Downtown Makeover Proposal Finalized by City Subcommittee

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Analysis: SOSIP

City News Editor Sarah Springfield speaks with Gianna Albaum about future SOSIP plans. 

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Downtown Berkeley may be getting an urban makeover, including eco-friendly "rain gardens," more bike lanes and a European-style public plaza, after the Downtown Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan Joint Subcommittee finalized a new proposal Thursday.

The Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan outlines 12 "major projects," including the possible closure of Center Street from Oxford Street to Shattuck Avenue, transforming the space into a plaza for public art.

Another project would reroute Shattuck's northbound traffic - from Center to University Avenue - onto the same side as the southbound traffic.

"The recommendations, if they were all implemented, would be a radical transformation to downtown," said Matt Taecker, principal planner for the project. He added that it would create a "pedestrian utopia."

Though subcommittee Chair Jim Novosel said merchants on Center were "reluctant" to embrace the plan, Taecker was more optimistic.

"We've been working really hard with the merchants downtown," he said. "When you feel so invested in a place, change is always worrisome. But I do believe we've addressed most of their concerns."

Planners said they hope to create more parking and wider sidewalks by rerouting the northbound section of Shattuck.

"The purpose of this is to reduce traffic in the Downtown - to create quiet spaces, pedestrian-friendly spaces," Novosel said. "We can actually have more ... street parking and possibly have a place for buses."

Taecker called some schemes "just-add-water" projects, such as planting about a thousand trees, installing of public art along sidewalks and improving evening lighting.

The subcommittee will send the proposal to the city's three major planning committees for feedback before submitting it to the Berkeley City Council sometime between December and February, according to Dan Marks, the city's director of planning and development.

Though Taecker said he expects council to approve the plan, work on the projects will not begin immediately - in part because they carry a $35 million price tag, according to the plan's report. The subcommittee expects to start nailing down funding sources after receiving the go-ahead from the council.

"Where do we get the money to make this happen?" Taecker said. "We don't know yet. We're dreaming, in a way ... how do we make this a better place?"

Novosel said the city would probably take an "incremental planning approach," constructing the projects individually as they obtain the funds rather than implementing the plan as a whole package.

"It's easy to feel, 'oh there's no money, times are hard,'" Marks said. "You begin with a vision of where you want to go ... this is a vision of where we're headed."


Gianna Albaum covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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