The Best Laid Plans

City Affairs: The City Council made the wrong decision in voting to scrap the Downtown Area Plan, rendering years of effort a waste.

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Berkeley residents and officials have been meticulously hammering out the details of the city's Downtown Area Plan for roughly the last four years. In that time, dozens of public meetings and hearings have been held, ensuring the final plan accounts for residents' concerns and wishes for downtown development.

Sound like they've done nearly everything right? Too bad that in Berkeley, that's just not enough. After the expression of disapproval by 9,200 residents last summer, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday night to scrap the current plan.

The council's short-sighted decision renders the last four years of excruciatingly slow, detailed work a waste. It's an embarrassment that the city can spend years developing a broad and important plan, only to replace it months before it goes to the voters. The downtown debacle highlights just how dysfunctional the political process can be in Berkeley. And it's the businesses and residents who lose in the end: While everybody's been busy planning, empty storefronts have spread and revenues, visitors and vibrancy have stagnated.

Council members also decided Tuesday to adopt Mayor Tom Bates' recommendations for a new plan, which may have been the only good thing to emerge from the meeting. With these recommendations, again formulated with public input, the plan has a solid basis going forward. And this time, a firm deadline.

Luckily, the plan remains slated to appear on the November ballot. Until then, residents and officials should get their act together and finally get this long-awaited document completed in a timely manner.

Officials especially must avoid their tendency to try to make everyone happy-while a nice idea, it's politically impossible. If everyone has a say, then government representatives should feel comfortable making the ultimate determination of what the plan should entail. It is their job, after all.

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