for personal wear are available at City Hall. Courtesy of the Justiceweez Foundation, along with free stamps and BART passes.

  • guest

    Jus’pees:
    “…they wouldn’t continually be making a fuss about Berkeley schools…”

    God Bless you! Finally an opinion I can embrace! 
    I cannot agree with you more: The out of district admissions are seriously OUT OF CONTROL!

    BTF advocates this school stuffing for one reason: the $7,550 in CA State matching funding which BUSD receives for every kid recruited a from neighboring district. 

    I’m sure the school administrators in Oakland and Richmond appreciate BUSD’s initiative in scarfing up those loose kids and the dough, thus relieving them of the difficult task of deciding how to spend that money on their own residents!

    Anymore real world thinking lurking under your dizzy facade?

  • Guest

    Why, exactly, does anyone comment here? There’s real work to be done in the world.

  • justiceplease

    Only various political ideologies make assertions about other people’s self-management, and those ideologies are unfounded. When academics bother to study the matter, they discover the conditions that limit ostensible choices and shape opportunities: race, health inequities, family background, etc.

    If people “who comment here” weren’t aware of that, they wouldn’t continually be making a fuss about Berkeley schools.

  • Gusted
  • guest

    “positional advantage” = “where I am vs. where you are”

    Once you’re as literate as JusticaPorFavor (and according to her/him, living securely in Berkeley) – “Where” you are, is the result of a lifetime of personal choices. 

    When those choices collect under the heading of “poor self management”, bright people often choose to declare “victimhood”, a bankruptcy of responsibility for their lifetime of actions and decisions. It makes perfect sense to cast this filing as a grander cause than it is.

    That, in a rent controlled nut shell, describes many who comment here.

  • justiceplease

    Good luck “telling” people Ayn Rand’s message. There’s a reason that most of her “true believers” are young white males – they know under terms of absolute liberty to do whatever they want to other people, they will be able to exploit their positional advantage. Then one day they realize that everyone else is just ignoring their crap.

  • guest

    Justasqueasy,

    How often must you be told? Your idiosyncratic desiring of social engineering is contrary to the best interest of society. Society moves forward on the backs of the capable. Be capable or live in Fremont.

  • justiceplease

    What a convenient, yet regularly debunked, translation!

    Employment – particularly well-paying employment – discrimination is a fact in Berkeley. You might want to check out the NAACP report on City government for starters. Is the problem that those low income folks just don’t have a quality education? You yourself point up the regular attempts of the well-placed elite to keep the poor folk out of Berkeley’s schools.

    As for the rights of the “property owners”: since 2008 the people who were already well-capitalized have been enjoying an almost zero interest rate and plenty of Federal incentives to invest in development. While continually spitting on the poor, who don’t get enough help to actually climb out of their situation, the rich have enjoyed to what amounts to “nationalizing” housing on their behalf. Even wealthy individuals enjoy “corporate welfare” if you take these property gifts into account.

    Instead of rejoicing in their good fortune at the expense of the taxpayers, the people who hoovered up this cheap property try to extract speculation-level rents from everyone who didn’t get in on that game. This originally mainly hurt very low income people who have been besieging Berkeley’s thin resources about the housing crisis for several years. Then as speculation continued to grow, even young people with good jobs started to notice they can’t afford the rent either: suddenly a problem that only affected poor people became a priority since it began to affect people who count.

    Your Ayn Rand theories fail because there is no ideal free market. There is heavy intervention in the market on behalf of the rich and constant sabotaging of the poor that drives people into homelessness.

  • justiceplease

    There is plenty of organization going on right now to attempt to resist the overweening influence of outside money in Berkeley politics. SF BARF’s organization isn’t “grass roots”, it’s astroturf. That’s an outside organization with paid staff who are recruiting people from outside Berkeley to attend City Council meetings, commission meetings, developer meetings “with the community”, and local community organizations. These fake “young people” are there to spread Ayn Rand-like propaganda about building market rate housing. They are called by the head of the downtown business association, the Mayor’s office staff, and developers to give support to their efforts and to create the appearance of some small element of community support: SF BARF is used by the rich and the powerful to “manufacture consent”.

