Should the Berkeley Flea Market relocate to make way for affordable housing? Should the Lorin District get its own business-improvement group? What can be done to stop drivers from careening down Adeline Street?
South Berkeley residents and others can provide input on such questions and the future of the “Adeline corridor” at an interactive exhibit at the Ed Roberts Campus through Friday. The open house is the latest event in the city’s now years-long effort to draw up a long-range plan for the area around Adeline Street and Shattuck Avenue, between Dwight Way and the Oakland border.
The city still has a ways to go before drafting and adopting the plan, which could bring zoning adjustments, new green space and bike lanes, and narrower roadways to the 100-acre stretch of South Berkeley. The project, supported by a $750,000 Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant, was initially set to wrap up in 2017, but Berkeley received an extension from the funding agency, said principal planner Alisa Shen. There was a delay in the middle of the project, around when the city dropped its former consultant, MIG.
In reviving the public process in the past year, through community workshops and exhibits, the city is intent on reaching South Berkeley residents who have not been included so far, Shen said.
“In the first phase of this work we did a lot of outreach, engagement and surveys,” Shen said. “Despite that, we know we could do a better job connecting with South Berkeley’s black and African American community, and other voices that are under-represented.” She and other planners have met with groups at local churches and worked with the NAACP.
This month’s exhibit includes factsheets, questionnaires and broad potential designs corresponding to five priority areas identified during community meetings in 2015 and 2016: housing affordability, economic opportunity, land use and character, public space and transportation.
A year ago, at another open house, the city presented 3D models of possibilities for redevelopment along Adeline. Based on that feedback, the new exhibit features two potential redesigns of the public right-of-way and city-owned lots, the elements of the plan the city has the most control over.
The two possible scenarios each include new protected bike lanes. They retain the existing number of driving lanes on the northern end of Adeline, narrowing them, but reduce the number of lanes on each side of the street at the southern end of the stretch, from three to two.
“The goal is to try to improve mobility and safety,” Shen said at the exhibit Tuesday. Adeline is an unusually wide street, which makes it difficult to cross by foot and encourages speeding, planners have said.
In one of the loose designs, the western edge of Adeline is lined with new open space.
“People gravitated toward a concept that put all the open space to one side,” Shen said. But the Berkeley Fire Department has said such a design would complicate emergency access, Shen said. The open space in that scenario would need to take up a smaller footprint, to make room for a fire access lane on that side of the street.
Given those difficulties, the city has also presented an option with open space in the middle of the street, expanding existing medians. Whichever option is pursued will require further scrutiny and tweaks, Shen said.
“These are at the conceptual level,” she said. It was important to lay out a vague design at this point so the public could begin considering the potential uses of the open space, she said.
One of the pieces of the plan that is likely to be contentious is the relocation of the flea market, which currently occupies a major chunk of the Ashby BART parking lot on weekends. Options presented at the exhibit include condensing the market into a smaller site along the eastern edge of the lot or closing down Adeline between Ashby Avenue and Woolsey Street for the market during the weekend.
Exhibit visitors, who have scribbled their thoughts on posters, have shared a range of reactions to the potential relocation or downsizing of the flea market. “Poor quality goods,” wrote one in support of the proposal. “The state of the flea market for years now is SAD,” said another.
Others have implored the city to support what they see as an important fixture, and purveyor of economic opportunity, in the neighborhood’s cultural landscape. “FUND THE FLEA MARKET,” wrote one respondent. “It’s already viable. Keep it where it’s at,” said another.
The city owns the “air rights” to the lot in question — BART owns the underground space — and the corridor plan will likely include zoning recommendations to allow the development of housing atop it. At the Ed Roberts exhibit, visitors are asked to place stickers on a chart indicating what portion of the housing should be affordable, what portion should be market-rate, and what kind of community benefits should be sought from the developers.
While Berkeley owns the lot, the city will still need to negotiate with BART over pieces of the plan, Shen said. Other redevelopment along the corridor will require collaboration with other public agencies, such as the changes proposed, in both right-of-way scenarios presented, to the messy intersection of Adeline and Ashby. Ashby Avenue is a state highway, so Caltrans would have the final say over measures to shorten the sidewalks and narrow the roadway, Shen said.
For this and futures phases of the project, the city has brought on new consultants, Berkeley-based urban planners Raimi + Associates and Oakland’s I-SEEED, a non-profit working on an equity plan in Oakland as well, according to Shen. Berkeley switched consultants in hopes of finding a firm experienced in reaching residents of color and sensitive to issues of equity and displacement, Shen said.
The Adeline corridor encompasses neighborhoods that have historically housed Berkeley’s dwindling black population — and, before they were incarcerated during World War II, many Japanese Americans. According to data shared by the city during an early Adeline corridor meeting, nearly half the people living in the project area in 1990 were black. By 2013, black residents made up only 20% of the population there.
At previous meetings, residents have raised concerns that the redevelopment plan could fast-track the displacement of the remaining residents of color and middle- or lower-income residents. Analysis by MIG in 2016 found that the median house price along the corridor, where homes are predominantly rentals or generally less expensive than those in North Berkeley, was $759,000.
“Development without displacement is a really important theme,” Shen said. “As buildings increase in size and height, that generally increases the value of the land around it.”
In one of the exhibit displays, the “intent and character” of each segment of the corridor is described, including the type of existing development and what might be promoted in the new plan. Along South Shattuck, the northernmost piece of the corridor, the “intent” would be to “create an urban, mixed-use corridor with buildings of 5-6 stories similar to the new buildings in the area.”
On the southern end, by the Oakland border, conversely, the plan would focus on historical preservation and “encourage smaller-scale buildings that will create an intimate pedestrian experience.”
The same display includes zoning changes for consideration along the corridor, including a standardized “base height” allowed for any type of building in a zone, and in some cases increased maximum heights, if community benefits are provided.
Visitors can write their feedback on these descriptions and zoning ideas, and note what community benefits they would like baked into the plan..
Since the planning process began, multiple developments have been proposed, stalled, permitted, opened or broken ground along the corridor, each contributing to a polarizing debate on the impacts of market-rate and affordable development on the region’s housing crisis. Parker Place, a mixed-use development, and Harper Crossing, affordable senior housing, both opened. Following a lengthy, tense process, a six-story, mostly market-rate development at 2902 Adeline was approved with a sizable set of community benefits. Construction has just begun on a residential hotel at Shattuck Avenue and Derby Street.
Shen said housing, education, health and other over-arching issues are best addressed through city-wide efforts but will inform each piece of the Adeline corridor plan.
Susie Meserve, one of a couple people who dropped by the Ed Roberts Campus mid-day Tuesday, said she, like others who’ve weighed in, came across town to check out the exhibit because she is passionate about affordable housing throughout the city.
“They should do this in North Berkeley too,” she said.
When the exhibit closes, the city will take a couple weeks to digest the feedback and collect more online, according to Shen. There will be more workshops dealing with individual elements of the plan.
Currently, “we’re making sure we’re bringing groups we haven’t heard from up to speed,” Shen said. “Building on all the feedback we get, we’ll come back with more information and proposals.”
The projected timeline is loose at this point, Shen emphasized, but the goal is to hold another exhibit in the summer, then draft the plan and conduct an environmental review by the end of the year, in hopes of finalizing the plan for adoption by the City Council in early 2019.
The exhibit is open daily through Friday, March 23 at 3075 Adeline St. More information and displays from the exhibit are available on the city website.