Whither Berkeley?

There’s a funny thing about objective reality: It can really open your eyes and your thinking. The horizontal concept of 25 feet is something we can all approximate. But 25 vertical feet is something you have to see for yourself. We duct-taped some bamboo, tied a bandana at 25 feet, set it vertical and gasped! Really? We took photos to verify the shocking result.

A developer desires to erect a rear, 25-foot, two-story, three-bedroom house on a small parcel where the very few rear units in the entire area all have one story. (The one-story rear cottage I live in has a slanted roof, and it’s 10 feet to 11-plus feet tall.) This proposed unit would completely dominate the area and wipe out the existing ethos. The “existing ethos,” briefly: fenced yards, gardens, grass, fruit trees, grapevines, chickens, an outdoor hot tub and privacy. A 25-foot rear unit destroys sunlight’s access to the fauna and flora and totally negates the privacy. Interestingly enough, the architect drew the finished unit in the most diminutive way, somewhat akin to drawing King Kong as a pygmy chimpanzee. Such a unit is simply flat-out wrong for this parcel. No one should be permitted to destroy the environment in the name of personal profit.

Here’s the rub. This particular appeal concentrates what’s before the entire city of Berkeley: Whither Berkeley? Will Berkeley be Berkeley, or will Berkeley become just another street sign on the East Bay strip of cities running from Richmond to Fremont? Do you recall “Berkeley: The Athens of the West”? Is that gone? Will Berkeley become the west Walnut Creek or the east San Francisco? Are these things to aspire to?

The parcel in question is located at 1535 and 1537 Oregon St. It sits in the middle of the block that’s bounded by Oregon, California, Stuart and Sacramento streets: the South Berkeley Flats. The general area includes Sacramento Street, Ashby Avenue, and Martin Luther King Jr and Dwight ways. Immediately below are three short excerpts from our formal appeal:

“Appellants, however, contend that the two-story, three-bedroom house proposed for the rear parcel is unlike any other rear structure in the vicinity. Specifically, the height and mass of such a rear structure will be out of character with the single-story garden style cottages that are the norm on the rear portion of parcels throughout the neighborhood. Accordingly, when City staff was asked to identify other two-story structures at the rear of other properties in the vicinity, they were unable to do so because there are none.”

“The approval of the application is not supported by evidence in the record and is contrary to policies set forth in the City of Berkeley General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. In sum, the construction of a large two-story house on the rear of the subject parcel will disrupt the economic diversity and harmony of a century old moderate income neighborhood by shoehorning in two large houses on a single parcel where one house and cottage are more appropriate.”

“This proposal runs contrary to the current neighborhood, it does not appear to consider the large impact such structures will have on the existing, long term residents. We undersigned, also sense that such a project, if allowed to move forward, would put an individual profit motive above the existing community members’ happiness and well-being.”

My daughter was born at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in 1968. I’m a retired East Bay community college math instructor. I sincerely hope that the Berkeley City Council harnesses unbridled development.

The City Council hearing is Tuesday at 7 p.m.