Amid a raucous meeting that ran past 1 a.m., the Berkeley City Council essentially dismissed an appeal that sought to have the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission reconsider an earlier decision not to grant protected status to Campanile Way.
Three council members — Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington — voted in favor of the appeal, with Mayor Tom Bates opposed and the rest of the council abstaining. The vote came after an hour of public comment and discussion by the council.
The application to landmark Campanile Way came as plans for an 18-story multi-use building at 2211 Harold Way are working their way through Berkeley’s entitlements process. The development was the crux of nearly every public comment at the meeting: Residents and students alike argued that the development would mar the view from Campanile Way, which looks over the San Francisco Bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since the hearing April 2 before the landmarks commission, Harold Way developers have reworked the building massing so it would intrude even less into the view, said project representative Mark Rhoades. He emphasized Tuesday that this change was due to feedback from the city’s Design Review Committee, and was not a response to the petition for landmark status.
Steven Finacom, who wrote the appeal, spoke first in a five-minute slot for the appellant. The arguments for the appeal, as listed by Finacom, were that inaccurate information had been provided by city staff; and that there had been discussion at the LPC meeting of the Harold Way development (commissioners are not supposed to consider this when evaluating a site for landmark status). He also raised the question of whether the two newest commissioners had adequately researched the case history.
Finacom called the LPC’s decision “tainted” and said the majority vote had “accepted disputed claims” — namely, that Campanile Way was on the National Register of Historic Places, which it is not — resulting in a vote not to landmark the path. He asked council to “refer the matter back to the commission” rather than make any immediate decisions.
Carrie Olson, a former LPC commissioner, stepped up to speak next in the 5-minute slot allowed for the applicant — because she helped write the application for landmark status — but Mayor Tom Bates stopped her before she began. The appellant and the applicant traditionally have opposing views, and the applicant’s time allotment is intended for a rebuttal; Olson had, however, worked with Finacom to create the petition for landmarking and shared his view that the path should be landmarked.
Bates called this move a “trick,” saying it was “backward” to give the applicant twice the amount of time to argue the case. Councilman Kriss Worthington interjected, asking Bates to “refrain from attacking the public by accusing them of trickery.” Olson was allowed to speak, saying that the view of the bay and Alcatraz will “disappear,” and asking again for the council to refer the issue back to the LPC.
The discussion then opened up to public comment. Longtime residents spoke of their decades-long history with the view, while UC Berkeley students asked for the preservation of a sight that brought relaxation during times of stressful schoolwork. No one spoke in support of the LPC decision, not even LPC Chair Austene Hall, who said that in light of the incorrect information provided by city staff, “we have the responsibility to reconsider this matter.”
Some of the testimony grew heated and emotional, with one commenter comparing the presence of 2211 Harold Way to “giving a middle finger to everybody there” and another asking the council if they were part of the Taliban. The room began to chant “Why? Why? Why?” in support after resident Moni Law spoke about preserving the view for her grandchildren and asked council, “Why are we doing this?”
Several of the testimonials by the public seemed to indicate that the speakers thought it was the Campanile itself being considered, rather thn its path, leading council members to clarify the site at stake in the vote. (Sather Tower, the tower’s official name, is already on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. City staff also noted that the pathway was found to be eligible for the register, meaning that it does already have status as a historic resource.)
Finacom approached the podium at the end of public comment, but Bates told him he would have no more time due to the “trick” of having both the applicant and appellant speak for the same side. Finacom spoke over Bates, asking that Councilwoman Lori Droste recuse herself due to an alleged comment she made that expressed a position regarding the development at 2211 Harold Way. Droste, who denies the allegation, abstained when it came time to vote, along with four of her colleagues on the council.
When it came time for council members to discuss their opinions, Councilwoman Susan Wengraf brought up the renderings and photos purporting to show the current view and the supposed view with the 2211 Harold Way development. She said she had seen images that were “distorted,” which made it difficult to tell what was actually visible from the base of the Campanile and how large an impact the complex would have.
“I don’t know what is real,” Wengraf said.
Wengraf also brought up the issue of whether a different LPC ruling would make any difference. UC Berkeley is not subject to local laws, so even if Berkeley deemed Campanile Way a landmark, the university would not be required to take any action.
“I think all of you know how important views are to me,” Wengraf said. “I’ve consistently voted to preserve views in Berkeley,” but in this case there’s “a lot of confusion about exactly what the view is.”
Councilwoman Linda Maio also brought up images that had been used and widely distributed by proponents of the landmarking that were meant to represent how 2211 Harold Way would impact the view, saying the images were “doctored” and misrepresented the view loss to the public.
Councilman Max Anderson said that the meeting was “one of the most frustrating evenings I’ve spent here, as we watch the character of the city get chipped away.” The discussion regarding Campanile Way followed a lengthy discussion on the city budget, during which many speakers advocated for more money for social services and nonprofits than the city said it was prepared to allocate.
“We need to invoke the spirit of Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement that helped put Berkeley on the map in the first place,” Anderson said. He called for the public to “throw your body on it [the political process] and stop it from grinding you up,” paraphrasing Savio’s famous speech on the steps of Sproul Hall.
Shortly before the vote, Councilman Laurie Capitelli spoke briefly to those in attendance on the idea of right and wrong, saying community members “should be careful not to ‘be right’ but just to present your perspective — not to assume that just because someone doesn’t have your perspective, they’re wrong.”
“I respect everyone here tonight,” he added.
The vote came at nearly 12:45 a.m., with the breakdown as following: Anderson, Arreguín and Worthington voted in favor of the appeal; Maio, Capitelli, Wengraf, Droste and Councilman Darryl Moore abstained; and Bates voted no. As a result, no action was taken.
City attorney Zach Cowan explained to council that, if no action is taken within 30 days from Tuesday’s meeting, the landmarks commission decision will be upheld.
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With Harold Way EIR approval on hold, officials to consider community benefits (05.20.15)
The view from UC Berkeley Campanile will not be landmarked (04.06.15)
UC Berkeley Campanile celebrates 100th birthday (01.27.15)
Residents question Berkeley Plaza’s impact on theater, views (11.18.14)
High-rise developer in Berkeley to use 100% union labor (10.31.14)
Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans (06.26.14)
Early high-rise plans lack inspiration, say commissioners (03.19.13)
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Eden Teller, a junior at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is a Berkeleyside summer intern. She is majoring in media and cultural studies and minoring in geology. [Editor’s Note: The headline of this story, which was written by an editor, was updated post publication to improve its accuracy.]