As plans proceed for an updated municipal garage on downtown Berkeley’s Center Street, project details are firming up, and the plan for where people can expect to park while construction is underway has been released.
The city is planning to demolish its circa 1958 5-story parking structure at 2025 Center and replace it with a modern 8-story structure featuring a double-helix design to halve the time it takes drivers to exit the garage.
Last Thursday, July 23, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board learned about the newest iteration of the plans for the project, and gave feedback to city staff about several issues they still hope to see addressed. The project is set to return to the board Aug. 27 for a vote.
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Earlier this month, the city’s Design Review Committee gave the project a favorable review. The city’s Civic Arts Commission is also on board, and is helping determine the process the city will use to select public art — described as colored LED lighting on the façade — that will appear on site. Last Thursday, zoning board commissioners said they were largely pleased with how the project is coming along.
“I’ve seen this project four times and it gets better and better,” said Commissioner Richard Christiani. “Generally it’s a very well-thought-out building. It’s nice to see so much attention given to a structure like this.”
The project’s environmental review under CEQA is open for public comment through Aug. 6. (Read the report and find out how to comment.)
The existing garage, city transportation manager Farid Javandel told commissioners, is often full, and drivers are sometimes forced to wait in a 45-minute line to exit. Traffic can be a particular problem for theater-goers in Berkeley’s arts district as far as both making it to shows on time, and leaving en masse after productions let out.
“Our goal is to construct an award-winning multimodal garage that meets the mandated standards and have as many enhancements as is fiscally feasible,” he told the board. “We want to operate a very efficient garage that people will be happy to come to.”
Javandel said the project is set to include a valet bike-parking station with room for 300 bikes, as well as 24-hour self-parking for bikes in a secure area. (There will also be bike racks inside the garage, as required by the city code.) Initially, charging stations for 12 electric vehicles will be available, with the capacity to add another 12 should demand increase.
The city plans to install solar panels on the roof as well. Those panels will be attached to a “microgrid,” explained Javandel, that will connect to the city’s Public Safety building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way to help extend that building’s power supply during disasters or other types of emergencies. Javandel said the city is aiming to approach or achieve the garage-standard equivalent of LEED Platinum certification for its sustainability features.
The city is also looking at the installation of a system that could indicate the location of open parking spaces and potentially help direct drivers to them.
Javandel said the city is also building the garage with an eye toward future expansion onto adjacent sites. He said an adjacent site on Milvia Street could one day become available. That would add space for another 200 vehicles on seven floors, which could connect, after opening up a wall, to what is currently proposed. The updated garage — not counting the Milvia parcel — is slated to include parking for 711 vehicles, compared to the current capacity of 440.
Commissioner Denise Pinkston asked the city to take a closer look at a corridor in the garage that she said could be redesigned to improve its safety, and also asked the city to reconsider plans for a proposed retail kiosk, which she said might be too small, at approximately 500 square feet, to be functional.
Javandel said the city already has businesses operating downtown in as little as 150 square feet, and that at least two existing downtown eateries have expressed interest in opening an outpost in the garage.
Other commissioners joined in Pinkston’s concerns about potential safety issues in the corridor, and asked the city to look again at improvements to that feature of the garage.
Commissioner Sophie Hahn put in another plug for providing better public bathrooms at the garage, of which she spoke strongly in favor at the June ZAB review of the project. Hahn said the plans for the bathrooms are better but still “negligible,” and urged the city to do right by the public by getting serious about nicer facilities.
“There’s a weird kind of puritanical thing in the United States. We pretend that people don’t use the bathroom, but they do,” said Hahn. “It is, I feel, a burden on local restaurants and businesses, and certainly a burden on all humans — children, old folks, people with mobility issues — to have so few, so inaccessible, public restrooms.”
Hahn said the city should increase the number of bathrooms throughout the structure, locate them on both sides (Center Street and Addison Street) of the building, and ensure that they are “wonderfully accessible” with “generous space allocations.”
During public comment, several speakers expressed support for the idea of catching and filtering the stormwater that falls on the building, which could provide significant reserves to help keep Berkeley parks green or be used in other ways.
Local historian Steve Finacom said half a million gallons of rainwater would fall on the garage in an average rain year. Even a drought year would bring a quarter million gallons, he said.
Commissioners said they were interested in the idea of rainwater capture and asked the city to take a look at how that might work.
Finacom is also advocating for the city to consider making recreational space available to the public on the roof of the garage, which he said could potentially feature a mini dog park, tennis and basketball courts and community gardens.
Where will people park with the Center Street garage closed for construction?
The board has not yet had a detailed discussion regarding where people might park while the garage is under construction, which is expected to take 12-14 months.
According to a summary of its mitigation plan, which was posted online prior to the July 23 meeting, the city believes it can account for 316 of the lost 440 spaces by taking a variety of steps, which include getting city employees to switch to AC Transit by offering free transit passes and bike-share opportunities; and changing pricing, under the auspices of its goBerkeley program, for other paid parking downtown (not spelled out but likely by increasing rates) “to provide a travel mode shift by some employees and visitors who currently drive to downtown Berkeley.”
According to the summary, the city has identified 90 existing unused metered parking spots downtown to help fill the gap, along with 45 spaces of unspecified “Attendant Parking at City Garage & Lot.” The Telegraph Channing garage has another 100 spaces of “satellite parking” that can be used.
The operator of the Allston Way garage has also agreed to set aside 100 attendant parking spaces during construction.
The city is trying to get help from the university during construction, too: “An additional 200 spaces have been identified for use in the Golden Bear Center, but are under control of the University, which has not made a firm commitment.”
If necessary, the city said there are additional satellite parking opportunities in the Spenger’s lot on Fourth Street (100 spaces), and at the Lawrence Hall of Science on Centennial Drive (50 space).
City looks to continue goBerkeley parking program (07.07.15)
ZAB to downtown garage developer: Step up your game (06.15.15)
Berkeley Center Street garage project gets first review (06.10.15)
Neighbors question parking, height of student-oriented housing planned on Telegraph (07.16.14)
Center Street garage slated for demolition, expansion (12.10.13)
City parking garage fees up downtown, down on Telegraph (10.30.13)
Metered parking changes launch Tuesday in Berkeley (10.15.13)
Berkeley council weighs in on parking pilot program (06.12.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)