Council Clashes Over Proposed Garage

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Dispute over a city-subsidized, multimillion-dollar parking garage will come to a head when the Berkeley City Council resumes its regular meetings in May.

The city issued a request for proposals to developers interested in building a parking garage of at least 200 cars for the upscale Fourth Street shopping area. The city is offering $3 million in Redevelopment Agency funding, half of the agency's capital.

Councilmember Polly Armstrong said shoppers need to be provided with an "easy" way to spend their money.

"If you care about having a successful commercial district and the tax money that it generates, then the city has an obligation to help the development there," she said. "If you're willing to kiss that tax base goodbye, you could feel very noble about saying no to parking."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, said he is outraged at the proposal.

"This $3 million giveaway is a gigantic equivalent to corporate welfare," he said. "It would represent an enormous and unfair subsidy to one commercial property owner and is unfair to the other businesses and other property owners."

Worthington said some developers are planning to build parking garages without using the city's money. He said he will propose using the Redevelopment Agency's money for public transportation, affordable housing and parks.

"The alternative package of neighborhood improvements is better for the businesses as well as the neighborhood," he said. "It is the responsibility of the commercial real estate owners to provide the parking."

Business partners Denny Abrams and Richard Millikan are the only developers who have expressed interest in responding to the city's request.

"I think we'll make a response to (the city's reques)," Millikan said. "There's definitely a need for parking."

Millikan said the city needs to help Fourth Street compete with nearby Emeryville, where new businesses and a giant parking garage are being planned.

v "A number of our businesses on this street have experienced flat sales for a number of years when stores in other areas have experienced increased sales," he said.

But some business interests on Fourth Street said they do not need a parking garage.

"If people were smart, people could take the BART," said Dennise Diaz, sales leader for Earthsake, a Fourth Street store. "There are three bus lines that come down to Fourth Street. (But) most of the people who shop on Fourth Street are wealthy. The idea of a bus is not attractive to them."

Both Diaz and Gary Taylor, manager of HearthSong, said their businesses would not be hurt by a parking shortage because shoppers could park farther away.

Some local residents said they do not want the parking garage either.

"The $3 million should be used for something that will not just benefit a few people but everyone in Berkeley," said Rhiannon, a resident who does not use a last name.

Rhiannon said Abrams has negotiated with the city manager and collected signatures on a petition to support the garage proposal. She said Abrams' development company stands to benefit from the project because he leases land to many Fourth Street businesses.

"The petitions have all been signed by his retail store tenants," she said. "It has not been signed by anyone who lives in the area."


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