For those of us who haven’t been able to follow the bouncing wrecking ball (and who would be able to?), there are currently well over 60 stories of new development currently being built, already in the pipeline, or proposed for our downtown. And all with minimal parking.
All of this thanks to the former ‘pro-business’ City Council, with honorable mention going to the Berkeley voters who twice were sold, and bought, a bill of badly damaged goods (aka The Downtown Area Plan) about the need for ‘housing’ and ‘transit friendly green development’ — to the tune of up to seven new highrise developments — in the downtown.
The four downtown projects that we know of so far include:
- A 16-story, 334-room “Residence Inn Hotel by Marriott,” with 113 valet parking spaces, replacing the one-story Bank of America building at Shattuck and Center. This project has begun.
- A 12-story, 120-foot tall 156-unit building at Berkeley Way and Shattuck, currently the site of one and two-story Berkeley Vacuum and Missing Link (behind the previous Berkeley Ace Hardware, which is being gutted for what is known as ‘facadification’ as part of that project. In process.
- The Harold Way Project – An 18-story, 302-unit mixed-use building on Shattuck and Kittredge. The developer has asked for a one-year extension on the building permit.
- Walgreens – An 18-story, 180-foot tower over the existing Walgreens (formerly the J.C Penney) building at the corner of Allston and Shattuck. (Proposed)
One big problem that is never discussed and that I don’t think people are even aware of — although significantly felt — has to do with the major cumulative community environmental impacts that occur while all of these projects are being built. The human density, transportation, traffic, business, and parking impacts that take place during the pre-occupancy construction period itself.
And not just the obvious traffic re-routing and parking lot snarls, as significant as those are.
Over the past several years, I have talked to a number of the workers on these projects, from Berkeley Way to Haste Street. From the massive UC block-big office structures north of University Ave and east of Shattuck to the new apartment building add-ons at the Fine Arts Apartments at Shattuck and Haste; and some of the smaller projects in between.
And it is always the same story. Every two hours — or every four hours, depending on the part of town they are working in — workers tell me when I ask, that there is what one worker referred to as “a great exodus” heading out to put more money in their meters. None of them expressed happiness about having to do this.
So . . . In addition to the traffic problem from the construction vehicles, and blocked off sidewalks, driving lanes, and parking lanes, presumably the workers who are building all of those new buildings will be taking up a whole lot of metered spaces in the heart of Berkeley’s downtown for perhaps the next four to six years. As if parking wasn’t already nearly impossible in the downtown. And it will be made worse as all of these new projects start being built.
In taking up the parking spaces already at a premium, the workers parking there all day long will prevent shoppers and diners from shopping and dining. This is bad for business and bad for the people who want to use the downtown for its intended purposes.
It would not be beyond the pale for the city to either incentivize construction companies to either reward employees for taking public transit or even require construction companies to provide offsite shuttle service for their employees or encourage them to park in city garages.
Shattuck Avenue is already nearly impossible during the rush-hour commute. On one recent Thursday around 6 p.m., northbound traffic on Shattuck was backed up from University Avenue to Carleton!
Sad to say, but after all of these projects are completed, in CEQA terms, the cumulative human density and traffic impacts of all of these projects taken together will be exponentially horrific.
And the impacts will be felt citywide. Even with just the new construction that has already taken place over the past several years by and for the University, and by private builders (think thousands of housing units with hundreds more on the way), it has likewise become nearly impossible to get parking on Solano Avenue. The businesses on Solano love it because their businesses are thriving. But at whose expense?
Sadly, Berkeley is becoming less and less of a livable community.
Environmental impacts can, of course, be positive in some ways and negative in others. Taken as a whole, all of this new construction will probably be good for business and good for the university. And bad for people who make this city their home.
So fasten your seatbelts. It is going to soon become very bad, not only for Berkeley residents, but in fact for anyone trying to get in, or out, or around this city.