North Berkeley Senior Center
NBSC PROJECT SCOPING COMMENTS - BerkeleyCitizen
Scoping Meeting February 15, 2018
Currently, staff has arbitrarily set the highest priorities (tier 3) for funding to the changes in the building’s structure. When asked about what the project’s site plans and possible impacts on the adjoining neighborhoods, staff stated that these concerns were defined as lower priorities. And as lower priorities, funding would determine how these concerns, like screening, landscape, etc. would ultimately be addressed or not. This distorted style of development and “priorities” lacks fairness, balance and transparency. It hardly allows for a full discussion of the project.
No commercial building or construction project is an island. Every development has some context, surroundings, and in Berkeley, it has hundreds of nearby neighbors. Over the last two decades, the NBSC has been oblivious to this reality and especially the impacts of its appearance and operations on the adjoining neighborhood. The proposed construction project appears to be following same myopic stance.
You should be aware that in 2014, neighbors approached then District 4 representative Jesse Arreguin regarding the rundown appearance of the NBSC and the systemic loss of most of its landscaping. We asked him to address these concerns directly with staff. We were not privy to any of those discussions and saw no visible outcomes other than a decreasingly barren plot of land.
Attached (below) are several photo plates of that site visit in 2014. The pictures show what an eyesore the facility had become at that time. Unfortunately nothing has been done to alter this state in the last four years. The pictures are shot from the outside looking towards the NBSC. This is the perspective of the surrounding community. It should be a primary focus of the NBSC project and of equal priority to the building construction.
Over the last half decade, the NBSC has removed numerous trees and shrubs. This has contributed to the stark appearance of the property. It is especially evident on the east side of the property and parking lot area where at least a half dozen trees have been cut down. But this is not all that has been lost. Our neighborhood has lost the screening those trees provided in obscuring the NBSC building, commuter cars on Hearst Street, the glare of nighttime NBSC parking lot lamps, the parked cars at NBSC as well as vast array of the trash containers, garbage and discarded cardboard boxes.
In addition to the lost screening and landscape, we also lost this natural noise suppression of the NBSC’s operations. One of the neighbors in the 2014 discussions coined the loss of the NBSC’s plantings that used to exist as having been destroyed by “scorched-earth maintenance workers”. The photo plates show this and the over-cut done by the “gardeners”. This abuse continues to happen every Friday regardless of whether the plants need pruning. The result is evident as is seen in the loss of a dozen or more trees across the property as well as the many bushes that have pruned into low-lying stubs with all their flowers cut off.
We need a plan for sustainable plants, the return of lost trees and a watering system to sustain plants. Most importantly, we need the NBSC to become a responsible neighbor to the area.
The neighborhood has a vast array of housing, much of which is quite old. Many of the houses in our R2 area are Victorian and Edwardian-type structures. My own residence is over 90 years old. Given the historic nature of the area, there is a concern that the new exterior of the NBSC also reflect this character in both appearance and fabric.
Roofed Parking Lot
During the scoping discussion for the NBSC project, staff made reference to a possible covered parking lot with solar panels. Solar panels should be located on the existing main building roof and screened from public view. In fact, all mechanical elements should be screened from public view. A covered parking lot is excessive and reduces the open space on the property. It would also unnecessarily increase the lighting demands. Again, this area needs to be landscaped with trees and left as open air space.
Staff spoke of a possible second story being added to the center as a potential site for affordable housing. It was argued that no plans were in place for this, but that the proposed changes in the foundation could accommodate this addition without major changes to the foundation. If staff is serious about the housing component, then it is important that this element of the construction be clearly spelled out as a project alternative.
Project staff did not speak of an onsite diesel generator, but given the NBSC upgrade to accommodate emergency services, some form(s) of emergency power is likely to be installed. This system(s) should be located in a way that protects nearby residents from both operational noise(s) and potential fumes such as diesel.