  • justiceplease

    I can see how it’s in the interest of Realtor’s to spread that kind of rumor. However, there are also seeds of truth in it. I’ve read a US government report on foreign investments in college towns, and it makes me wonder if some of the speculation problems could be alleviated by policy intervention in foreign investment.

  • justiceplease

    SF BARF is run by a paid staff in Oakland. I also know who is making mean-spirited “gray beards” and “crone” comments here, but, out of respect for privacy issues, I’m not going to name them. However, the “astroturf” issue is proven to my satisfaction.

  • justiceplease

    I’ve lived in Berkeley for close to 30 years, but longevity is not how I define “True Berkeley”. The stakeholders in the development discussion are people who have chosen to make their home in Berkeley. That choice might be a recent one, but involves a commitment to working for the good of the entire community, as opposed to SF BARF’s idea that they can infiltrate lobbyists to “creatively destroy” Berkeley in order to institute a market-rate regime. (This may or may not free up apartments for the wealthier “young” tech workers who are after them, but it most certainly hands what remains of Berkeley to speculator schemes.) SF BARF’s paid staff *in Oakland* does not represent the good of the community. People coming from Richmond and San Francisco to pretend to be part of the Berkeley community at City Council meetings do not represent Berkeley.

  • Gusted

    They do indeed

  • guest

    How is it denigration of seniors and disabled people to ask if they can work? Many do and find it rewarding, beyond the financial aspects. If you can’t work, affording to live in Berkeley relies on programs beyond the City’s scope.

  • guest

    Driving and parking move consumers around and allow them to support local businesses. Without things like driving and parking many beloved Berkeley institutions, like Berkeley Bowl, could not exist.

  • guest

    LOL! Do you think that the anti-development crones don’t organize?

  • Guest

    The “Crazy All-Cash Chinese Investor” thing is a boogeyman cooked up by the local Realtor’s board to goad buyers into overbidding on homes.

  • Curious

    You’ve made these accusations about “paid astroturfers” in other local publications. Do you have any evidence supporting this claim?

  • Gusted

    “Berkeley is for the people who live here”
    When did you arrive? Classic Last off the Boat attitude that drives so many older Berkeleyites to fight change. Obviously Berkeley was perfect when they arrived. The “True Berkeley” must be saved!

  • justiceplease

    The so-called “advice” is a lame attempt to intimidate others from commenting.

    If SFBARF has a valid point, they shouldn’t have to make denigration of seniors and disabled people the basis of their argument.

  • justiceplease

    If that were true, Caner wouldn’t need to email SF BARF to schedule their support, and there would be people unaffiliated with a lobbying organization showing up to support him.

  • fredwerner

    As a Berkeley resident, I’ve been excited about the prospects of ecologically-friendly concentrated development downtown. But I share John King’s sadness that what’s planned sounds very generic and bland and likely to make downtown less appealing and pleasant. At one meeting, a commissioner sadly commented that building’s design looked quite appropriate for Walnut Creek. What will it take to actually achieve the stated goals for downtown?: sustainable design/construction, affordable housing, visually appealing architecture…

  • fredwerner

    I too often disagree with John King’s reviews, but I agree with him on this one.

  • guest

    John Caner speaks for more people in Berkeley than you do. You speak for a small extreme fringe.

  • justiceplease

    Nothing is holding landlords back from Ellis Act evictions in Berkeley now. Members of the Berkeley Property Owners Association is already promoting the “financial feasibility” of Ellis Act evictions.

    Berkeley needs to secure anti-displacement tools and policies before anything else, since the Mayor’s favored approach of market rate housing seems to be intended to sacrifice the people who already live here in favor of an invasion force of wealthy people who think the combination of their money and their demand entitles them to take homes from any weaker party getting in their way.

  • justiceplease

    Berkeley is for the people who live here: the whole point of making the town look nicer and “expanding the tax base” should be for them. Out of town investors are only about extracting money from Berkeley, and the way they have fomented the housing crisis only sabotages the low income residents of Berkeley.

