City Council approves Adeline Corridor plan, kicks off next 2 decades of South Berkeley development

The plan aims for 100% affordable housing at Ashby BART, and 50% throughout the corridor

An ambitious vision to reshape the South Berkeley area near Ashby BART was approved by Berkeley City Council on Tuesday. Photo: Christina Diaz

The Adeline Corridor Specific Plan — a six-year process to address the need for affordable housing and heal the wounds of gentrification in South Berkeley — passed one last checkpoint Tuesday night with near-unanimous approval from the Berkeley City Council.

The 120-page document lays out an ambitious vision through 2040 to reshape the South Berkeley area near Ashby BART with an estimated 1,500 housing units, commercial space and permanent homes for cultural institutions like the Ashby Flea Market, the Juneteenth Festival and the African American Holistic Resource Center.

Broadly, it hopes to address the political and economic factors that displaced thousands of Black and Japanese-American residents and people of color from the neighborhood after the construction of Ashby BART in the 1960s.

Alisha Shen, the principal planner on the project, said during the meeting Tuesday that the final step was a culmination of more than 30 meetings with community members over the last several years, as well as public meetings by the planning commission, City Council and BART.

Adeline Plan City Council
The Berkeley City Council, city manager and city staff who worked on the Adeline Corridor Specific Plan at their special meeting on Dec. 8, 2020. Photo: Screenshot

For Councilmember Ben Bartlett, the plan’s final approval was also a personal milestone. The reshaping of the Adeline Corridor was one of the reasons he ran for office, and after watching a decades-long, embattled relationship between Black South Berkeley residents and the city, he said this plan was finally one he could feel proud of.

“When BART and the forces of change and displacement came to town, they tore a hole in the heart of South Berkeley,” he said. “But that act is what started everything in South Berkeley. That’s what launched an entire generation of activists…my parents came out of it — this was the reaction to systemic injustice that helped cement our identity as South Berkeley.”

He referenced activists like Mable Howard, who sued BART in 1968 to ensure the Ashby station would be underground, as well as others such as accessibility and disability rights advocate Ed Roberts, saying cities across the country are still looking to the Adeline Corridor 50 years later as a model of restoration and equity.

Different approaches to feasibility prevent unanimous vote for Adeline Plan

Now that the plan is approved, Shen said the city will begin working on securing funding to ensure it can meet its goal of 50% affordable housing throughout the corridor, and potentially 100% affordable housing at the Ashby BART site (which will depend on further conversations with BART and the Community Advisory Group).

Staff will head to the Measure O Bond Oversight Committee and the Housing Advisory Commission early next year and come back to the council in spring 2021 with information.

Planning on the Adeline corridor project has been going on for six years. In 2018, at a community meeting, principal planner Alisa Shen spoke with a resident at an exhibit set up at the Ed Roberts Campus. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

While affordable housing has been the stated goal for activists on both sides of the Adeline Plan since its inception, Tuesday’s discussion once again came down to a difference of maximum affordable units — with the pro-development crowd championed by South Berkeley Now saying one extra floor in the latter tiers of the plan would increase affordable units overall by providing incentives for developers.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s proposal for the final vote on the Adeline Plan included this extra height requirement and was approved by all council members except for District 4 Councilmember Kate Harrison. She said adding an extra floor would throw into question the possibility that all affordable units would be on-site, and undermine years of community process.

Edythe Boone, a longtime South Berkeley resident and activist who has had generations of her family displaced to cities around the Bay Area, offered that an extra floor would block out sunlight, interrupt solar panels and diminish the quality of life.

Council members Bartlett and Sophie Hahn expressed support for Friends of Adeline and Boone’s perspective, but Bartlett’s proposal without the height requirement ultimately failed. Councilmember Lori Droste noted that 85% of the written comments from community members before the meeting advocated for taller buildings, and the project could be truly ambitious with “just 10 more feet of height.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, city consultant Rick Jacobus maintained that feasibility for the project would be in flux and adding one extra tier may not make a huge difference in what developers are willing to build.

There are city studies in the works to determine how the tiers will play out, as well as the ongoing Community Advisory Group meetings for the BART process. City meetings to secure funding, offer bids to developers and begin the design process will kick off in the new year.

Supriya Yelimeli is Berkeleyside's homelessness and housing reporter. Email: supriya@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: SupriyaYelimeli. Phone: 510-585-8315.