The existing view from the base of the Campanile. Rendering:: DRAFT EIR of 2211 Harold Way
The existing view of Berkeley and the bay from the base of the UC Berkeley Campanile. Rendering:: DRAFT EIR of 2211 Harold Way

The view from the UC Berkeley Campanile looking west toward San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge is iconic, but it should not be landmarked, the Landmarks Preservation Commission decided Thursday, April 2.

The 5-3 vote, with one abstention, came after almost four hours of testimony from residents who are concerned that a proposed 18-story building at 2211 Harold Way will partially block the view from campus. Those in favor of landmarking urged the LPC to preserve the view for future generations by making sure developers could not impinge on the vista.

“Campanile Way is a terribly important part of the history of the campus and the Berkeley community,” said John English, who has lived in Berkeley for more than 55 years. “It is totally obvious it deserves landmarking. Let’s recognize its importance and celebrate its 100th anniversary by landmarking Campanile Way.”

Almost 30 people testified in favor of the landmarking at the meeting, including former Mayor Shirley Dean, three former LPC commissioners, and three UC Berkeley professors. Some of them had marched from campus to the North Berkeley Senior Center for the meeting carrying signs that read “Save the view.”

Emily Marthinsen, UC Berkeley’s principal architect, spoke against the landmarking, as did a half dozen people in their 20s and 30s from a new San Francisco-based, pro-development group, San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Federation, known as SF BARF.

While almost everyone at the meeting agreed that the view from the Campanile was fantastic, not everyone agreed that 2211 Harold Way would significantly mar it, or even if it mattered: UC Berkeley would have no legal obligation to pay any attention to the ruling as it is not governed by local ordinances.

Nor could everyone decide on exactly what would be landmarked. The landmarking proposal was initiated by petition by local historian (and former LPC commissioner) Steven Finacom and joined by 50 others, including former LPC commissioners Carrie Olson and Becky O’Malley. They said they wanted to landmark the actual Campanile Way, the path that extends from Sather Tower through the campus to a bridge that crosses Strawberry Creek. Doing that, they argued, would be a de facto way of landmarking the view. Campanile Way, as part of UC Berkeley’s “Classical Core,” is already on the National Register of Historic Places, but is not on the city of Berkeley’s list of landmarks.

Campanile Way was constructed in the 1870s in the early years of the campus, There were hardly any trees or structures there when it was first built, but the path is now lined with Beaux-Arts buildings, such as the Valley Life Sciences Building and Wheeler Hall. Towering trees now obscure part of the original view, including a portion of where 2211 Harold Way may one day stand.

The impact of 2211 Harold Way on the view from the base of the Campanile. The developer has proposed a new design which would move the tower 23 feet left. Rendering is from DEIR for 2211 Harold Way.
A rendering of the impact of 2211 Harold Way on the view from the north side of the base of the Campanile. The developer has proposed a new design that would move the tower of the new project 23 feet south. Rendering: DRAFT EIR of 2211 Harold Way
This is a rendering of the view from the central part of the stairs at the base of the Campanile. A portion of 2211 Harold Way can be seen at the left.
A rendering of the view from the central part of the stairs at the base of the Campanile. A portion of 2211 Harold Way can be seen at the left. Rendering: DRAFT EIR of 2211 Harold Way
A rendering of the view of Campanile Way from the southern portion of the stairs at its base. The 2211 Harold Way project is not visible.
A rendering of the view of Campanile Way from the southern portion of the stairs at its base. The 2211 Harold Way project is not visible. Rendering: DRAFT EIR of 2211 Harold Way

The DEIR for 2211 Harold Way states that that the impact of 2211 Harold Way would be “less than significant” on the view. Moreover, the view is not a historical resource in its own right, but a “character-defining feature of a landscape element (Campanile Way) that has been identified as a contributor to a cultural landscape (the Classical Core of the UC Berkeley campus).”

“The existing skyline is such that the view down Campanile Way and through downtown Berkeley’s urban skyline has already changed substantially over time due to development and landscape growth both on campus and in downtown Berkeley,” the DEIR states. “Further, enough of the view of the Golden Gate Bridge would remain to convey Campanile Way’s significance.”

(The LPC submitted comments during the EIR process that they thought the document was deficient because it did not consider the view to be a historic resource impacted by the project.)

Commissioner Paul Schwartz, who was appointed to the LPC by City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, said he did not think 2211 Harold Way would have a huge impact on the view. He said he stood on different parts of the steps at the base of the Campanile and thought the only place a visitor would notice the 18-story building would be on the northern edge of the steps.  It would not be noticeable from elsewhere. Schwartz was one of the commissioners who voted to deny landmark status for Campanile Way.

The landmarking application, Schwartz said, was “a red herring trying to stop this development.”

But Commissioner Anne Wagley, a Kriss Worthington appointee who voted to landmark, disagreed.

“Landmarking doesn’t stop construction,” said Wagley. “Landmarking is a way for us to say ‘this is something of value we would like to preserve for future generations.’”

Erin Diehm urged the LPC to think about future generations and to make sure they could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the campus. “This really is an iconic view and a destination,” she said.

The commentators from SF BARF urged the commission not to landmark the view since it might impact the building of 2211 Harold Way. The lack of housing in the Bay Area was making it increasingly difficult to find live in the region. Building more homes or apartments — even expensive ones like those at 2211 Harold Way — would relieve some of the pressure. Landmarking Campanile Way would thwart downtown development, they argued.

“This isn’t just about Harold Way,” said Ian Monroe. “It proposes to upset years of downtown planning.”

One of the pro-landmarking speakers called out SF BARF, suggesting it was a front for developers. O’Malley wrote an editorial in the Daily Planet, which she co-owns, questioning why SF BARF people were even involved in this Berkeley issue, a question that has been raised at other hearings in San Francisco.

