Tensions arose Saturday between community members and city staff at a Friends of Adeline forum focused on Berkeley’s Adeline Corridor revitalization project, with members of the group expressing doubt about whether the city will truly prioritize the needs of the neighborhoods.
Held at the Black Repertory Group’s theater on Adeline Street in South Berkeley, longtime residents of the area as well as local activists, business owners and organizers gathered to make sure their voices are heard in the upcoming months. Since January, residents have expressed concerns that the Adeline Corridor project would gentrify the area, threatening the diversity and culture of the historic neighborhood.
Attendees of the forum also addressed concerns over proposed developments, such as a 6-story residential project at Adeline and Russell that has spurred growing comments of gentrification and the “pushing out” of the area’s remaining black residents. About 100 people attended the meeting.
The forum was the third time South Berkeley residents met to discuss the Adeline Corridor project under the Friends of Adeline, a community group created after Berkeley received a planning grant of $750,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2014. Since then, the city has invested $500,000 into studying infrastructure and housing in the Adeline Corridor.
The “Adeline Corridor” area covers the Lorin District; the Berkeley Bowl Walgreens and planned Berkeley Honda shopping area; the Ed Roberts Campus and parking lot; the Ashby BART station and parking lot; and the intersections of Ashby and Alcatraz avenues at Adeline. The area funded by the grant also includes the South Shattuck auto dealership cluster, the approved 155-unit mixed-use development project called Parker Place, and the Sports Basement store in the former Berkeley Iceland skating rink.
When asked to identify the most important community concern involving the impending project, South Berkeley resident Byron Kirkendoll simply pointed to “justice” for a historically vibrant yet underserved area.
“Let’s do what’s right here,” he said.
His wife, Paula Kirkendoll, a lifelong South Berkeley resident, added that her concerns about affordable housing in the neighborhood trump all. “They are pushing people out,” she said. “It’s capitalism that can’t be checked.”
Paula Kirkendoll also commented on the lack of young people present at community meetings. At Saturday’s meeting, only a handful of people under the age of 30 were present.
“It’s really unfortunate,” she said. “This is their future.”
The Adeline Corridor plan, according to city-hired consultant Mukul Malhotra, is expected to be complete by spring 2017. A principal at urban planning firm MIG, Malhotra has been involved in the public comment-collecting “Ideas Centers,” pop-ups and South Berkeley survey conducted by Berkeley’s Youth Spirit Artworks to gather input from local residents. “We want to get to people who don’t get a chance to speak,” Malhotra said.
The survey, which collected over 1,100 responses and was deemed one of the most successful outreach attempts by the city, was an effort to “go to people, instead of expecting people to just go to us.”
Malhotra, as well as city project manager Alisa Shen, were invited to the meeting to present information about their upcoming community outreach event for the project on Aug. 29. The event, according to Shen, will be comprised of a community visioning workshop at the Harriet Tubman Terrace from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a community “pop-up” event from 1-4 p.m.
Saturday’s meeting began with a short introduction by facilitator and Youth Spirit member Carena Ridgeway as well as a summary of prior action by Friends of Adeline organizer Margy Wilkinson.
Wilkinson spoke about the pushing out of nonprofits in South Berkeley due to funding cuts. “We were side-swipped by the budget process,” she said. “How can we talk about the revitalization of the Adeline Corridor when it includes the defunding and destruction of nonprofits and vital organizations?”
“We must present a clear and unified message that revitalization and reinvestment in our community must benefit all residents and not push anyone out,” she said.
The most important lesson, Newport summarized, was the need for residents to grow and challenge community by constantly engaging with each other.
“Even though I grew up in a segregated community in Rochester, New York, in those days we had blue collar and white collar people working side-by-side,” he said.
Newport commented on the strained politics in Berkeley that has divided both North and South Berkeley residents and politicians, and the boom in expensive developments that has left critical planning to the wayside in at-risk communities.
“I’m really ashamed when I see the conditions of Berkeley and the political mentality right now,” he said. “Everybody that plans for our area always plans for us, and none of them even live here.”
“Someone told me that Berkeley isn’t a ‘working class city,'” Newport continued. “I told them, ‘what are you talking about?'”
His final lesson to the community was to take action together, in a way that benefits all and not just an individual.
“Don’t always listen to those who think they have all the answers, or are in a hurry to get where they’re going,” he said. “There’s always going to be someone who wants to be the leader, without being in a collective process that will benefit the community as a whole.”
The floor was then opened for a Q&A session with Newport, as well as comments from Berkeley City Councilman and South Berkeley District 3 representative Max Anderson.
Most people who spoke echoed the concerns about gentrification, which is pushing elderly and low-income people out of the neighborhood, and the future of the culture of the community.
“I’ve been in the area for 70 years,” said one South Berkeley resident. “I’m on an advisory committee for the project, and I have never seen a budget or a proposal. How can I advise if I don’t have a voice?”
Several attendees also expressed concerns about funding for the Adeline Corridor project, and carried their questions over to the informational presentation by project consultants Shen and Malhotra.
South Berkeley resident Teresa Clark brought up a recent Daily Cal report that alleges that the city of Berkeley did not put in an application for a piece of a $28 million pot of state affordable housing grants.
“I think even to the most casual observer, what’s going on is that the city staff and city policies have made a decision to transform this city from one of diversity and opportunities to one for people of a very elite situation,” Anderson said in response to Clark. “Passing up grant money that could build affordable housing means we have a problem in the city.”
Matthai Chakko, Berkeley city spokesman, said the city was aware of the grant but that none of the city’s projects fit the grant guidelines. That is why Berkeley didn’t apply. It was not because of an oversight or inattention.
