The Southside Plan, in the works since 1997 (or since 1929, as one councilmember joked), was passed unanimously by the Berkeley City Council last night.

“Congratulations! We have a plan,” exulted Mayor Tom Bates after the vote.

The main goals of the plan, which covers the area directly south of the UC Berkeley campus, include creating additional housing to help meet the housing demand for students and local employees; to encourage affordable housing; to provide for a high-density residential and commercial mixed-use edge to the campus and the “spine” along Telegraph Avenue; to increase non-automotive modes of transport; to enhance the Telegraph commercial district; to recognize, preserve and enhance the “unique physical character” of the Southside; and to improve public safety, address social needs and act to minimize loss of life and property in the event of a natural disaster.  (The full plan, which was amended slightly by the council last night, can be downloaded from the city website.)

Although the mayor and councilmembers expressed delight at the passage, last night’s council discussion also included frequent reference to the long, tortuous development of the plan, and the recognition that examined in the light of today’s thinking, there are areas where the plan falls short.

“I’ve been working on this since, what, 1929? No, 1997 — before I was a councilmember and before I had grey hairs,” said councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose District 7 encompasses most of the Southside area. “It’s just beautiful that we’re finally moving forward. There are things that are missing. There should be a sustainability element. There should be more of an open space element. In spite of the fact that I don’t like the flaws, I also don’t want to wait another 17 years to get a Southside Plan, which is why I support moving forward.”

“It’s not a perfect document,” echoed Mayor Bates. “There are a lot of things that should have been done that we’ve learned in the meantime, but we’re not going to stop it now.”

The plan originated in a March 1997 Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the city following a tussle over the expansion of the Haas Pavilion, the university’s primary indoor sports arena. As Andy Katz, a director of the Associated Students of the University of California back in 1999-2002, said in the public comments at last night’s meeting, “Work on the Southside Plan was a response to really terrible town and gown relations.”

The draft Southside Plan was completed in 2003, following extensive community meetings, staff work, and a series of Planning Commission-sponsored working groups. Work on the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) started in July 2004, and the DEIR was released for review in March 2008. The updated draft plan was released in April 2009. Last night, the council formally certified the environmental impact report, adopted amendments to the city’s General Plan, adopted the Southside Plan, and adopted the first reading of ordinances for amendments to the Zoning Ordinance, which were spurred by the Southside Plan.

In the public comments at last night’s meeting, almost all of the speakers were students who live in co-op housing on the Southside. All encouraged the council to push for more affordable housing, and to stop the university from imposing additional costs on new housing developments through its 4% capital improvements fee. The capital improvements fee has replaced a much-criticized parking replacement fee that the university enforced on land it owned.

“We don’t agree with the university policy,” affirmed Mayor Bates. “We haven’t and we won’t on this one either. We will probably unanimously, or close to unanimously, ask the university not to impose this fee, but the issue is they can do it anyway.”

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...