The longtime leader of Berkeley’s Transportation Division has left city government amid an investigation into how staff in his office handled a controversial proposal to build a bike lane on Hopkins Street, Berkeleyside has learned.
City officials have not said whether that investigation is connected with the departure of Farid Javandel, the deputy public works director in charge of transportation and engineering.
But a city employee with knowledge of the situation told Berkeleyside that Javandel had been on leave since April 3, one day before City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced that the effort to redesign Hopkins was being delayed indefinitely.
The project, which called for removing dozens of parking spaces to install a new protected bike track on the street, faced fierce opposition from many of the area’s merchants and residents and became a source of tension between North Berkeley Councilmember Sophie Hahn and staff in the Transportation Division.
Public records obtained by Berkeleyside show the city launched an investigation of the project last summer, and have twice extended the contract with the San Francisco-based personnel firm conducting the inquiry, most recently in March. The cost of the contract has ballooned from $15,000 to $200,000, according to those records.
City officials have refused to comment on the investigation or Javandel’s absence over the past several weeks.
However, Williams-Ridley cited among the reasons for delaying the Hopkins project in April a need to “convey confidence and integrity” in the work of Transportation Division staff.
In an email to Berkeleyside late Monday, Williams-Ridley wrote that Javandel “is no longer employed with the city of Berkeley.” She did not respond to follow-up questions asking whether Javandel resigned or was fired, or when his last day of work was.
Attempts to reach Javandel for comment have been unsuccessful.
As the head of the Transportation Division for over a decade, Javandel was the public face of a wide range of projects, policies and planning efforts that shaped Berkeley’s streets. The division he oversaw managed the city’s approach to traffic engineering, parking management and bicycle and pedestrian safety, with projects such as the reconfiguration of Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, the Center Street parking garage that opened in 2018, and protected bikeways along portions of Milvia Street, Hearst Avenue and Bancroft Way.
“Farid’s departure is a big loss for the city,” said Ben Gerhardstein, a co-founder of the street safety advocacy group Walk Bike Berkeley, who said Javandel “always demonstrated steadiness, thoughtfulness and that he’s a principled person that acts with a lot of integrity.”
Javandel lives in Albany, where he was a city council member and mayor. He commuted to Berkeley by bicycle, and suffered minor injuries in 2021 when a driver hit him at an Albany intersection.
Investigation focused on parking figures, former staffer says
Berkeleyside filed a public records request in April seeking a wide range of documents from the investigation into the Hopkins project. So far, the city has provided one document: the contract executed last July with the consulting firm It’s Personnel for what was described only as a “workplace investigation.”
City spokesman Matthai Chakko has declined to answer questions about the scope of that investigation, whether it is still active or related to Javandel’s leave, writing in an email last week, “We don’t comment on personnel matters.”
A former Public Works Department employee who was interviewed for the investigation told Berkeleyside they were asked whether transportation staff withheld data about how many parking spaces would have to be removed to make room for the proposed bike track on Hopkins, and if city employees “were biased in favor of bikes.”
The former employee, who spoke with a reporter on the condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal for discussing a confidential investigation, denied both claims.
But allegations that staff withheld data about the parking impacts of the Hopkins project have dogged Javandel and the Transportation Division for months.
As a key City Council vote on the project approached last May, transportation staff had made clear that the bike lane proposal would involve removing all the on-street parking along several blocks of Hopkins between Monterey Avenue and Gilman Street.
Workers in the division had also prepared estimates weeks before the vote that found those blocks contained 35 parking spaces — but the estimates were not shared publicly, or included in materials that councilmembers considered before the vote. When Councilmember Susan Wengraf asked Javandel at the council meeting how many parking spaces would be removed for the project, he responded, “We will do a count and send it to you — I don’t have the exact number.”
It remains unclear whether Javandel was aware of the estimates at that time or whether the city’s investigation into the Transportation Division covered any other topics.
The council voted 8-1 to move forward with the bike lane plan last May, with Wengraf opposed.
When the parking loss figures became public weeks later, Hahn pushed for the council to reconsider its vote on the project in light of the estimates, saying she had voted in favor of the plan under the impression that far fewer spaces would be removed.
Critics of the project said they believed city staff purposefully covered up the figures, while supporters argued they did no such thing, and the plan’s trade-offs were already well understood. The council voted a second time in October to support the bike lane.
“In retrospect, we probably should have just included a table with numbers” showing how many spaces would be removed, the former public works employee told Berkeleyside. “At the time, our thinking was that that was just an estimate, depending on how close together the cars park. What could be more clear than … saying all of the on-street parking is gone?”
Hahn disagreed that the information staff provided during the debate over the project last spring was adequate.
“People repeatedly asked, both elected officials and members of the public, for actual numbers,” she said in an interview. “I think elected officials and members of the public deserve to have answers to their direct questions.”
As fallout from the proposal to redesign Hopkins Street continues, the busy North Berkeley corridor’s future is uncertain.
The City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee earlier this month endorsed a plan to redirect $2.8 million that had been earmarked for the Hopkins project toward other street maintenance and infrastructure needs, which could delay both the bike lane and repaving work on the street for years. The full council will have the final say later this spring on the plan, which is part of a larger effort to bridge a multi-million-dollar funding shortfall from the infrastructure bond Measure T1.