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Department of Planning & Development
Department of Planning & Development


I. The Origins of the Southside Plan

In 1997, the City of Berkeley and the University signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recognizing “the desirability of maintaining a cooperative relationship and pursuing collaboratively long-range plans, studies and potential projects of mutual benefit and concern.” The MOU grew out of City and University negotiations over the University’s plans to expand the size of its indoor spectator sports facility, the Haas Pavilion, which is located on the central campus near Bancroft Way and Dana Street.  A primary matter of mutual interest to the City and University was the preparation of a plan to guide growth and development of the area south of campus known as the Southside.  The MOU states that “the City and the University will jointly participate in the preparation of a Southside Plan, an area plan for the near south campus area… The Southside Plan will be an amendment to the City's General Plan.  The Campus will acknowledge the plan as the guide for campus developments in the Southside area.”  According to the MOU, the Southside Plan is to contain analysis and policies leading to “specified improvements in the Southside” in the areas of traffic, parking, pedestrian and bicycle travel, housing and seismic safety, design and historic preservation, land use, economic development and public safety.

II. A Community Planning Process 

The Southside neighborhood has been the subject of numerous planning initiatives over the years.  In the 1920s Berkeley became one of the first cities in the United States to adopt a rudimentary form of zoning to regulate land uses.  Specific planning initiatives in the Southside date back as early as the 1930s when the City and the University cooperated on a traffic study in the vicinity of Edwards Track stadium, which the University was then developing on three residential blocks it had purchased. One of the results of the study was the widening of Bancroft Way west of Dana Street.

In the early 1950s, a study entitled "Students at Berkeley" was produced by the California Alumni Association.  It documented inadequate student housing, recreational, and activity facilities, as well as the growing demand for parking spaces.  Several of its recommendations--including the creation of the current Student Union complex on what had been the northernmost block of Telegraph Avenue--were carried out. Subsequent University plans in the 1950s proposed extensive property acquisition in the Southside, primarily for housing, parking, and recreation facilities.  These plans led to an array of community objections, and negotiations were held between the City and the University over the extent, timetable, and location of land acquisitions, demolitions, and new developments.  A primary result was keeping intact the traditional grid pattern of public streets, which some University studies had originally proposed be modified with new "superblocks" of development.

During the same era of the 1950s and 1960s, City policies in the Southside and surrounding neighborhoods were largely oriented to: modification of the streets to move cars more efficiently; development of parks, particularly Willard Park; code enforcement, and sometimes encouragement of the demolition of "obsolete" older buildings;  and encouragement of apartment development in the neighborhood.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, planning changes in the Southside and Berkeley were often driven by activism or citizen ballot initiatives, often in reaction to City or University policies.  Some of the major changes that affected the neighborhood included: the establishment of People's Park; the creation of a system of traffic barriers that diverted traffic, particularly commuters in cars, from residential neighborhoods adjacent to the Southside; the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance and Landmarks Preservation Ordinance that led to downzoning, more protections for older buildings, and a steep decline in both demolitions and new construction in neighborhoods.

In the 1980s, the University and the City initiated a series of joint programs and efforts targeting specific problems and issues in the Southside such as crime, a growing homeless/street population, and housing and transportation issues.  Some of the planning milestones and efforts in the past decade and a half include:

  • Southside Community Project/Coalition, staffed and funded by the University: 1986-1990
  • Southside Area Enhancement Committee: 1990
  • Mayor Hancock's Task Force on Telegraph Avenue: 1992-1993
  • First Telegraph Area Association (TAA) general meeting: November 1993                                                           
  • TAA/City/UC Community Workshops on Area Planning Issues: 1994
  • Urban Revisions Project at the Berkeley Art Museum: 1995
  • City-UC Memorandum of Understanding adopted: March 1997
  • First meeting of the City Council's Telegraph Avenue Subcommittee: May 1997
  • First Southside Plan Community Workshops: April & May, 1998
  • Telegraph Property and Business Improvement District (BID) Established: 1998
  • Telegraph BID begins operation: 1999
  • Release of joint staff Draft of the Southside Plan to the public: January 2000
  • Planning Commission-sponsored "Working Groups" work on revisions to the staff draft: February-June 2000
  • Planning Commission discusses Working Group revisions: April-Nov. 2000
  • Release of Southside/Downtown Transportation Demand Management Study:  March 2001
  • Southside Subcommittee revisions to draft plan: April - July 2001                           
  • Release of Subcommittee draft for review:  December 2001

City and UC Staff Prepare First Draft 

Preliminary work on the current Southside Plan began in October 1997 when City and University staff began compiling background data and recording existing conditions in the neighborhood and completing work on phase two of the South of Campus Circulation Study.  In the spring of 1998, two “kickoff” community workshops were held, hosted by the three-person Planning Commission Southside Plan Subcommittee.  At these workshops members of the community, including students, merchants, street artists, University personnel, residents, and surrounding neighbors identified major issues and concerns, suggested proposals for change, and provided input on the planning process.

Between August 1998 and March 1999 City and University staff held more than 35 meetings with stakeholder groups to identify the key concerns and ideas of different members of the community.  More than 400 community stakeholders provided input, including students, area merchants and street artists, residents of the Southside and its surrounding area, church groups, and University staff and faculty who work in the area.

