South Berkeley residents are mobilizing around a city project to revitalize their neighborhood, which some worry could spell displacement and proliferate patterns of gentrification seen across the Bay Area.
The approximately two-year process to outline a plan to develop Berkeley’s Adeline Street corridor is funded by a planning grant supporting a detailed study of the area, community outreach and the development of preliminary plans for improvements to the neighborhood. The city was awarded the $750,000 Priority Development Area planning grant from the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in May 2014.
About $500,000 of the grant will be used to study existing infrastructure, housing and accessibility, according to a February interview with Carol Johnson, a land-use planning manager for the city.
Community engagement in the planning process began in January at an information session for the public. At the meeting, several members of the audience expressed concerns about the preservation of the Adeline Street corridor’s history, culture and diversity, pointing to examples of gentrification across the Bay Area as a warning of what development can bring.
“The new people in the neighborhood moved here because it’s diverse, and the people from the neighborhood are diverse,” said Ben Bartlett, a founding member of Friends of Adeline, a group that formed in response to the grant. “None of them want to get washed away in a Walnut Creek-style development storm.”
The Adeline Street corridor describes the area along Adeline Street from Ward Street to the Oakland border, along with some southern blocks of Shattuck Avenue. About 11 percent of Berkeley’s total population — about 12,700 residents — lives along the Adeline Street corridor and in the surrounding area, according to a report by the city’s Office of Economic Development.
The neighborhood is characterized by a variety of businesses and community members, according to Alisa Shen, the principal planner. The Adeline Street corridor is home to the Ashby BART station, Berkeley Bowl, several antique and home-furnishing stores, a cluster of car dealerships, an arts district and dozens of nonprofit organizations, among many other local businesses.
Potential changes to the area could include new housing, commercial development, growth of the Ashby arts district and support for low-income residents, according to a city presentation made at the January meeting.
Despite the concerns of residents and business owners, Shen says the plans will ultimately be based on community feedback and goals for the area.
“We have no preconceived ideas about the outcome of this project,” Shen said. “The city has no plans to do X, Y, Z. The process is community driven and open ended.”
A larger trend
The Adeline Street corridor has historically been home to a large portion of the city’s black community. Currently, about 25 percent of residents in the neighborhood identify as black, compared with 10 percent citywide, according to a city report on the area. The population of black residents in the corridor area was close to 50 percent in 1990.
The area has not been immune to market pressures, such as increased housing prices throughout the Bay Area over the last few years. According to the report, home prices in the Adeline Street corridor area reached “record high levels” in 2014, with a significant spike in the period from 2012 to the present.
The report also notes that though the district has historically been a low-income community — the median household income in the district is 25 percent lower than the overall figure for the city — newer residents in the area will likely have higher incomes “as housing prices soar.”
At the community meeting in January, several longtime residents of the area noted these demographic and housing trends.
For Emmitt Hutson — a program coordinator at the the Berkeley Drop-in Center, a community center located on Adeline Street — “the neighborhood has changed tremendously in the last decade.” The center is one of many nonprofits in the area that aims to help individuals coping with financial and health challenges and provides services including housing advocacy, health resources and food stamp distribution.
“This whole area was where black people live,” Hutson said. “Now there are very few black residents, especially homeowners, and the income or amount of money needed to afford Berkeley is completely out of the range of the average person that comes through our doors.”
Factors that have contributed to the area’s decreased affordability include a regional economy driven by knowledge-based information jobs, the state’s commitment to sustainable development, outside investments in local real estate and stagnant wages among the middle class, according to Malo Hutson, a campus assistant professor of city and regional planning.
Malo Hutson noted that equitable development will require a community process to ensure that the development plan reflects the economic and cultural realities of the neighborhood.
“This planning grant allows you to incorporate a real public participatory process that allows for all perspectives and opinions,” Malo Hutson said. “There’s never going to be a perfect consensus, but the community needs a seat at the table.”
As part of its community outreach efforts, the city opened the Adeline Community IDEA Center, a space for community members to speak with project managers from both the city and urban-planning firm MIG, the main consultant for the project. More than 250 individuals have visited the center since it opened at the Firehouse Art Collective in April.
At the center, Shen and other members of the project provide information to visitors and ask what aspects of the neighborhood the visitors would like to see maintained or improved, adding the responses to large posters taped to the walls.
The list of the neighborhood’s positive attributes include the flea market that takes place every weekend, public art and the area’s diversity, while possible improvements range from increased health-care services to cleaner streets.
Shen said the city has also received more than 500 responses to its outreach survey, which asks similar questions regarding possible changes to the neighborhood.
“We know first and foremost that gentrification is a concern in the community, and we’re having our consultants determine what strategies are out there to avoid that,” Shen said. “At the same time, this is a regional issue, and absent the plan, there are market and gentrification pressures in the area already. We’re hoping, with community feedback and expertise from the consultants, we can take a look at how to change the direction of what’s happening now across the Bay Area.”
Tynneal Grant, who is moving to the area in August, found the center in passing and dropped in to learn more about the current and future state of the neighborhood.
Grant plans to open a bed and breakfast that specializes in soul food — a business she hopes will will appeal to the local history of the area but also attract customers from surrounding parts of Berkeley and the rest of the Bay Area. She said she’d like to see more businesses and services that fit the needs and interests of existing residents — such as affordable health- and child-care clinics — rather than seeking only to attract a new, wealthier clientele.
“I’m hoping the aesthetic will serve as some preservation of the locals here,” Grant said. “Yoga doesn’t appeal to (everyone here), but will (they) come down and have some grits and eggs? Absolutely.”
Since the introductory meeting, community members have also organized their own involvement in the plan.
Friends of Adeline met for the second time last month to work on a “manifesto” of community ideas and discussion points for the plan, according to Bartlett.
The group, which Bartlett said has about 100 members, will meet again in the coming month to draft a document outlining community demands that will be presented to the city. The prioritization of diversity, funding for affordable housing and the creation of more green space are among the group’s goals thus far.
Sam Dyke opened his South Berkeley antique shop, People’s Bazaar, more than 40 years ago and has attended meetings about the project held by “both sides of the fence.” He said the biggest challenge in reaching a consensus will be the wide array of ideas for what the plan should entail, noting that the diversity of concerns is representative of the many groups that make up the community surrounding the corridor.
“There’s a lot of information and misinformation going around about what will take place,” Dyke said. “The area is in transition, but there’s room for everyone, and this plan doesn’t have to mean the removal of old-timers by new money and big pockets. A mix is always the best solution.”
According to Shen, the city is still in the first phase — which is scheduled to conclude at the end of the summer — of its planning process and will continue to conduct background research and host community-outreach events with MIG in the coming months. Events will include walking and biking audits of the city, in which community members can give location-based suggestions, and a pop-up event — a temporary transformation to show potential changes to public spaces — on Saturday.
Both Shen and community members hope that the plan can be used to mitigate unwanted changes to the neighborhood that have already begun to take place.
“The project, if misused, could be part of the trend of gentrification and could bolster the so-called market forces causing the displacement of longtime residents,” Bartlett said. “Or it could be used to provide solutions to these market forces. It’s the goal of the people to recast the Adeline plan so it’s a solution to the vagaries of the market.”