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Dear District 5 Neighbors,

In my discussions with Berkeley citizens, a continuous lament is the downtown: its lack of parking and shops, the empty storefronts and dearth of welcoming, enriching public spaces. Though in this economic climate we cannot expect miracles, there is some room to celebrate. This month the Oxford Plaza project, at Oxford and Kittredge, comes on board with 96 units of housing and the return of the public parking garage with over one hundred parking spaces. The adjacent Brower Center opens its doors Sunday, May 10 with an open house, free and open to the public. By June the Hotel Shattuck Plaza at Allston and Shattuck will open, restored to its former grandeur. The $16 million project includes 200 fully renovated rooms and a new restaurant. For visitors to Berkeley, the Downtown Berkeley Association has placed "Berkeley Hosts" on the streets; a program through the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, to guide and provide information for guests and locals, and to be eyes and ears on the street.

It is people after all that will improve the city's most visible commercial area: people who live and recreate locally, who buy groceries and congregate in cafes, and who will demand a certain quality of life. Sheer numbers of local residents will create the critical mass to support it. Let's welcome them.

In that spirit, I look forward to review and approval of the Downtown Area Plan. It is a new vision for the heart of our city that, as it is realized, will bring people back to the downtown.

This is the launch of my new e-newsletter. My goal was to make it more attractive and simpler to navigate, simplify the distribution and maintenance, and archive previous newsletters and make them available on my City website. It is a work in progress, so suggestions and comments are welcome.

One of my other goals is to facilitate a more formal and accessible system of community feedback. I have followed the lead of my colleague, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, and engaged Peak Democracy who, through their Open Town Hall provide a forum for surveys and extended comments about particular issues. In the next week, I will be sending out a link to Open Town Hall and a series of questions about Downtown planning and amenities. These surveys provide another opportunity to receive input and perspectives on the various issues facing the community. Please know I also continue to be available to meet with you individually or in groups. Of course I will continue to monitor and review e-mails.

FYI — Councilmember Wozniak regularly posts questions about selected items on the City Council agenda. Check in on Fridays before Council meetings to register comments. To do this, go to Open Town Hall where you can register and participate.


Water Conservation

As you all know, despite recent rains, state reservoirs are well below average. California residents in general and EBMUD customers specifically will be expected to cut back on water consumption. Visions of brown dry lawns and lost landscaping — remember the seventies? — could come back to haunt us.

There are alternatives. One is rainwater catchment. There are companies producing catchment reservoirs with simple hook ups for landscape irrigation. With some products, and the addition of iodine tablets, rain catchment could provide the added benefit of storing water for potential disasters.

Also, in the past few months I have been working with members of the Greywater Alliance to explore avenues in our current building code to allow for simple residential gray water systems. Currently, the City requires extensive engineering for the accompanying landscape irrigation to prevent excessive erosion and to mitigate potential health concerns. Advocates and City staff are considering simple diversion from washing machine for certain kinds of irrigation. Our hope is to provide clear and easy to use guidelines for homeowners, and to simplify the permitting.

The Downtown Plan

The Downtown Area Plan is coming to the City Council for a public hearing on May 26. A product of a multi year collaborative planning process with citizens from the City and representatives of the University, the plan will guide downtown development, including the University's projects, for years to come.

To see a copy of the plan under consideration, and accompanying documents, go to: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=832

There are two relatively new parking garages on line open to the general public:

  • Library Gardens. 202 Kittredge, next to the Main Library
  • Oxford Plaza, entrance off Kittredge just west of Oxford

Berkeley Art Center

I want to welcome a new neighbor to District 5: Suzanne Tan, the incoming Executive Director of our own Berkeley Art Center in Live Oak Park:

"As the new Executive Director of the Berkeley Art Center, I am excited to be leading an organization that is as unique and as special as the community in which it resides. There are many new exhibitions and programs coming up that highlight our mission to showcase visual, performing, and literary arts in the art center's very special setting in Live Oak Park. Our next major exhibition features paintings by legendary poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, along with a co-benefit with Poetry Flash and a program of music from the 16th century! Please visit us, and look at our new website, www.berkeleyartcenter.org for information on all our upcoming programs. We hope to see you here soon."

-Suzanne Tan

Berkeley Project Day at Thousand Oaks School

Many thanks to all the Cal students and Thousand Oaks parents who came out to clean up and beautify Thousand Oaks School on March 14. It was great fun and we hope it will become an annual event.

I want to especially thank:
Pam Boland, City of Berkeley Parks Crew for her unending enthusiasm and dedication to our City's Parks
Rosa Luevano, PTA Co-President for her organization and patience
Shallon Allen from the City Manager's Office for herding the UC students several times a year.

photos on my website.

Get on the train, strap on your skates, or pedal your bike to the . . .

What: Berkeley Earth Day
When: Saturday April 25, 2009, 12 -5 p.m.
Where: Civic Center Park MLK & Allston

Visit www.hesternet.net/events.html for more information.

EMT Training

The Berkeley Fire Fighters have announced an emergency medical technician training program. Sponsored by the Berkeley Adult School, the San Francisco Paramedic Association and the Berkeley Fire Department, this is a prime opportunity for anyone interested in eventually entering a career in fire fighting.

More Berkeley News

For other news, events and announcements regarding the City of Berkeley, visit the Berkeley News Page