Opinion: A community vision for the Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations

The City Council will soon enter into a memorandum of understanding with BART on how to build housing on the sites. A community advisory group will help consider zoning changes and priorities.

Where there is transit, housing will follow.

This has been the mantra in Berkeley, even before its incorporation as a city. Much of the development of Berkeley in the mid-1800s took place along the waterfront after the development of a ferry terminal and railroad along the shoreline. Shortly after, development began in what is now the downtown area after a railroad was built to serve the newly-founded University of California. In the early 1900s, the Key System’s streetcar and bus routes led to the proliferation of new neighborhoods throughout the city from the Claremont to Solano Avenue. Today, Amtrak, AC Transit, and BART follow many of the routes these former transit services served, with their legacy shaping the Berkeley we see today.

Our Bay Area population has grown and outpaced housing development. Our region faces a shortage of affordable homes and a climate crisis that requires a significant reduction in vehicle miles traveled. So how do we do our part to address this crisis? The current use of the Ashby and North Berkeley BART Station parking lots, used solely for vehicle parking, is not the optimal environmental use of scarce, publicly-owned land. Next Tuesday, Dec. 10, the City Council will consider approval of a framework to move forward with developing homes on these sites. Read the item and learn more on the BART page on my website.

Over the last few years, BART has made it a priority to develop this public property into homes. In 2016, they established guidelines for transit-orientated development (TOD), focusing on affordability, accessibility, and sustainability. In Sept. 2018, Assembly Bill 2923 was signed into state law, requiring cities to update zoning to meet BART TOD standards.

Prior to the bill’s approval, the community had been engaged in a thorough public process to create a vision for the Adeline / South Shattuck Corridor, which encompasses the Ashby station. In early 2018, former Councilwoman Linda Maio and I initiated a series of community meetings to discuss the possibility of housing at the North Berkeley station. I was delighted that the City Council unanimously voted in May to direct the planning commission to study zoning and to engage with BART in developing a memorandum of understanding to work together on the process of creating homes.

After months of negotiations, the Council will be voting Tuesday on the approval of the MOU, while also establishing a community advisory group to advise the planning commission on zoning changes and priorities for future development at these sites. While the city has a process for zoning and entitlements and BART has a process for the development of its properties, this MOU identifies in broad terms how these processes will work together to benefit our community.

A significant benefit of the proposed collaboration with BART is the opportunity to identify and make infrastructure improvements to enhance station access for all Ashby and North Berkeley BART transit riders using all modes of transportation. The item in front of Council next Tuesday represents the next step in an iterative process for not only the North Berkeley station but will also serve as an important component of the Adeline Corridor Plan process.

Every step of the way, we are ensuring that the community has the ability to voice their vision and values in shaping the outcome of this process. Together, we can support, create, sustain, and enhance our neighborhoods to make Berkeley a more welcoming and inclusive city.

Jesse Arreguín is mayor of the city of Berkeley.