Sonja Trauss, the founder of SF BARF and a former math teacher at Tilden Prep School in Albany, lives in Oakland but has testified at numerous public hearings in favor of development in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. She recently received $10,000 to do her work from Jeremy Stoppleman, the CEO of Yelp, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

Trauss denied that SF BARF was a front for developers.

“This is a fight between people who are in the market for housing and people who are not in the market for housing,” said Trauss. “You can say I’m here from a greedy developer but I can say you are here from greedy landowners.”

Alfred Twu, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters' Association, spoke at the LPC meeting. He drew this editorial cartoon.
Alfred Twu, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters’ Association, spoke at the LPC meeting. He drew this editorial cartoon

After the meeting, a disappointed Finacom sent Berkeleyside an email with his reaction: “They voted essentially to acquiesce to the privatization of our most important public view in order to provide homes in the sky for a few rich individuals. No civic body has acted so shamefully on a public view issue in Berkeley.”

Finacom continued: “A fitting memorial would be a plaque at the base of the Campanile that would read, “From this point on the campus, for a century and a half, from the founding of Berkeley and the naming of the campus, you could see the Golden Gate, unobstructed by buildings. It was one of the glories of Berkeley, famous worldwide, and a key part of our community identity. These five people voted to kill that view.”

Finacom said he and others had not yet decided if they would appeal the decision to the Berkeley City Council.

“Politics should stay out of the discussion”

While the lengthy discussion centered around Campanile Way, it mirrored the long-running battle over development in Berkeley’s downtown with preservations urging for smaller scale buildings and others insisting that taller buildings would bring more density and vibrancy to the area.

The meeting started with a reference to the politics of development in Berkeley. Austene Hall, the chair of the commission and one of the forces behind the 2014 push for Measure R, which would have put added restrictions on high rises in the downtown, reminded her fellow commissioners to act professionally. She said that they were there because of their knowledge about preservation, and that politics should stay out of the discussion.

Hall might have been making a veiled reference to her once fellow commissioner, Rose Marie Pietras, whom Mayor Tom Bates had dismissed from her position just a few weeks earlier. Pietras told the LPC that Bates removed her after she had a conversation March 2 with Calvin Fong of the mayor’s staff in which she expressed concern about the impact of the Harold Way project on the view from the Campanile. A few days later, Fong left a message on Pietras’ answering machine telling her she was removed from the commission because her opinion differed with that of Bates, said Pietras.

“We shouldn’t have our council people telling us how to vote,” Pietras said. “We have to vote from our heart.”

Charles Burress, an aide to Bates, could not speak to the exact reason Pietras was removed. But he confirmed April 3 that Bates thought “their views did not align.”

Bates’ new appointment to the LPC, Kim Suczynski Smith, made her first appearance at the April 2 meeting and voted against landmarking Campanile Way. Suczynski Smith is a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Design. She is also a job captain at Pyatok Architecture and Urban Design in Oakland which has designed a 170-unit, mixed-use complex at 1500 San Pablo Ave. for Shorenstein Partners. Commissioners Suczynski Smith, Schwartz, Tom Beil, Mary Canavan, and Nic Dominguez, sitting in for Shannon Brown, voted to deny giving landmark status to Campanile Way. Wagley, Hall, and Christopher Linvill voted against that denial. Dimitri Belser abstained.

The project at the center of the debate: an 18-story apartment building

The project at the center of the discussion is an 18-story, 302 unit apartment complex in the rear of the historic Shattuck Hotel on Shattuck Avenue, also the current home to Shattuck Cinemas. The developer, Los Angeles-based Joe Penner of HSR Berkeley Investments, is proposing to build an L-shaped building with two towers. One would be 12-stories tall and one would be 18-stories tall.

The 12-story tower on the north side of the property, roughly located at Harold Way and Allston, is what might be seen from the steps of the Campanile.

In response to concerns about height, the developer of 2211 Harold Way is offering to pull back the building's north tower by 23 feet. The before and after designs are shown here.
In response to concerns about height, the developer of 2211 Harold Way is offering to pull back the building’s north tower by 23 feet. The before and after designs are shown here. Rendering: MVEI Architects

In recent weeks, in response to concern about the view, the developer has proposed some possible design changes to reduce the impact on the vista. Penner has offered to move the northern shoulder south by 23 feet and relocate units to the southern shoulder to “address urban design concerns about western views,” according to a city staff report prepared for the Design Review Committee. Penner has put forward a number of variations of that design.

Finacom said stepping the shoulder back 23 feet helps, but does not completely resolve the issue. He urged Penner to change the design even more drastically to address his and others’ concerns.

The 2211 Harold Way project is making its way through the design and planning process. The developer has just submitted a final EIR. A related discussion, on the community benefits developers are required to include as part of their permit applications to the city, is set to take place Tuesday night before the Berkeley City Council. It may, however, be postponed due to scheduling issues.

See project-related documents on the city website, and past Berkeleyside coverage.

The Campanile at 100: The woman of the tower (03.25.15)
UC Berkeley Campanile celebrates 100th birthday (01.27.15)
Berkeley Zoning Board considers community benefits for proposed high-rise (01.12.15)
Residents question Berkeley Plaza’s impact on theater, views (11.18.14)
High-rise developer in Berkeley to use 100% union labor (10.31.14)
Developers put theaters back into high-rise plans (06.26.14)
Early high-rise plans lack inspiration, say commissioners (03.19.13)
First high-rise in 40 years planned for downtown Berkeley (12.21.12)
Large downtown Berkeley property changes hands (11.28.12)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...