    Same thing with SFBARF: they promote Libertarian ideas, not affordable housing. Some may be paid well enough that they are hoping to grab some property after they undermine the City’s zoning laws and current affordable housing tools until they’ve pushed current low income “gray beard” residents out of their way. I know John Caner is one of the SFBARF coordinators, but his views are hardly representative of Berkeley. The fact he has to call a lobbying group for support in the first place should be the first clue that no one buys the “make our town look nicer and expanding our tax base argument.” In fact, it’s ridiculous that Berkeley tax dollars are going to fund John Caner’s position, considering it’s so obviously unrepresentative. At least Caner’s need to recruit SFBARF exposes the fiction of the “passive majority”. Oh yeah, I forgot about the other coordinator: an employee of the Mayor’s office who calls for BARFers to come to Council meetings on City time.

  • justiceplease

    There’s a planning process going on in my neighborhood right now, and that will determine what people want. SFBARF has tried to crash it, but this only highlighted that they are the same 3-4 “youth”, and that their Libertarian propaganda doesn’t have any traction with the people who actually live there.

  • guest

    Bravo! You really did know Alan! He would have loved your comment.

  • Huh?

    Wait, you’re mad because people want to invest in making our town look nicer and expanding our tax base?

  • Not speculation

    > certain amenities designed to appeal to higher income residents than those that currently live in the neighborhood,

    What do you have in mind? And why do you imagine that it’s a problem to provide what people want? Your grandmother probably didn’t go to nail salons as a young woman….

  • Tseug

    I can assure you that I’m not paid to post. I’m also not the same poster as guest above, though I do agree with what s/he wrote.

    Why are you unwilling to consider this good advice?

  • Old Folk

    I knew Alan Temko and King’s no Alan Temko. Even Alan wasn’t, from time to time.

  • justiceplease

    SFBARF pays employees to keep up the astroturf: apparently being an avid poster (under a variety of pseudonyms, including “guest”) works out financially for some people.

  • justiceplease

    While I’m not involved in the real estate industry, the Hong Kong junket issue come from a neighbor whose son is in the real estate industry.

  • guest

    If you were a friend of Ada Louise Huxtable, you are in no position to refer to others as “old folks.”

  • guest

    As a friend of both Alan Temko and Ada Louise Huxtable, I can tell you John King’s chief grace is his distaste for Stanlee Gatti (the window dresser Willie Brown empowered to design the plaza in front of the Ferry Building.) 

    However, in this article I tip my hat to him for summarizing the old folks attempted blockade of changing times.

  • Guest

    “I agree with the planning process.” What the heck does that mean? Do you agree with Bates and his cronies making back room deals outside of the public process? Do you agree with city boards and commissions being appointed by council and fired if they don’t do as ordered, if, for example, they closely review all the material including 500+ EIR’s and conclude in good conscience that the project is deeply flawed but then they vote as ordered so they don’t get fired as Rose Marie Pietras got fired when the mayor found out she said, in a private exchange, that she was leaning towards preserving the Campanile View, which is a world renown symbol of Berkeley CA and not just some trifling view of a tiny bit of the bridge. (NOTE: the Campanile was built before the bridge and it preserves the view of the natural golden gate from Pacific into the Bay, not a tiny glimpse of a piece of the bridge).

    Do you agree with ZAB members not reading EIR’s but still voting on projects? Is that the planning process you agree with?

    If you think Berkeley has a coherent, sensible planning process, instead of a circus of political game-players all seeking to kiss up to politico players with more clout than them, you do not understand Berkeley’s planning process.

    There is no planning process. Just corruption, deal making, flouting of democracy, wholesale disregard of any public participation and deals for campaign donations — if not for elections, the money gets donated for ballot initiatives.

    The ‘planning process’ in Berkeley is about money and connections, not about what is right for Berkeley and with no concern whatsoever about integrity, serving the citizenry.
    Is this the process you agree with Garen? If so, God help you.

  • the_Hammerhead

    LOL. How many of these junkets have you been on?

  • guest

    “A much better approach would be to get Costa Hawking overthrown, implement a windfall tax and other anti-speculation policy measures, and respect long term residents of Berkeley by ceasing to threaten them with displacement.”

