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Berkeley Proposes Aggressive Downtown Development

Original post made by Mike, College Terrace, on Dec 17, 2007

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It looks like Berkeley is getting the message about a new paradigm (for Berekeley) for downtown development. This is something that Palo Alto might consider, as a way to promote future fiscal sustainability, and in order to avoid becoming an also-ran over the next few decades. We are not insulated from becoming insignificant, relative to our Peninsula neighbors. We shouldn't be taking our current good fortune for granted.

Let's bring some new office and hotel development - either to downtown, or to small pockets identified to be able to handle exceptions to the current height limitations.

When we add this to scaled increases in housing (including sufficient BMR housing, hopefully created by nurturing developers who are as interested in profit as they are social responsibility) over the next few decades, along with (hopefully) aggressive efforts on the part of policy makers to *insist* on orders-of-magnitude better mass transit (and lead citizens in that direction).

from the article:
"In a few years, downtown Berkeley could look a bit more like downtown San Francisco under a makeover plan to be considered Tuesday by the City Council - a bustling urban center thick with hotels, office high-rises, theaters and museums, but low on parking and sunlight."

Comments (7)

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Are you actually familiar with Berkeley? Because if you are, you'd realized its lay-out works a lot better for urban development than Palo Alto. Its main shopping streets--San Pablo, Shattuck, Telegraph and College aren't arteries to the freeway, they all run parallel to 101. Shattuck and San Pablo are both wide streets--busy, yes, but not endlessly congested like University. (Berkeley's University Ave. does run into 101 and it is more congested, though it doesn't then continue to another freeway a la Page Mill.

Palo Alto's downtown business area is substantially smaller than Berkeley's. And, unlike, Stanford, the Campus, which assures lots of pedestrian traffic, abuts all but one of Berkeley's main business streets.

The residential lay-out is also rather different. Unlike University and Embarcadero, University in Berkeley really isn't residential. There may be a house somewhere on it, but I can't think of it.

And, oh yeah, Berkeley has BART--a real mass transit system where there are actually more than the very occasional train.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm

A couple of items you left out, Mike:

"Merchants, city staff and residents have blamed the decline of downtown Berkeley in part to the proliferation of homeless people. Forty percent of Alameda County's homeless population lives in Berkeley, which has just 7 percent of the county's population"

Sound familiar?

"Another potential problem with the plan is that no one knows if it's economically feasible. Developers might not be able to make a profit with the proposed height limits and green construction requirements, ultimately leaving downtown in the long-term slump it's in now."

Slight little problem, wouldn't you say, Mike?

Also, isn't the BMR element missing...or did I just miss that part?

I am very happy to see Berkeley starting to pull its act together, after years of self destruction, and I hope such an effort works. But it is a very risky scheme. An intermediate approach would be to simply clean up the streets in Bezerkely, espcially the street bums (who have savaged the place). This would provide confidence to investors that the city means business. Palo Alto could do the same.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2007 at 1:10 pm


I am quite familiar with Berkeley, having lived there for a time.

The point of the post was not to say "let's do it just like Berkley", but that we need to do *something*, in the way of attacking the problem of forward sustainability, instead of fancifully wishing away things like ABAG requests and coming population increases.

It's good that you brought up BART, because that's the kind of thing that we NEED to happen on this Peninsula. Why don't we have aggressive, coordinated regional policy to make that happen. Why isn't Palo Alto leading the way in this, instead of entertaining the doom and gloom scenarios of those who fear measured growth?

John, as usual, your extrapolations leave something to be desired. Yes, Berkeley does have a homeless problem, but Palo Alto is not in that class. Further, what's to keep innovative developers from taking on the challenge of building to green standards, within the proposed height limits? With respect, your objections sound like the words of a quitter.

Entrepreneurship is about taking well-informed, measured risks. I fully expect that we will see Berkeley overcoming its current constraints, in spite of the significant minority of anti-development folks who have made Berkeley what it is today.

And thus the irony. You, and many others in past threads who decry housing and retail development (just look at the miserable record of anti-development and housing activists here), have done your bit to keep our city with a poor jobs/housing imbalance, a general lack of demographic diversity - including insufficient retail dynamism and tax revenue. Thus, many of our current fiscal and infrastructure problems. The contradictions between your stated goals (neighborhood quality, walkability, good infrastructure and services, great schools) and the results of your actions are confounding.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2007 at 1:52 pm

Mike, you keep lumping me in the the anti-growth crowd. You should know better, becasue it I have made it clear several times on these threads. I am PRO-growth. I want Palo Alto to dymically develop elitist jobs, involving brain power. I want our free-market housing to grow, slowly, in order to house those elitists that fill those jobs. I want my own property values to continue to grow. I want wages for blue collar workers in PA to grow, so that they an have their dream home in Tracy or Salinas. I want our clean energy supply to grow by combining solar and nuclear power. I want efficent mass transit trains, like BART, to grow, so that those workers can arrive at their jobs in comfort.

Mike, I am MUCH more pro growth than you claim to be. In fact, I think your appraoch is anti-growth. The worst anti-grpwth thing for PA would be to sign onto ABAG housing demands. It is just stack-'em-up welfare housing. It will SUPPRESS economic growth in Palo Alto.

So Mike, you can criticize me all you want, but please do not call me is a lie.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Sorry John, the long-term results of your position have already been clearly shown. Untrammeled sprawl and other unregulated growth, along with a deficiency in effective planning for growth has gotten us to our current, sorry, state.

Yes, you are "pro-growth", but that's growth of a certain kind - the kind we're trying to do away with.

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Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 17, 2007 at 4:08 pm

OK, Mike, you admit that I am pro-growth (finally!). You just don't like my brand of growth, nor I yours. In fact, you are anti-economic growth. Perhaps the only thing we really agree opon is efficient mass transit trains, like BART.

You see growth as constriction of the market place. I see it as allowing the free market. You see freedom of choice for blue collar workers as sprawl; I see it as freedom of choice, and progress, with relatively little environmental downside. You refuse to deconstruct the global warming hysteria, as well as the "sprawl" arguments. You just say that it is all a well reasoned scientific consensus, when it is not.

My main beef with you is that you are willing to sacrifice Palo Alto to your socialist imaginations. I am not.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2007 at 9:34 am

Any investor who locates in Berkeley deserves what he gets.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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