Parking and Traffic
Historically, the NBSC has been reluctant to address the many parking issues associated with its daytime, nighttime and expanding weekend operations. At the scoping meeting, staff spoke only briefly about parking and said that there would likely be no change or any additional spaces. In truth, any changes brought about by the proposed project to the parking lot and trash/recycling areas will likely result in a loss of spaces.
In the last fifteen years and even further back, neighbors have asked that the center to quantify its parking access so as to protect and not to further reduce the area’s neighborhood Residential Permit Parking (RPP) and parking availability. A baseline of the community’s understanding of the RPP’s required availability came in 2001 when the RPP taskforce (of which I was a member) surveyed parking around the NBSC. It showed that daytime parking impacts of the senior center almost completely eliminated the RPP daytime protections for residential parking holders of “E” Area stickers.
Legal protections of the RPP were then and are still, voided for local residents in this part of Area “E”. It gives some explanation as to why residents and NBSC user groups have had such difficulty with parking availability. This is also why other projects recent years, like Trader Joe’s in 2010, have had to address this issue in their Use Permit reviews.
The NBSC is not the victim, but more the major source to this growing area parking dilemma. The senior center and the City of Berkeley have not addressed the parking impact of the NBSC in more than a quarter century, to the detriment of local residents who pay an annual fee for their RPP stickers.
As neighbors of the NBSC, we have witnessed increases in the use of the facility for daytime and nighttime including the expansion of weekend rentals. Along with the proposed upgrades, there is also a potential for longterm expansion in the building’s use in times of emergency. This huge growth in the number of parking spaces needed for the senior center requires the NBSC Project to evaluate and mitigate the center’s parking impacts, especially as it relates to the area’s RPP program.
It should be noted that in regard to Trader Joe’s Use Permit, the City of Berkeley did take actions to mitigate the store’s anticipated increases in off-site parking as they related to the local RPP program. See Attachment: Shifts in Residential Parking Patterns. The included map those blocks where parking restrictions (RPP) were enhanced. It will also give you a better idea of the area’s parking demands and history.
During the 2001 RPP Task Force deliberations on NBSC parking, the senior center had in place a “day permit” process, operated by the NBSC, that allowed seniors to purchase a one-day parking permit for 50 cents. This program appears to have been discontinued. It is apparent that since that time, NBSC has created its own car sticker for its parking lot that also includes dashboard ID cards. It can be observed that a portion of the onsite parking is consumed by NBSC staff, and not that of visiting seniors.
Today, the actual use and needs of the center remain unquantified. It is time to evaluate both the onsite and offsite parking demands at the NBSC as well as making an accounting of all supplemental parking voucher programs employed at the center before it is reviewed at the ZAB. How many NBSC staff park on site each day? How many vouchers of any type have been issued in the last several years for off-site parking? How many NBSC bumper stickers are in use and how is their use defined?
It should also be noted that the City of Berkeley’s parking enforcement has lacked any consistent enforcement coverage and adequate signage. The City has been “protective” in enacting any parking changes at the NBSC. This has only added to the obvious confusion and hardships for user groups at the NBSC and local residents.
The NBSC “E” area, north of Hearst Avenue, lacks Saturday enforcement despite the fact that Saturday enforcement exists across the street, south of Hearst. This south of Hearst enforced parking was modified as part of the Trader Joe’s development mentioned above. Unfortunately this limited change shifted more non-RPP parking to the immediate area around the NBSC.
Longterm, the worsening situation has worked against any meaningful parking changes at the NBSC, adding confusion and hardships for user groups at the NBSC and nearby neighbors. It is time to make sense of this element of current and future parking at the center.
Finally, the NBSC must begin to begin to move away from its auto-dependence as have other commercial and public enterprises in Berkeley. The project should make this precept a model for future development and use of the NBSC by both its patrons and staff.