    “Justiceplease”, not living in Berkeley won’t kill you. Anymore than your living in Berkeley now has a wonderful effect on the city. 

    As others suggest, the best defense is a good offense: Learn a skill, make some money. Or move. 

    The future won’t be any kinder because you were an avid poster. Really it won’t.

  • justiceplease

    It’s speculation if people are buying real estate as an investment pursuit rather than housing and, further, engaging in activities to artificially inflate the value of that property. Issuing propaganda for changes of zoning laws, promoting certain amenities designed to appeal to higher income residents than those that currently live in the neighborhood, and planting rumors about the “hot market” are all contributing factors to speculation. When real estate agents go on junkets to other countries to peddle whole packages of Berkeley properties as an investment, that’s speculation.

  • Testify!

    Wow

  • TL;dr

    It isn’t speculation if someone pays it. Perhaps through pursuit of gainful employment instead of blog comments, that someone could be you!

  • justiceplease

    The parking requirement is also a major negotiating tool for the lower income community. This requirement is such an impediment to windfall rents (no rent will be lowered by granting an exemption on parking – it’s always as high as the market will bear) that developers will negotiate.

    The end run Big Developers are doing to the State in the name of “the environment” will take yet another affordable housing tool out of the hands of the community. This is another Costa Hawkins.

  • justiceplease

    I agree about the uninspiring architecture.

    IMHO, the reason for the “generation gap” isn’t age per say. This is a fight over rent control. Older people are more likely to be preserving the affordability of their housing through long-time tenure in rent controlled units. Younger people don’t get that benefit because of the Costa Hawkins lawsuit: vacancy decontrol means any unit that is free for a young person to move into gets bumped up to speculation rent and newer units can’t be covered by rent control at all.

    Therefore, younger people who need low income housing are likely to try to achieve this through trickle-down density. Older people don’t think such trickle down works in Berkeley’s high-demand circumstances: what they see is youngsters demanding over-priced units that they won’t be able to afford, and that will also displace people by fueling rent spikes on vacancy decontrolled units and increasing speculation so that tenants get their housing sold out from under them (with no place to go once that happens) and Berkeley’s shrinking rent-controlled stock shrinks some more.

    What does this have to do with the “design by committee”, eternal planning process, and uninspired buildings? The democratic aspects of Berkeley’s planning process allow people to fight against the forces of displacement by appealing to environmental, design, and planning problems.

    A much better approach would be to get Costa Hawking overthrown, implement a windfall tax and other anti-speculation policy measures, and respect long term residents of Berkeley by ceasing to threaten them with displacement. Regarding the specific problems of “the young”, the University needs to step up with providing housing for it’s radical growth in student attendance: the University has the land and the resources, but instead UC professors who enjoy Federal and State funding for their “environmental” ideologies send desperate students down to City Hall to demand the City take care of a need the University should be responding to. It takes the epitome of greed to both blow off these students and send them on a mission to ruin the lives of people in the larger community – but I’m sure there’s some sort of special “Transit Density Super Grant” waiting for them.

    Repairs to the Berkeley community need to start by teaching the younger generation about the fight to achieve Berkeley’s uniquely strong rent control, encouraging them to respect the people who live in Berkeley instead of demanding their “urban buzz” regardless of possible consequences, and perhaps engaging students in the idea of “development without displacement.” This is the most important conversation. Once this social rift is repaired, we can start talking about renewing Berkeley’s glorious heritage of architecture.

  • Completely_Serious

    This about sums up the whole Berkeley gestalt:

    The website Berkeleyside reported that one speaker told the
    commission he and other critics are in their 50s and 60s and should be
    listened to because they are the “the intellectual and cultural treasure of Berkeley.”

    It’s a generation gap of sorts, the 1960s turned on its head. Don’t trust anyone under 40.

  • John G

    Maybe the city could make downtown not smell like urine and weed by enabling the crazies and dope addicts that pollute the area.

  • Andy Doran

    Berkeleyside Editors:
    I just wanted to say kudos to you for getting the chron to give you a piece from one of their staff that was relevant to your readership, rather than the typical other direction that conduit runs. Glad to know you can benefit in multiple ways from your relationship.

