Opinion: Lorin District residents must demand economic development the neighborhood deserves

A group of neighbors has formed South Berkeley Now! to promote transit-oriented, low-income and service-enriched housing in the neighborhood along Adeline Street in South Berkeley.

About 50 years ago, BART demolished a part of south Berkeley, installed a six-acre parking lot and a six-lane road that cuts through the heart of our neighborhood.  With fast moving cars spewing pollutants, pedestrians are at risk daily. Thankfully, folks like Mable Howard fought to put the BART underground and the Lorin commercial district was largely saved. However, the hole in the center of our neighborhood remains. We see Lorin District businesses continue to struggle to stay open. Fast-rising rents displace our neighbors with many living on the streets. Meanwhile, the climate crisis demands we act locally to create compact cities and reduce our reliance on cars.

Recently, and thanks in part to the Adeline Corridor Planning process, many of us who live in South Berkeley have become hopeful imagining how the poor planning decisions of the past could be repaired, how we can increase investment in our local businesses, how we can increase housing opportunities, and how we can create a more compact and equitable city. We have become hopeful that we can create a thriving neighborhood center where there once was a sea of cars and in the process improve upon a neighborhood that we all love.

Despite our hopefulness, we are concerned that our city will repeat its mistakes or perhaps worse, continue to do nothing. This is why we have come together as a group to make our voices heard, and to turn our hopefulness into action. We have watched with growing concern as our city has failed to step up to the challenges. Today, we’re done watching. We write this letter as the founders of South Berkeley Now! — a newly established neighborhood group of residents of south Berkeley.  We invite more neighbors to read our mission statement and join us at www.southberkeleynow.org.

South Berkeley Now! brings together South Berkeley residents who demand the economic development that our neighborhood deserves. We advocate construction of higher density, transit-oriented, diverse, mixed-use housing developments for all income levels along the Shattuck/Adeline Corridor and on the Ashby BART parking lots. We call on the city to develop well-funded programs to support local businesses in the Lorin Business District and along the Shattuck/Adeline Corridor — especially the Berkeley Flea Market, a vital economic resource and historical legacy for long-time residents.  We ask the city to adopt innovative programs and strategies to help our neighbors who are in danger of displacement due to the housing shortage and rising home prices. And we demand safer and cleaner streets for pedestrians, cyclists, children, seniors, differently-abled persons, and transit users.

Because South Berkeley Now! envisions a thriving, equitable, economically and racially diverse neighborhood, we are particularly excited about Berkeley voters’ passage of affordable housing Measures O & P and funding measures at the state level. We want to ensure that our neighborhood receives its fair share of these public funds so we can develop low-income and service-enriched housing in our neighborhood. For this reason, we call on the mayor and our district city council members to bring South Berkeley residents together in a community-led design and implementation process for mixed-income housing at the Ashby BART station. The time is NOW while the funding is available and our Adeline Corridor Plan nears completion.

If you are a South Berkeley resident or business owner and you share our vision, join us today at www.southberkeleynow.org.  Together, let’s create a vibrant, safe, equitable neighborhood for everyone, now and years forward.

Peter Waller is an architect whose firm specializes in designing housing for non-profits and he has lived in south Berkeley since 1993. Betsy Thagard is a preschool teacher who has been a Berkeley homeowner for almost twenty years. Jane Scantlebury lives a half a block from the Ashby BART station and worked as a reference and art and music librarian in Berkeley for 25 years. Jon Lau is a local economic development professional who lives in south Berkeley with his wife and preschool-aged daughter. Teresa Clarke is a commissioner on the Zoning Adjustments Board has lived near Ashby BART since 1984. Matt Nichols is currently policy director for transportation and Infrastructure in the Oakland mayor's office and he raised his family in south Berkeley. Matthew Lewis is a climate, energy, and urban policy consultant in South Berkeley; Deborah Matthews is a former chair of the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board, former chair of the Berkeley Housing Advisory Commission, former vice chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission, and a board member of the Downtown Berkeley YMCA and is a Realtor; David Soffa is an architect, photographer, ethnomusicologist, carpenter, and musical instrument repairman. Jodi Levin works in the software industry and has lived in South Berkeley since 2001.