Attachment: Shifts in Residential Parking Patterns including area map
1. Shifts in residential parking patterns: The council recommendation to alter parking with 1000 ft. of the new Trader Joe’s store has not calculated the displacement of existing area business parking such as the North Berkeley Senior Center and Ribicon that are now actively using several of the designated streets in the proposal. This plan, with the proposed changes,will logically shift auto parking patterns towards residential streets north of their locations, adding more impact to the Delaware / Bonita neighborhood and other unprotected streets. (See attachment map, Circle #2). .(and the NORTH BERKELEY SENIOR CENTER)
The proposal states, “This modification will be limited to the already designated RPP blockswithin 1,000 feet of the grocery store entrance.” The attached map, Circle #1, clearly showsthis is not the case. The item’s identified streets extend well beyond a 1000 ft. from the entrance of the store. The map also shows the arbitrary exclusion of many closer streets to the Trader Joe’s store like that of the Delaware / Bonita neighborhood area (1800 block of Bonita and the 1900 block of Delaware. See map, Circle #2) which is much closer to the Trader Joe’s store.
2. Protection of adjoining neighborhoods: The new plan also fails to consider the actual parking conditions around Trader Joe’s Store. Those streets identified by the proposed plan and located west of Martin Luther King are principally single residential dwellings. The streets east of Martin Luther King (see map, Circle #2) are principally multi-dwellings and large apartment buildings. This area has considerably more autos. Yet many of these streets like the Delaware / Bonita Neighborhood area (1800 block of Bonita and 1900 block of Delaware) have been left out of the parking proposal despite being closer and more heavily impacted than some of the proposed streets.
If the goal of the proposed plan is to preserve adequate on-street parking for residents in the vicinity of the new Berkeley Trader Joe’s store then shouldn’t that same goal be in place for other in the area, especially the map’s Circle #2?
You should know that a survey completed by the City Manger’s RPP taskforce in 2000 around the Delaware / Bonita Neighborhood showed that parking availability as defined by the RPP simply did not exist in the Circle #2 area. Simply stated, daytime parking availability in the Delaware / Bonita Neighborhood was well below 25%. Yet no attempt was made to protect the area’s inadequate parking at that time or at any other time. The conditions today are far more degraded than in 2000 and daytime parking is virtually nonexistent. The planned changes will only further degrade the area’s daytime parking.
Senior Centers on the Way
Three new senior centers are going to be built in Berkeley during the next year and a half. These new centers will offer the elderly of the entire City desperately needed senior services in properly designed buildings at permanent locations easily accessible to public transportation. The centers will provide sufficient multi' purpose space, but also specialized areas to accommodate varied activities. There will be facilities in each for a variety of programs, including recreational, legal, health, educational and social. Each center will serve daily hot lunches, for many seniors often the only hot meal of the day; and each structure is being designed to meet the special physical needs of the aged.
The three new senior centers are the North Berkeley Senior Center to be located at Grove Street and Hearst Avenue, the South Berkeley Senior Center at Ashby Avenue and Ellis Avenue and the West Berkeley Senior Center at Sixth Street and Hearst Avenue. The North Senior Center, costing $1,403,000, and the South Senior Center, costing $1,261,000, are being financed by the Federal Public Works Program. Construction plans have been approved by the City Council and the federal government, and work will begin early in December. Preliminary designs have been completed for the West Berkeley Center; and pending approval, construction is scheduled for the Spring of next year. This center, which will cost approximately $822,000, is being funded by federal Community Development and Title V. Older Americans Act, grants.
These new senior centers are the result of years of planning by the City Council, Commission on Aging, City staff and many groups in our community Although 15%, of the population of Berkeley has been and continues to be more than sixty years of age, it is only in the last two decades that municipal public policy for the elderly has moved from neglect toward concern.
The City of Berkeley first became involved officially with programs for the elderly in 1952 when it assumed the administration of a private program operated by four professional women's clubs. Since then, the City's commitment to its aged has grown slowly. It was not until 1963 that the first senior center opened in a Durant Avenue church.
The Division of Aging, created in '1975 as part of the Recreation, Parks and Community Services Department, currently operates two major centers: the University Avenue Senior Center and the South Berkeley Senior Center, both housed in churches. Two other major centers have received funds from the City, but have been operated by non-profit community agencies: the West Berkeley and the YMCA New Light Senior Center. The Division provides technical services to the independent centers and coordinates their programs with those operated by the City. All three of the new centers will be City operated.