  • Flatlander

    What is truly obscene is that so many cannot conceive of living in a dense urban environment – with great public transportation and walking and biking facilities – without owning a car.

  • guest

    I don’t think this is true. In downtown, there have been some demolitions, but if you walk through Berkeley neighborhoods, you will see that most of the original houses are still there.

    There is no automatic process of demolishing bad and keeping good buildings. Even in downtown, which buildings are demolished depends more on economic factors than on esthetic factors, with the exception of a few buildings that have been landmarked.

  • Intoleratus

    Yes he did. “unconvincing attempt to make one bldg. look like three etc” Yes he did. “No stature, not satisfying, architechtural mishmash etc”

  • Intoleratus

    “Next store?” Twice?

  • Jeff T

    Why did the author choose to not include any photographs or design drawings for the projects discussed in this article? If you’re going to write an article, do a high-quality and thorough job, please.

  • guest

    I’m not sure how they will manage but many people in these buildings will have cars and one way or another they will figure out a way to park them on the streets if there is no parking in the building.

  • oof

    That metal siding on the BAM/PFA building is going to look awesome until somebody figures out you can put dents in it with a projectile of their choice, or when the taggers hit it and it end ups with a bunch of shiny spots where they have to sand-blast it once a week.

  • guest

    Sadly, making $100K in Berkeley doesn’t enable a family to purchase a home in Berkeley anymore.

  • guest

    I have a tech job and I chose to moved here from SF because I like living here very much and so does my family. There are many families like ours who choose Berkeley after living in SF for many years for a variety of reasons.

  • Berkeley Bear

    Yep. A handy link, since this will all probably have to be repeated again and again…

    http://www.emporis.com/statistics/tallest-buildings/city/102877/berkeley-ca-usa

  • Edward

    Until you finally got back to parking you were talking about government services paid for by taxes, not rent. Not even a close analogy.

    You do realize that if a building has no parking its residents do not have the right to residential parking permits? Do you actually believe they will spend their lives moving their car every two hours? If there are *some* parking spaces in the building they *do* have the right to a permit. And if they have more cars than there are parking spaces in the building…

  • TestIt

    There are good paying jobs for young people in Berkeley. I know as I have hired many of them (mostly 100+K per year). And there would be a lot more if Berkeley were even remotely friendly to business (its truly terrible, with the exception of Bayer). There’s a reason why Berkeley has never had a company that had its headquarters in Berkeley when it had a successful public offering. And it’s not because there are not companies that would prefer to be here.

    In any case, people are going to choose to live in the best place that meets their needs and desires. You can’t be next store to someone and not be impacted by what happens there. For example, it’s really hard for Mexico to live next store to the world’s biggest drug addict. Berkeley is in close proximity to San Francisco and is deeply impacted by that.

    What do you expect a typical real estate developer to do? Look for the best return on their investment or pursue some other goals? In the absence of good urban planning, a smart investor (one that is trying to use their available resources and talents) will usually elect a project that has the best (or a least a very good) reward to risk ratio. A clear urban plan with well defined goals and architectural requirements will be the only thing that drives good architecture and bring in developers that compete on the same, predictable playing field. Approving each project individually will lead to hodge-podge results

  • TestIt

    True, perhaps, but this is not a reason to not plan for good architecture. There are plenty of places in the world with buildings hundreds of years old that weren’t torn down because good architectural choices were made.
    We would benefit from having an urban plan, with measurable goals and reports on progress and adherence. There is a place for bold architecture, especially knowing that mistakes can, in fact, be torn down.
    No matter what is proposed in Berkeley, there is a very loud group of people objecting, the result is that we are distracted from building the institutions and plans that would serve the rest of us (who comprise the vast majority) and gives a free pass to those whose should be serving us.

