A several-year effort to designate Campanile Way as a city landmark hit a major bump last month when a City Council majority reversed a decision by Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to do just this.
It was the second time since 2015 that efforts to landmark the historic pathway on the UC Berkeley campus — and, at least to some extent, the view above it — have been defeated in the city process.
It’s unclear what supporters of the landmark designation will do next. But, if history is an indication, their interest won’t die.
History also makes clear that the Campanile Way landmark story is mired in confusion around view protection. This includes whether the city can landmark views as historically significant, whether the airspace or view is preserved above a landmarked area, and which city regulations might actually protect views.
Can the city landmark views as historically significant? Is airspace preserved above a landmarked area? What city regulations can actually protect views?
“I wish this was a simple matter, but it’s not,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the September meeting where council heard the appeal to overturn the landmarking.
“We have to make decisions based on what the law says and the law is very clear there’s nothing in the local statute [landmark protection ordinance] that says a view is something that can be explicitly preserved,” said Arreguín, who ultimately voted to reverse the LPC motion. “The crux of this decision, the intent was to use this decision as a means to put in place land-use regulations — and that concerns me. That is a different process that is regulated by the zoning ordinance.”
Steve Finacom, a local historian, the applicant of the overturned Campanile Way designation, and also the chair of the landmarks commission, said in an email after the vote: “I would expect to ask the LPC at a later date to ask the Council to consider an ordinance that would address historic and public views and view corridors. Nothing along these lines has yet been placed on the agenda.”
As the applicant, Finacom recused himself from the LPC during public hearings on the designation.
Council rejects landmark status
The September City Council decision reversed the LPC’s April decision to designate Campanile Way as a city landmark for its architectural merit and cultural and educational value. More than 50 residents, including UC historians, had signed a petition to support the status.
Council members Linda Maio, Susan Wengraf, Kriss Worthington and Lori Droste, along with Mayor Jesse Arreguín, voted to reject the landmark designation. Councilwomen Cheryl Davila, Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn opposed that motion, and Councilman Ben Bartlett was absent.
Attorney Kristina D. Lawson, of the firm Hanson Bridgett LLP, had brought the appeal representing residents who claimed, among other things, that the city has no legal authority to designate a view as a landmark.
No one on the council denied the historical significance of Campanile Way, which was built in the 1870s, and runs for 1,200-1,300 feet from Sather Tower down to Strawberry Creek on the west end of campus. Campanile Way is within UC Berkeley’s “classical core” of architecturally significant historic buildings and landscaping. The core is already on the National Register of Historic Places.
At issue are views, in particular, the view from the base of Sather Tower looking west to the Golden Gate. When UC Berkeley was built in the 1870s, Campanile Way was intentionally positioned to look west to the Golden Gate from central campus, according to historical documents. The view was considered inspirational. A slice of this view exists today, depending where you stand. It’s partially obstructed by campus trees and distant buildings.
This year’s landmark designation focused on Campanile Way and the surrounding historical buildings and landscaping, all on UC land. It also mentioned views as a “significantly contributing factor.” An earlier draft of the designation listed views as a feature to be preserved. This was revised in the final version, in part because planning staff advised that the commission lacked the authority to landmark a view.
Enter confusion. Is a “significantly contributing factor” protected in a city landmark? What if the landmark itself isn’t on city land? Who has jurisdiction over development that isn’t on landmarked land, but may affect airspace that contributes to the value of a landmark?
These were some of many questions council wrestled with in its consideration of the Campanile Way appeal in a special meeting focused on land-use issues Sept. 20.
“This has gotten very messy and confusing for everyone,” said Councilwoman Maio that night. “And it doesn’t seem we want to continue and go that way. For tonight we can’t go ahead with this — very messy, unclear, lots of ambiguity, we’ve heard that over and over again.”
Maio said she hoped the matter could return to council with cleaned-up view language in the designation, but ultimately supported the appeal.
The concern of ambiguity
Finacom said the focus on whether the view itself was landmarked was a distraction intended to kill the item. The view was not identified as a feature to be preserved, he asserted at the meeting: “The view is important to Campanile Way but the view isn’t part of what was designated. This is a major misunderstanding.”
“If you disagree with the mention of a view, then remove that reference,” Finacom said. “You should not reject the landmark designation wholesale.”
Finacom also questioned the legality of Lawson’s appeal, noting that the city requires signatures from at least 50 impacted residents on this type of document. He said the city failed to verify the signatures. Matthai Chakko, city spokesman, said the appellant is required to verify the signatures, not the city.
