Community members react to approval of Southside Plan

In the midst of a vast amount of support for increased affordable student housing directly south of the UC Berkeley campus, the Berkeley City Council’s passage of the Southside Plan last week has left some community members unsure about how it will improve the business climate in the area.

The plan, which has been in the planning process for almost 15 years, concerns the area directly south of the campus, from Bancroft Way to the north, Dwight Way to the south, Prospect Street to the east and Shattuck Avenue to the west. Although it recommends safety improvements for the area, including pedestrian lighting, some residents do not think the plan properly addresses commercial needs.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said he thinks the plan has many flaws, including the lack of any changes to the area’s quota system for different types of businesses.

While he said he thinks the building clarifications adopted in the plan are beneficial, including increased allowable height — thereby increasing density of new developments close to campus — Peterson said he strongly opposed converting one-way streets to two-way, particularly Bancroft and Durant Avenue. The plan only recommends converting both Ellsworth and Dana streets to two-way, but it leaves the possibility of Bancroft, Durant and other conversions open.

“You don’t want an expressway going through the area, and you don’t want gridlock,” Peterson said. “Telegraph comes pretty close to having traffic at an ideal speed.”

Among the plan’s broad goals to promote economic and community development in the Southside area is a push to increase affordable housing for students, who make up the majority of the Southside region.

Students in the Berkeley Student Cooperative have a special interest in an amendment to the plan which requests that UC Berkeley waive a 4 percent capital renewal fee on all projects on campus property. With four of the 20 Berkeley cooperatives — Cloyne Court, The Convent, Fenwick and Rochdale — on campus property, Elaina Marshalek, president of the BSC Board of Directors, said the fees make expansion difficult.

Yet the capital renewal fee, which was created this summer, costs developers less than the campus’s previous policy that required all building projects that replaced parking areas to pay a $35,000 replacement fee for every parking space lost on the site.

“A few years ago we had discussions about expanding Rochdale, which we found unfeasible because of the parking replacement fee,” Marshalek said. “We would still be affected by the capital renewal fee, but we’re grateful the parking replacement fee is removed.”

Christine Shaff, communications director for the campus’s Facilities Services Department, said that she has not heard any specific proposals for new student housing and that the capital renewal fee could be discussed should there be a new proposal. However, Shaff added that she has not heard any talk within the campus of waiving the capital renewal fee.

Former Mayor Shirley Dean said that while she does see a need for improved quality and affordability of student housing, she is concerned about how fast the council is moving forward with increased density in the area because of seismic effects.

On the other hand, Andy Katz, a former ASUC official who worked on the Southside Plan when he was a UC Berkeley student, said he is supportive of the rezoning.

“The zoning will allow more housing to get built close to campus while preserving the character of the community,” Katz said.

Katz also noted that several policies have already moved separately since it took 15 years for City Council to pass the Southside Plan. These policies — including improved transportation and safety in the area and expansion of business hours — “will help the quality of life in the whole neighborhood,” he said.

Yet Peterson said that, although the plan was a “hot issue” ten years ago, he doubts most businesses are aware of it.

“I don’t know anybody that’s thrilled about the plan — I think some people think it’s OK,” he said. “It’s been so long, I think majority have quit paying attention to it.”