  • TestIt

    So, if you don’t have kids in school, should you pay for education? And if your house does not catch on fire should you pay for the fire department, Don’t need any police protection, why should you pay for the police department? Not worried about criminals and don’t need to sue anyone, skip paying for the courts, jails, and prison guards.
    If people who rent apartments have x number of cars per unit, on average, (and x is never 0) should a developer be permitted to not provide parking and force the neighboring community to absorb the impact?
    If a community reaches the capacity to provide critical resources (water, sewage, electricity, etc.), what should the criteria be for new developments? The fact that there are individual needs and preferences that deviate from the average is immaterial to urban planning. Few, if any, buildings in Berkeley have sufficient parking for the building’s users.
    My real complaint, and the essence of the article’s assertion, is that we do not have adequate urban planning. Architecture is really important and our city is failure to ensure that we have the great architecture that we are capable of producing.

  • Nostalgiasaurus

    Nothing can ever change! Look only to the past! Stop, you’re doing it wrong!

  • powerbus

    “The height would match or slightly exceed downtown’s two existing towers.”???
    In fact, the two existing towers are 12 stories tall, a little over 120 feet, while the proposed Harold Way project is 18 stories, over 180 feet tall, half again as tall as the tallest buildings in Berkeley. It’s only the developer’s misleading mock-ups and perspective drawings that make it appear only as tall as the others. It will tower over anything in Berkeley.

  • Edward

    I don’t own a car. Why should I be required to pay for parking? What is truly obscene is to require someone to rent a patch of concrete and leave it unused just to obtain a place to live.
    Note that we in Berkeley are in the right (high) end of these graphs.

  • elrod

    That’s so true. Not everything built in the past was creative or took high risk to design. We don’t see many of them because they were torn down and replaced.

  • elrod

    I fail to see the author’s point when he’s comparing the current design proposals for 2 high-buildings with previous architects like Morgan and Maybeck who never designed a tall building. He did not give specific reasons why he thought the Harold building was a bad design.other than generating protests. And the author picked on the ugliest proposal by far, the high rise on Shattuck and Berkeley way that no one is talking about because it seems the NIMBY’s can only focus on a single building at a time. No one disagrees with the author that this is building is indeed, ugly.

    He did not give his opinion on the new Hotel on Center, the new Museum, the BART Plaza renovation, the Acheson Commons project, or even the residential buildings in downtown that have gone up in the last 5-10 years. Instead, he’s just stating that a bunch of people aren’t taking risks and lacking creativity, which to me, are just empty statements.

  • rlauriston

    “Most of the attacks, though, come from longtime city residents who seem
    repelled by the idea that young people with good jobs might want an
    urban buzz close to home.”

    If those young people had good jobs in Berkeley, that would be great, but the real problem with any market-rate development these days is that pretty much the only people who will be able to afford to live in them will have to work for tech companies in SF or Silicon Valley, and most of them will be choosing Berkeley not because they like it here but because it’s more affordable.

  • guest

    Does anyone take John King seriously? Not that I know of.

  • Gusted

    Design review may protect from some unusually bad buildings, but it will certainly protect the City from any memorable, visionary or great ones.

  • loujudson

    Berkeley has been descending into middle American mediocity for decades! It is hard to find any of the pre-war gems any more. I avoid downtown as much as possible! And it is getting much worse much faster now and soon! B does not plan, it grabs the bucks from wherever. And housing without parking? Obscene.

  • Garen

    I agree with the planning process. But plenty of existing historical buildings are not particularly impressive. Street-life, restaurants, vibrant retail and foot-traffic are what makes a downtown. Building new things is more important. But hey, if they can be a little more interesting, great! But with so many NIMBYs, that is a tall order.

  • guest

    A walk through downtown Berkeley reveals a treasure of pre-World War II architecture, different styles and materials blending together in comfortable structures that were built for their time but seem to grow in stature with each passing decade.

    What Mr. King seems to be ignoring is that we only keep the best of the past and tear down and forget about the things that weren’t as nice.

    There are thousands of terrible songs released every decade and only a small handful make it into the Greatest Hits of the 1960s! albums. We forget about the bad ones and hang on to the good ones.

    Architecture is the same way. Not every building is a hit. The ones that aren’t get torn down and replaced. Expecting every building built today to be a classic is just silly.

  • laura

    Piecemeal Berkeley.

  • Doc

    Yet growth brings life to the city, clearly better than the alternative

  • Bill N

    I read this in the Chron and he was spot on with his description of the Berkeley “planning” process – as I’ve watched it anyhow.