Berkeley school board votes to appeal approval of Harold Way project

Suyang Lu/Staff

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On Wednesday, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education voted, 6-1, to appeal the new affordable housing project on Harold Way — passed by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board on Sept. 30 — expressing their concerns over the health and safety of students.

After more than 30 public meetings, the development site, located about 400 feet from Berkeley High School, was approved on the condition that it provides millions of dollars in benefits to the community. Board members have expressed concerns regarding the noise level of construction and changes in traffic flow, air quality and sewage capacity that they say could result from the project.

Board clerk Karen Hemphill said the new building would create more traffic for people dropping off their kids at Berkeley High.

“I drop off kids now, and it’s not good,” Hemphill said, referring to the existing traffic she encounters around the school.

Angelo Paraiso-Arroyo, a Berkeley High student who sits on the board as student director, expressed concerns about the construction noise affecting students’ learning environment, especially during exams and SAT testing.

Board member Josh Daniels said the board had sufficiently expressed its views previously in a letter sent to the zoning board the day before the development was approved, asking it to postpone the approval. Daniels added that an appeal would contribute to the controversy surrounding Harold Way, making it difficult for the board’s intention to be purely focused on the overall well-being of students.

When it comes down to it, I want to make sure that our school’s learning environment is protected, and I’m not sure if filing the appeal was necessary to pursue that,” Daniels said. “In fact, the likely appeal would suck the board into this politicized issue.”

The board is allowed to participate in a committee that meets regularly during the construction process to discuss how the construction is affecting the high school, according to Timothy White, the school district’s executive director of facilities.

At the meeting, the school board also approved criteria for evaluating the potential use of its board room for Berkeley City Council general meetings after the council previously found the current meeting place in Old City Hall unsafe and technologically inflexible.

In upcoming months, the board will discuss how the council’s use of the board room affects the community based on factors such as noise pollution, street parking, public accessibility and loitering of groups or rallies.

After the pilot program, the board will have two months to make a final decision.

As an effort to expand career and skill opportunities for district students, the board also approved the creation of a Career Technical Education coordinator position and directed staff to look at other funding sources to provide for it.

The new coordinator would work to organize and promote accessibility of career and college readiness programs, and would establish internships and apprenticeships for students in district high schools and community colleges throughout the Bay Area.

Contact Jason Tran at [email protected].