“Staff was definitely aware of this source and did not overlook applying,” Chakko wrote in an email. “However, the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program (AHSC) provides project-specific funding. Funds were only available for new construction or acquisition with substantial rehabilitation. There were only two eligible projects in Berkeley at the time the application was due, and SAHA (the owner/developer of both) had identified and decided to pursue other funding strategies.”
Anderson also disclosed to an outraged audience that the planning department is a self-funded department that receives most of its money from developers who pay fees.
When Shen and Malhotra stepped up to the microphone to present information about their upcoming community event, they were met with shouts of confusion and frustration. “We’ve been talking to people, and we hear that there is a lot of frustration about efforts in the past in terms of implementable results on the ground,” Shen told the audience.
As audience members cut her off, asking her to comment on where funding for the Adeline Corridor project was coming from, a visibly frustrated Shen attempted to reply amid the shouts. “The city is not a monolithic entity — I don’t have all the answers,” she said.
When meeting organizers asked her to stick to information about the upcoming Aug. 29 event, order was restored.
Chakko commented on Monday to Berkeleyside regarding the funding of the planning department by developer fees. “The city does fees for service,” he said. “And, like most fees, the people who seek the service pay for it.”
Regarding the vocal frustration toward city staff at Saturday’s meeting, Chakko praised staff for coming to “dozens” of community meetings to collect community input.
“The staff on the Adeline Corridor project want to be as transparent and as inclusive as possible,” he said.
Shen spoke on Monday to Berkeleyside regarding tensions between city staff and local community members at the meeting. “I think everyone has a lot to say about various issues,” she said. “It’s all good to hear, but we don’t have the solutions yet. And [on Saturday] there were specific things that just unfortunately without talking to other departments or sources I wouldn’t be able to respond to in an accurate way.”
“At community meetings, we don’t always agree,” she added.
Benjamen Bartlett, a fifth-generation South Berkeley resident and Friends of Adeline organizer, stepped up to the mike at the end of the meeting to read the Friends of Adeline Manifesto and Vision Statement. The document was developed from South Berkeley residents’ input from the two previous community action forums.
In its manifesto, Friends of Adeline outlines several key points as necessary for the successful revitalization of the Adeline Corridor (See the full statement):
- Affordable housing is a right.
- South Berkeley jobs, businesses and nonprofits should benefit existing residents of all income groups, backgrounds and ages.
- “Our future shall be determined by us.”
- Art is integral to culture and history as a community.
- Development should be used to increase the heath of the community.
“My family has a saying — you never want to let someone’s daydream become your nightmare,” Bartlett said to laughter and cheers of agreement from the audience.
“Let’s bring beauty to this neighborhood. Less liquor stores, more gardens,” he said.
The meeting continued with a breakout session where attendees gathered in small groups to discuss the next steps regarding four major areas of interest — jobs, businesses and nonprofits; art and culture; healthy community; and affordable housing — in preparation for Berkeley’s Adeline Corridor Visioning Workshop and pop-up event Aug. 29.
According to Friends of Adeline leader Chris Schildt, the breakouts were meant to focus on three primary themes: what community members needed to educate themselves, ways the community responds to the most serious threats to the neighborhood, and how to prepare for the Aug. 29 community discussion.
The groups reconvened after about a half hour with “a number of specific proposals,” said Schildt on Sunday. Some of the topics discussed were the reallocation of funding into the city’s affordable Housing Trust Fund from the transfer tax, building a strong relationship with the local business associations and recognizing the value of small business, and looking into more ways to intertwine arts, culture and community together.
Schildt, speaking via phone with Berkeleyside after the meeting, shed light on the community’s discontent and disillusionment with the city’s past work in South Berkeley communities. Previous efforts to engage, she said, dropped off or proved unsuccessful. “The city’s engagement with South Berkeley wasn’t good,” she said.
She echoed the fears of other South Berkeley residents who have said the many meetings, surveys and engagement by city planners may be more for show than implementation. “People are asking, ‘Why are you having all these meetings and events — what’s going to happen with that?’ There’s a lack of trust of the ability of the city to follow through with this,” she said.
“I do appreciate that Alisa and the city consultants are making an effort to reach out and connect,” she added. “But ultimately, it’s going to be up to City Council and the new city manager to actually make real on these promises.”
Update: 2:45 p.m. This story was updated to add the city of Berkeley’s response about an affordable housing grant.
Friends of Adeline can be contacted on Facebook and by email. Questions about the city’s efforts with the Adeline Corridor effort can be directed to project manager Alisa Shen 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.
Berkeley neighbors say affordability will be key to proposed Adeline Street project (07.24.15)
Op-ed: Mending the urban fabric on Adeline Street (06.08.15)
Neighbors outline demands for Adeline Corridor grant (05.11.15)
Neighbors to hold Adeline Corridor meeting Saturday (05.08.15)
After outcry, library board votes to change library name to include civil-rights leader (05.08.15)
LeConte residents express concern about Berkeley Honda’s move to site of Any Mountain (04.02.15)
Diversity in Berkeley raised as concern at Adeline session as planning process takes off (02.09.15)
Public meeting on Adeline Corridor on Saturday (01.30.15)
$750K grant may bring big changes to South Berkeley (08.19.14)
Berkeley kicks off Adeline Corridor improvements push (03.27.14)
Sacramento Street clean-up efforts continue in Berkeley (03.24.14)
Berkeley’s Sacramento Street corridor on the rise (11.01.13)
South Berkeley neighbors ask city for help to improve (04.19.13)
New street banners give Berkeley neighborhoods identity (03.04.13)
With open doors, Firehouse Bazaar creates community (08.23.11)
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Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, was a summer 2015 intern at Berkeleyside. Follow her on Twitter at @eedugdale.