Chakko said in an email: “Staff determined that the appeal satisfied these requirements, as well as others such as the payment of fees, and found that no further documentation was warranted.”
In their staff report on the appeal, city planners said the landmark designation was ambiguous, which could create problems in any legal interpretation of its impacts, including impacts on land beyond Campanile Way itself. Staff recommended upholding the appeal and overturning the LPC vote.
“Ambiguities within the record have resulted in concerns about how this designation action may incorrectly affect development on properties that were not the stated subject of this … application and that are not historically significant,” city staff said in its report on the matter.
Unlike Finacom, staff said historical view protection was clearly implied in the designation.
Staff also said the landmarks commission doesn’t have the authority to landmark views. The commission’s authority covers structures, sites, landscape elements, works of art and districts.
Some speakers at the meeting argued that a view is a landscape element.
Staff pointed to other city bodies, such as the Planning Commission and Zoning Adjustments Board, that have authority over the regulation of view impacts and would be the appropriate venue for these kinds of considerations.
The recent ruling against the Campanile Way landmark designation can’t be separated from earlier votes, actions, questions, passions and protests.
It’s a scenario that has pitted residents who deeply treasure historic views against their neighbors who believe view alterations are an acceptable outcome of downtown density. It’s led residents to question each other’s motivations, and stirred distrust.
In 2012, the city of Berkeley adopted the Downtown Area Plan, essentially a zoning blueprint guiding development downtown, after years of contentious discussion. The plan clusters high-rise developments, including housing, in the city’s downtown core near the BART station. Supporters call it a model of green or “smart growth” planning. Opponents say it’s a gift to major developers, whose large-scale projects will cater to wealthy people and ruin the city’s charm and affordability.
The first attempt to landmark Campanile Way, which failed to get majority support from the landmarks commission in 2015, intertwined view protection with downtown development, turning into a fiery political debate.
That landmark application specifically mentioned the Campanile to Golden Gate east-west view corridor as one of many historical attributes it was seeking to protect. The impetus for the application was opposition to a controversial 18-story development at 2211 Harold Way downtown. The project won city approval in December 2015, but construction hasn’t started.
Opponents to the Harold Way project listed impacts to the Campanile Way view as a main objection, even marching down the way with signs saying “Save the View.” The environmental impact report (EIR) on the project, however, concluded it might affect the view but wouldn’t “destroy” it, calling the impact “less than significant.” EIRs cannot legally deem a loss of view “significant” under state law, consultants have explained to officials at public meetings on numerous occasions.
Harold Way developers tweaked the final project to minimize view intrusion.
The 2015 landmarks commission denial was appealed to the City Council, which let the ruling stand for similar reasons it upheld the recent appeal.
Another downtown development in the pipeline could also affect the Campanile Way view, perhaps even more significantly: a 180-foot tower proposed at 2190 Shattuck Ave., the current site of a Walgreens. Last year, a discussion before the zoning board about that project made it clear that the fight over Campanile Way was still very much alive.
A two-year waiting period is required between applications for similar landmark designations. In 2017, as the Walgreens project attempted to move forward, efforts to landmark began again — two years after the earlier rejection. The LPC designated Campanile Way as a landmark in April, and Hanson filed her appeal to overturn that decision in mid-June.
In its September discussion, council tried to get clarity on a number of concerns, from whether the landmark status might have required a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, to whether this status would be redundant, since Campanile Way is already within UC Berkeley’s nationally-landmarked “classical core.” Whether Finacom had a conflict of interest as applicant and chairman of the landmarks commission was also on the table.
The appellant listed all of these as grounds to overturn the LPC designation.
Planning staff agreed that a CEQA review could be required if the landmark designation affected buildings or projects in the view corridor. Staff said the designation would, in fact, be redundant — but also acknowledged that the city has many local landmarks that are also on the historic register, and that this wasn’t grounds for appeal. Staff said Finacom did not have a conflict of interest because he had recused himself from the LPC at public hearings about the designation.
Councilwoman Kate Harrison, whose district covers downtown Berkeley, made a passionate appeal for an alternative motion that would have upheld the landmark designation without including the view. Her motion failed.
“I do see a value in local designation,” Harrison said. “I’m very proud of Berkeley, I’m very proud of our town. We have a pride of place… I think it’s really important to reflect people’s fond feelings of Campanile Way and its historical significance. I think history matters. It matters to me.”
She went on: “If we remove the view we remove the CEQA issue. If we remove the view, we remove the ambiguity.”