Officials hear community concerns about developing Ashby BART station

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Officials from the city of Berkeley and BART listened as community members voiced their concerns about building housing around the Ashby BART station during a public meeting at Longfellow Middle School on Thursday.

Various community members voiced their opinions to a panel consisting of Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Councilmember Ben Bartlett, BART Director Lateefah Simon and Timothy Burroughs, the acting director for the city of Berkeley’s Department of Planning and Development.

The consensus among the community members who spoke at the meeting was that the flea market near the Ashby BART station should continue to exist and that the proposed housing to be built on the public land surrounding the station should be affordable.

“This is the heart of Berkeley, whether you like it or not,” said Joe Cokes, who manages the flea market on the weekends and has been a teacher in Berkeley for 16 years.

Cokes said at the meeting that he grew up in Berkeley and then attended UC Berkeley, but rising costs of living forced him to move to Oakland.

The community meeting was part of the city’s long-term strategy for developing the Adeline Corridor.

The city currently has no solid plans to develop near the Ashby BART station, but the final plan is projected to be finished in spring 2019, after a comment period, more engagement with the community and a planning commission.

“Tonight represents the best of Berkeley,” Arreguín said. “The priority is affordable housing.”

While many community members shared the same concerns, such as keeping the flea market and ensuring that the housing built would be affordable, there were some differences in how people wanted those tasks accomplished.

Some community members said they wanted the housing to be 100 percent affordable, while others saw that as unrealistic but still wanted to set the bar high so that the city would provide as much affordable housing as possible.

“It’s not an either-or. You can have an indoor market … and affordable housing,” said Alfred Twu, a District 8 City Council candidate. “We can think in three dimensions.”

Twu suggested a plan that would allow the first floor of any housing built to be a public space run by the flea market.

Cokes said he liked Twu’s idea, but would be willing to move the flea market if the city builds affordable housing in the lot.

“We don’t want to move because we fought so hard for that area,” Cokes said.

If the flea market had to move, it would be moved to a space near Berkeley Bowl, according to Cokes. Cokes also stated that he would be happy with the plan if it included 100 percent affordable housing.

“We were at the tail end of the process,” Arreguín said. “Now we have to develop the actual plan.”

Contact Jackson Guilfoil at [email protected]ycal.org and follow him on Twitter at @GuilfoilJackson.