Map of major projects prioritized in SOSIP
Map of major projects prioritized in the Downtown Streets & Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP)

Berkeley City Council last night unanimously approved both the Downtown Streets & Open Space Improvement Plan (SOSIP) and a schedule of fees that will help fund the proposed projects. SOSIP aims to help create a more pedestrian-oriented neighborhood downtown, and will help guide the design of parks, plazas and streetscapes in the area.

The SOSIP is the first concrete action on the streets and open space provisions of the Downtown Area Plan, which was approved by the council in March 2012.

“I’m very excited about a lot of the projects put forward,” said council member Jesse Arreguín, whose district includes downtown. “If we can do even a fraction of these projects, it would really make a difference in making downtown a much more pedestrian friendly and vibrant environment.”

The major projects identified in the SOSIP as priorities are: 

  • Center St. Plaza (Phase 1): Close Center St. to automobile traffic between Shattuck and Oxford, while providing access for emergency vehicles and commercial deliveries. Include green infrastructure features. Provide infrastructure for a future water feature if feasible. Create a “Center St. Greenway” between Milvia and Shattuck.
  • Shattuck Square and University Ave. Gateway: Reconfigure Shattuck to allow two-way traffic on the west side of Shattuck Square. On the east side, consider options including: a slow street for local traffic, on-street parking, a transit plaza limited to buses, pedestrians and bicycles. Widen sidewalks at the east end of University Ave., reduce travel lanes, and add a focal point.
  • Shattuck Blvd/Park Blocks: Widen sidewalks, add green infrastructure features, and develop “Park Blocks” in the middle of Shattuck Ave. between (a) Allston and Kittredge (high priority) and (b) Durant and Haste.
  • Hearst Ave./Ohlone Greenway Extension, Phase 1: Bike lane, landscaping, sidewalk, and green infrastructure improvements.
  • Bike Lanes: Milvia and Shattuck Avenues

Wendy Cosin, Deputy Director of the planning department, told the City Council that the Shattuck Square reconfiguration had the potential to be an early demonstration of SOSIP’s benefits. Her views were echoed by John Caner, Executive Director of Downtown Berkeley Association. He said that improvements to the east side of Shattuck Square was “low-hanging fruit,” and that it tied in well to already planned measures to improve the nearby BART Plaza.

The agreed SOSIP fees should provide about one-third of the funding for the projects, said Eric Angstadt, Director of the planning department. A fee study by the planning department determined that the maximum feasible fees would be $2.23 per sq ft for new residential use, $1.68 per sq ft for new commercial use, and $1.12 per sq ft for new institutional use. Those fees were approved by the council.

“I haven’t received any pushback saying it’s too high or it’s too much,” said Mayor Tom Bates, noting that the fee study had been publicly available for more than a year.

Bates and council members raised questions on whether UC Berkeley would pay a share for the SOSIP improvements. Angstadt said the institutional rate was designed with the university in mind. “We have that fee there and we hope that they’ll pay it,” he said.

“The university has a tremendous amount to gain from this plan and I hope they will participate in the fees,” said council member Susan Wengraf.

Bates said that SOSIP projects should be eligible for regional and state funding, which will help close the gap between the fees and the costs.

“This is one of the best shovel-ready projects anywhere in the East Bay,” Bates said. “I would be very disappointed if we didn’t get funded. There are no sure things, but it’s a great, great opportunity.”

After seven years, Berkeley gets a new downtown plan [03.21.12]
Taller buildings, open spaces on the cards for downtown [03.09.12]
A green, pedestrian-friendly vision for downtown [02.08.10]

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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...