Thursday, August 03, 2006

Citizens Advisory Committee for UC Property

This fall, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to rezone the 5.8-acre UC Berkeley extension campus at 55 Laguna from public use to residential to accommodate the proposed UC/AF Evans/Openhouse project. UC and the city seem to view this project as a "fait accompli," yet there has been no public planning process to evaluate the loss of this historic campus, which has been in public use for more than 150 years.

We all recognize the need for LGBT senior housing, especially low-cost units. Openhouse plans to build over 100 affordable units in Hayes Valley. The AF Evans project would add only 16 more affordable units plus 64 units renting at market rate (about $3,500/month). With the Market-Octavia Plan inviting 19,555 new households to the area by 2025, the need for jobs, as well as educational, cultural, and recreational facilities will intensify. The UC/Evans/Openhouse project would include some community facilities, including senior health services, but it would destroy even more, including the recently renovated gym. Is high-cost housing really the best use of this unique campus?

New College of California and Global Exchange have submitted a financially-viable "public use/preservation/open space" plan for analysis as an alternative in the environmental impact report for the UC/Evans/Openhouse project. Founded in 1971, New College is now housed in several buildings on Valencia. They propose to use bond financing to relocate to this much-needed new campus. All of the historic structures, including the gym, would be retained and restored. Three new architecturally "green" buildings would house the Global Citizens Center, a hub for ecologically and socially responsible education and economic development. Global Exchange is also eligible for nonprofit bond financing.

This alternate plan could include facilities to serve LGBT seniors and nonprofit care for people with HIV/AIDS. Affordable housing could be provided for students, faculty and staff, not only from New College but potentially from the conservatory, the Art Institute, UCSF, and other schools. There is growing support for public use. Last week, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association voted to retain public use zoning and to support the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places. The proposed Market-Octavia Plan says, "Any subsequent change in the zoning of the UC Berkeley Laguna Campus should occur in the context of a focused community planning process that involves residents and other stakeholders." So far, Planning Director Macris has rejected calls for a citizens advisory committee. But I think it's time. Call your supervisor. And sign the petition for a citizens advisory committee.

Cynthia Servetnick