As a long-time resident and member of the Downtown Area Planning Committee I have participated in ten years of planning, debate, initiatives, referendums and heated viewpoints on the future of our downtown. After two decisive votes, the hugely popular new plan is finally underway with exciting new buildings proposed that will contribute greatly to achieving our community vision for Downtown.

Now is the time to listen to the 74% of Berkeley voters who want a vibrant downtown and to say YES to the first project that will help turn our vision into reality.

The first project, the proposed Berkeley Plaza at 2211 Harold Way, is fully consistent with the plan and asks for no exceptions. It is one minute from BART and from the two similarly sized historic buildings downtown and is perfectly located. The building will provide more than 300 new homes above ground floor retail and new theaters, creating places to live for people who now have to commute here and supporting downtown as a center of arts, culture and entertainment with the new theaters and supportive retail.

While the housing and theaters will be huge community benefits in themselves, the project will also provide more than $1 million in annual tax revenues,  $6 million to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $6 million living wage jobs and job training, almost $600,000 for improvements to the  streets and open spaces Ddowntown plus other monies for environmental  and other purposes. The total value of the community benefits package that the city council required for this project is more than twice that of any other privately financed project in the East Bay. The building will be a huge benefit, socially, environmentally, economically.

Despite the overwhelming community support for new buildings in the downtown, and all the benefits they will bring, the opponents of a vibrant downtown are up to their usual strategies, trying to throw sand in the gears whenever they can. They complain about the size, the location, the community benefits, the impacts of construction and even the fact that a tiny part of one corner of the building might be visible from Campanile Way, a complaint that baffles the campus.

Some of them are even more shameless, using the tragedy of the recent balcony collapse.  The naysayers offer nothing but disinformation, delay and complaint.

In regard to their concern about safety, the contrast of the proposed building to the site of the collapsed balcony is stark.  The balconies on Library Gardens were made of wood and the contractor made extensive use of non-union labor. The Berkeley Plaza project will be all steel, including its balconies. And every task of every craft, from the building frame through interior tenant improvements, is scheduled to be done by high-skilled union labor.

The new building will be a great addition to the look and feel of the downtown, with a design that is modern but with strong echoes from its context.  That is not an accident. The quality of the final design is a product of a process that works. The project has been molded by the active work of three city commissions that have held more than 20 hearings, gathered public testimony and provided direction to the project team to refine the design over a series of iterations.

The last stage of this process is for the Landmarks Preservation Committee and the Zoning Adjustments Board to say yes. This they will have an opportunity to do this week and next. I ask them to do just that.

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Dorothy Walker is the former Chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission and a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.
Dorothy Walker is the former Chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission and a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee.