Berkeley approves long-distance bus stop on campus, parking lot for Kaiser offices

Ireland Wagner/Staff

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Long-distance buses will soon service UC Berkeley at West Crescent, bringing home a little bit closer for many campus students.

The city of Berkeley agreed to enter into a franchise agreement with FlixBus, a long-distance bus company started in Germany, to allow buses to stop at the campus’s western edge at Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting. Previously, the closest stops were located in West Oakland and Richmond.

“Because traveling across the state is not easy, or cheap, we want to think about providing an affordable option for the Cal community at large,” said David Sorrell, transportation demand management administrator for UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation, in an email. “We’re going to have the buses stop at the West Crescent because of the ease of access to and from the university. And until we get high-speed rail to come to the Bay Area, we have to be open and flexible with transit.”

Sorrell added that he hopes service can begin by late August, but “there are no hard deadlines.” A primary destination for bus riders is the Los Angeles area.

Taking a leap toward courting a sought-after medical facility in West Berkeley, City Council members also approved a parking lot at 2700 10th St. near the planned location of a Kaiser Permanente medical office. Having successfully moved through a prior Zoning Adjustments Board hearing, the proposed parking lot will replace eight industrial buildings, home to businesses that City Council was hesitant to displace. To reach a compromise, Wareham Development agreed to give the tenant businesses four months of free rent.

One business that will have to find a new location in Berkeley is Mobility Systems, a car repair shop that specializes in repairing and maintaining cars and vans accessible to those with physical disabilities.

“We lose a vital service — I want you to know that this is not just a parking lot. This is a service that has been serving this community for decades that we rely on,” said James LeBrecht, a local Berkeley filmmaker and disability rights activist. “When my van breaks down, I go over there and it gets fixed quickly. That’s the way they service my community.”

Council members agreed to look into whether the Office of Economic Development could assist the businesses, including Mobility Systems and a Saab specialty auto shop, in finding new locations in West Berkeley. However, the surface-level parking lot, which has a total of 123 automobile spaces, faced criticisms of its own.

“The prospect of putting surface parking in a mixed-use residential area is absurd,” said Ian Ream, a West Berkeley resident and architect. “If the council caves into arguments that Kaiser won’t come if you don’t build parking, they should have come up with a more creative solution from the get-go.”

Council members defended the decision to allow the developer to raze the site, adding that the surface lot could be converted into a mixed-use development in the future. The Kaiser Permanente facility is being looked at as a way to fill in the city’s need for medical resources in light of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center’s planned closure by 2030.

“I’m concerned if we don’t move forward with this that Kaiser may not proceed with leasing at this facility, and we will not benefit, and that would be a significant loss to our community,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “I do believe that it is incredibly important that we move forward with this application … to ensure that members of our community have access to essential medical care.”

Brandon Yung is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.