Mayor Writes Against Petition to Suspend Downtown Area Plan


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Photo: An artist rendering of what Downtown Berkeley could look like following the implementation of the Downtown Area Plan.   

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In response to a petition campaign that seeks to suspend the city's plan for high-density development in Downtown Berkeley on the November 2010 ballot, Mayor Tom Bates wrote a personal e-mail opposing the petition.

A group called the Alliance for a Green and Livable Downtown is opposing the Berkeley City Council's Downtown Area Plan and is circulating a referendum petition, which calls for the plan to be put to voters or for the council to revise the plan.

The petition requires 5,558 signatures from city residents to be gathered by Aug. 20.

In the Aug. 4 e-mail, Bates called the referendum petition "an unfortunate and short-sighted attempt to freeze an already stagnated Downtown."

The mayor's e-mail is part of an anti-petition effort by a group organized to support the Downtown Area Plan, a member of the group said.

The anti-petition group, called Revitalize Downtown, is having its members stand beside the petitioners who are gathering signatures for the referendum in crowded downtown areas, including major markets and BART stations, said group member Erin Rhoades.

"We are there to present the other side," said Rhoades, who is also the executive director of Livable Berkeley. "We are trying to do some education over the next few weeks before the 20th so people know what the petition and what the plan is really about."

While it is legal to stand beside the petitioners, people could be intimidated from signing the referendum petition, said Gene Poschman, a member of the petition group.

"It's unprecedented," said Poschman, who was also a member of the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee. "This is a measure of desperation."

Poschman said the signature gatherers had been told not to engage the volunteers from the opposing group.

"It's not pleasant, but we have instructions very clearly to be totally passive in trying to get our signatures," he said.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, a supporter of the Downtown Area Plan, said there is a high likelihood for the referendum petition to succeed because of what he called "hyperbolic rhetoric," which includes calling the city's plan a "Manhattanization" of Downtown Berkeley.

"There is a tendency of the people in Berkeley to sign a petition regardless of the consequences," Wozniak said. "I think the odds are at least 50-50 that they are going to get it on the ballot."

The number of signatures gathered to this point has yet to be calculated, said John Selawsky, a member of the petition group and Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education.

The petition group aims to go above the required 5,558 signatures, Poschman said, because some of the votes will be invalid; the voters might be unregistered, or they may have moved to another city and not re-registered.


Contact Paul Edison at [email protected]

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