Following these initial workshops and concurrent with the stakeholder interviews, City and University staff drafted “issue papers” related to land use, transportation, economic development, historic preservation, and pedestrian quality of life.  The issue papers presented background information on the different topics, and posed possible strategies and policy direction.  During fall 1998, five public workshops were held at which staff made presentations and heard comments from community members about issues in the areas of land use and housing, parking and transportation, urban design and historic preservation, and economic development.  The issue papers previously prepared by staff were used as a starting point for the discussions.  The South of Campus Circulation Study, Phase 2 was released and discussed at the transportation and parking workshop.  At the fifth workshop, staff presented general planning principles and policies; participants were asked to decide which policies they agreed and disagreed with, and which policies required further development.  While the responses of participants were not considered a “vote," the results of the workshop helped indicate where general community consensus existed on an issue, and where more discussion and analysis was necessary.

The results of these community workshops and stakeholder meetings informed a draft “Planning Framework” that was released in May 1999.  The Framework presented a general policy direction for each element of the Plan.  The Framework was discussed and refined at two public workshops in May 1999.  Three smaller, more informal work sessions were also held to discuss the more complex unresolved policy issues presented in the Framework.  Through the fall of 1999 and into the winter of 2000, staff prepared a first draft of the Southside Plan.

Working Groups Develop Proposals 

In January 2000, the Planning Commission met to discuss the draft prepared by City and UC staff.  The Commission decided to establish working groups composed of interested citizens to discuss the first draft in detail and to develop and recommend proposed revisions.  Working groups on Land Use and Housing and on Transportation were established. Subsequently working groups were also established to discuss and recommend revisions to the Safety and Economic Development Elements.

The working groups included representatives of all the major stakeholder groups, including students, neighborhood groups, merchants, street artists, property owners, preservationists, bicycle advocates, developers, and environmentalists.  Members of the Planning Commission's Southside Plan Subcommittee chaired working group meetings.  There were also many informal meetings involving representatives of different stakeholder groups.  Ideas and proposals that emerged from these meetings were presented at Working Group meetings.

The Working Group on Land Use and Housing proposed, and the Planning Commission agreed, that new zoning regulations should be developed concurrently with the Southside Plan.  That working group proceeded to develop proposed zoning revisions along with changes to the Land Use and Housing element.

During the spring of 2000, working groups presented their proposals to the Planning Commission for discussion. Central to the Land Use and Housing Working Group proposal was an attempt to balance the concerns of different stakeholder groups.  Throughout the Southside Plan process students had called for more housing in the area for students and others, while neighbors had expressed concerns about impacts resulting from additional development, in particular increased automobile traffic, and preservationists has expressed concern about impacts on historic resources.

That working group's proposals, embodied in the current draft, called for allowing increased density and encouraging housing along transit corridors close to the UC campus, while allowing less intense development of housing only (no offices) in areas close to the established residential neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the plan area. The proposal identified the type of sites that should be targeted for development, while calling for preservation of historic resources. Students and members of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association jointly presented the consensus proposals at Planning Commission meetings in March and April of 2000.

The Transportation Working Group, while agreeing on many policies, was not able to reach agreement on what changes should be made to traffic circulation on Bancroft and Durant.  Should those streets (and other east-west streets) remain one-way or be converted to two-way streets as recommended by the consultants who prepared both the first and second phases of the Southside of Campus Circulation Study.

The Draft is Further Revised 

In April 2000, the Planning Commission directed staff to revise the plan elements and develop zoning for the area based on the Land Use and Housing Working Group's proposed revisions.  Staff was also asked to prepare an analysis of the Working Group proposals.  Revised elements and zoning language were subsequently discussed by the Planning Commission at a series of meetings during the latter half of 2000.

Between April and July of 2001, the Southside Plan Subcommittee held eight well-attended meetings to discuss and refine the working group draft elements and zoning language. Amendments were suggested and voted on.  The current draft of the Plan includes the changes to the working group drafts recommended by the Subcommittee.  Three meetings were also held to discuss the Design Guidelines and the Community Character elements and the Subcommittee voted on a series of proposed changes that emerged from those meetings.

The Subcommittee also agreed on a number of transportation issues, but was also unable to make any decision about Bancroft and Durant.  Issues about these two streets remain unresolved in this draft.

III. Plan Adoption and Use 

The MOU signed by the City and the University in 1997 provides direction about how the Southside Plan will be used by the City and the University as a planning document.  The MOU states “the Southside Plan will be an amendment to the City’s General Plan.  The Campus will acknowledge the Plan as the guide for campus developments in the Southside area.”

Once it has finished making revisions to the current Subcommittee Draft of the Plan, the City of Berkeley Planning Commission will forward the Southside Plan to the Berkeley City Council for approval and adoption.  When the Plan is adopted by the City Council, it will become an amendment to the General Plan, and the City’s approved planning policy for the Southside neighborhood. Other City policy documents that apply to the area, such as the Zoning Ordinance, will then need to be updated to reflect the policies of the Southside Plan.  Zoning changes approved by the Planning Commission will be submitted to the City Council for approval along with the draft Southside Plan.

The Plan will help direct changes when a Southside property owner is interested in making changes to his or her private property or the City is interested in making changes to public property.  The Southside Plan will be used by the University to guide its planning and development efforts in the Southside.  In addition, the University will use the Southside Plan to inform the New Century Plan.  The New Century Plan will establish a strategic vision to guide changes to the University’s facilities (See this drafts's Related Planning Studies chapter for more information).  While the University is exempt as a state agency from local planning regulations, the University does comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).


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