Opinion: Should BART be in the real estate business in Berkeley?

There are many better sites for building housing than the North Berkeley BART station. San Pablo Avenue corridor is well-suited for multi-family homes, for instance.

Amidst all the debate about urban density and housing infill, there’s one question that, curiously, has not come up: why choose to build on the North Berkeley BART station? There are many other suitable sites in our city to build housing. Is the station really the best option, and should BART be in charge of building housing?

BART is in deep fiscal trouble. After years of mismanagement, revenue and ridership are down, customer satisfaction has plummeted to an all-time low of 56% and the agency is desperate to cash in on their real estate.

BART disingenuously presents its motivation to build on its property as environmental: housing near the station gets people out of their cars. This may sound logical, but there is no guarantee that people who live at the station housing will take BART. Additionally, the hundreds of commuters who currently park at the station will no longer be able to do so. Many of them, undoubtedly, will choose to drive to work instead, putting more cars on the road.

The North Berkeley station is a problematic site. The tunnels underneath severely limit the footprint of possible buildings. There are questions of seismic and engineering safety that have not been adequately answered. In light of the recent debacles-the cracks in the now-closed Salesforce Transit Center, the sinking Millennium Tower, and the defective Bay Bridge, you have to wonder what would happen over the tunnels as buildings settle over time, or, even worse, in case of a major earthquake.

We have far more suitable sites to build new housing in Berkeley, especially the San Pablo corridor, where there is good access to bus lines, shopping, and other services, no tunnels, and no commuter parking to displace.

The push to build on this site is all about BART’s need for money-lots of it, and fast. It’s no secret that the agency has mismanaged revenue. They’ve inflated salaries way beyond the norm, awarded themselves huge bonuses while crying poor, and they were sued by Transmart, the developer that they chose to develop their failed retail plan, for alleged breach of contract, because the agency “reneged on its promises and consistently failed to perform as promised and as agreed in the lease”

Do we really want this miserably performing transit agency, which can’t even manage its own affairs, to build housing on an unsuitable site here in North Berkeley?

Laura Klein is a passionate environmentalist and a lifelong user of public transit. Tony Corman is a North Berkeley neighbor and daily BART rider. Sarah Leverett is a retired family law attorney, mediator, and social justice advocate. Alan Louwerse is a retired tech executive and small manufacturing business owner. Fred Dodsworth, a retired journalist, was a member of the BCA steering committee. Art Goldberg is a journalist and longtime resident of North Berkeley.