According to the jargon and buzzwords of planning today, South San Francisco’s new Solaire transit village should be heaven on earth.No such luck. It is an architectural purgatory and a cautionary tale.The basic moves are great: Three and four-story buildings filled with apartments and retail space are on busy El Camino Real instead of somewhere on the region’s outskirts. There’s a BART station next door, and 70 of the 361 apartments are reserved for lower-income residents. There’s even a Trader Joe’s, a grocery chain of cultlike status.But this showcase of so-called smart growth comes packaged in the most generic structures imaginable, an inept cross between Stanford University and Orange County. The best thing about Solaire is that, with luck, it will be a wake-up call to other cities — reminding them that the quality of what gets built is every bit as important as the planning theories involved.
For over three years now there has been a battle of wills between the Berkeley City Council and the residents of South and South-Central Berkeley over a plan identical to the one above for the Ashby Bart station situated on an odd triangle of land between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Adeline Street.
The city claims a Transportation-hub/Retail/Residential project like this will bring back a sense of community, will give this sad and somewhat depressed area of Berkeley a new jolt, new revenues. Our streets will be shiny and clean, our houses and yards will miraculously paint themselves and grow prize-winning begonias. Our children will make straight-As in school and have no cavities.
Needless to say, South & South-Central Berkeley are not buying this pablum. Old-timers have seen far too many EUREKA! projects come and go. They come…they go…and the streets are still dirty, strewn with trash and broken glass. The petty crime rates continue to go up along with the rents, while the quality of living and living quarters roll down hill along with hopes, jobs, and the economy. If you look at a house in the 3000 block of Martin Luther King way, and a house in the 1200 block of, say, Euclid Avenue in North Berkeley you can be forgiven for wondering if you are even standing in the same city.
Berkeley, for all its progressive politics and activism community seems strangely unforgiving of its own poor, hungry, and downtrodden citizenry in the southern fringes of Berkeley. The drugs and gangs from North Oakland continue to encroach, crime increases, voices rise and fingers are shaken, but nothing changes–not really.
So, will the city prevail and build our shiny new mix-use property above the Ashby Bart station? Our Mayor insists that he will see this project through. He points to similar projects in Fruitvale and Hayward and calls them a rousing success in revitalizing those areas. Those transit/living centers were built 4-5 years ago. Oddly enough, they are not even mentioned in today’s Chronicle article.
Doesn’t South/Central Berkeley WANT better housing, more retail shops, fewer cars, and better use of an aging, ugly, somewhat drab bit of land? Well yes and no. The biggest hue and cry seems to stem from the fact that What disappears when this building begins is the parking which fronts MLK. This displaces a long-running Flea Market on Saturdays and Sundays. The city has offered the grass medians that run up Adeline from Ashby Ave. to Derby Street as an alternative venue. However, Adeline is six lanes, divided by that median. It’s rather easy to envision vendors crowding the center median, and shoppers lined on either side of Adeline eyeing the traffic and deciding if they really need something on the median badly enough to risk playing Frogger with their life. No, I would have to say, this is not an optimal alternative for a site for the flea market.
The next big obstacle is neighborhood parking. Berkeley is very passive-aggressive when it comes to automobiles. It seems that you can’t travel more than four blocks in a straight line without having to detour several blocks out of your way to avoid traffic shunts, round abouts and dead ends. The parking lots around Ashby Bart fill each week day with commuter cars. Many Bart riders park and take Bart to their final destination. Where will those cars go to once construction begins and after it’s completed? The condos and apartments planned will not have a wealth of parking. The plan is to draw in residents who shun cars and rely upon Bart and ACTransit as their primary mode of transportation; admirable. I’m a big advocate of public transportation but that does NOTHING for the congestion of cars that will spill even deeper into the neighborhoods that surround Ashby Bart. The parking problem brings other problems with it such as more opportunistic thieves breaking into cars left unattended during the day and ultimately is the fear that our crime rates, already higher than the rest of Berkeley will surge upward even more.
There is no question that there are areas of Berkeley which need revitalization and the South/South Central neighborhoods are chief among those areas. Will the Ashby Bart multi-use/residential project provide that revitalization? And if so, at what cost? It remains to be seen.
(Originally posted in my Life Journal and transferred here)
(05-22) 17:28 PDT BERKELEY — All those organic bean sprouts and hikes in Tilden Park have paid off. According to a Berkeley public health study released today, Berkeley residents have longer, healthier lives than almost anyone else in the Bay Area.
The average life expectancy for Berkeley residents is 83, five years longer than the national average and four years longer than their fellow Alameda County residents. Berkeleyans live about three years longer than San Franciscans and four years longer than Californians in general.
And, It’s not Easy Being Green. How Berkeley plans to implement Measure G, which voters approved last fall in order to reduce our community’s carbon footprint by 80% by the year 2050.
I thought it interesting that the San Francisco Chronicle chose to publish this article; on Memorial Day:
IF YOU needed a sign as to just how desperate the military has become to find new recruits, look no further than its determination to sign up students from Berkeley High School.
It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable place for recruiters than Berkeley High, especially as increasing numbers of service men and women arrive home in body bags from Iraq. The school, with an enrollment of more than 3,000 students, must rank as one of the great centers of youth pacificism in the United States.
I’m no friend of the current Administration and I have never felt this war was called for. However, I was raised a military daughter and I am proud of my father’s accomplishments during his tenure in the Navy. Vietnam was only a small portion of what he did in his twenty years as a sailor.
My father also did a stint as a recruiter in the 1970s. We lived in Anchorage and he headed the city’s recruitment center. He lasted two years before he put in for a transfer. He asked for sea-duty and remained on ship until his retirement in 1974. Only many years later did he tell me that his time as a recruiter was the worst time of his military career. He was constantly pressured to meet numbers, to turn a blind eye to criminal history, education deficiencies and more. He was sicked by the lowering of standards the Navy demanded in order to keep recruitment numbers up and meet the goals expected of them.
My memory of that time, of my father leaving again, my awareness of now, and the feelings this article stirs in me all run together as so much noise in my head and in my emotions. It’s difficult to find amusement in this post, I realize.