Over six thousand visits to the existing centers are recorded monthly. Several hundred seniors benefit from outreach programs each month. Each week, 1,175 hot lunches are served at five locations. In addition, the Portable Meals Unit delivers hot lunches to the homebound at cost. Homemaker Services, light housekeeping and personal care, allow many of the elderly to remain at home rather than enter institutions.
These programs flourish in spite of physical settings that can be described as limiting and frustrating at best, and seriously inadequate at worst. The senior centers have endured, despite crowding, noise, lack of privacy and physical barriers, because they answer needs that are served nowhere else. Many programs and services that should exist, do not, simply because there is no room for them. None of the present leased facilities are large enough to accommodate their present use, let alone any increase. Even the limited space available to the senior centers must be shared with other church or community groups. While many of the City's elderly do benefit from these programs, many others have been denied this opportunity because there is no room. Meal service, even at capacity, cannot always meet the demand. Even worse, in a City so aware of the special needs of the handicapped, none of the current centers are suitably designed for those whose handicaps range from the frailty of age to paralysis. Entry is usually at a distance from auto or bus access. Corridors are too narrow. Light levels are insufficient for older eyes. Heat and temperature controls are poor at best. Emergency exiting is inadequate.
Of great concern has been the deep need for permanence, a place that can be counted on. The new buildings - the North Berkeley, Senior Center, and the South Berkeley Senior Center and the West Berkeley Senior Center - are the answer to a long-awaited dream.
To: District 4 City Council Representative Kate Harrison
The traffic-control barrier, consisting of four bollards, has historically separated the residential half of Bonita from the more heavily-used North Berkeley Senior Center (NBSC), Ohlone park and tot lot as well as all the traffic on Hearst Avenue. The traffic barrier has been in place since the early development of the senior center approximately 40 years ago.
The zoning history of the senior center shows that the influx of cars to the neighborhood and parking availability were both high on the list of concerns for neighbors back then, just as they are today. The placement of the traffic-control bollards secured the integrity of our neighborhood despite our location at the edge of what is now considered the downtown.
As designed, our traffic-control barrier has functioned as a calming feature in our residential neighborhood as do the many other traffic-control barriers throughout the city. It has also had a beneficial effect on the Ohlone park and tot lot by creating a “street” parking lot for recreational users, and of course, the many senior center user groups. This has been especially important for the 1800 block of Bonita Avenue given the increased activities at the NBSC both during the day and at night.
Last week, I finally had the opportunity to speak directly with the city’s designated project manager to the proposed changes in our traffic–control barrier. Mr. Peoples, from the Public Works Department, revealed that the proposed change in the street barrier was due to the fact that Bonita Avenue is a cul-de-sac and that emergency vehicles are not able to turn around in order to exit. It was pointed out that there are many such similar streets in Berkeley, including those that, like Bonita Avenue, are created by traffic- control barriers. Mr. Peoples was asked why our street’s traffic-control barrier was being singled out for modification. He mentioned that the proposed changes were principally being driven by the city’s Fire Department.
Those of us on Bonita Avenue question the need to change the barrier now since this block has been in its current configuration for so many decades without any notable emergency access issues. In fact, during the last two decades, only one fire emergency comes to mind, a five-alarm fire at 1806 Bonita Avenue a half a dozen years ago. The fire department had no issue back then in responding to or navigating their fire equipment on Bonita Avenue.
The proposed flexible post design and/or the placement of a “metal staple” curb traffic- control barrier such as the one at Berkeley Way and Bonita Avenue do very little to restrict traffic. Every day, vehicles regularly drive over the existing barrier at Berkeley Way, especially service and construction vehicles. This would most certainly to be the routine with the transit buses and other service vehicles visiting the senior center every day. The fact is that not a day goes by that many autos drive onto the 1800 block of Bonita Avenue from Delaware Street in an attempt to escape the traffic congestion from Hearst Avenue or MLK, Jr. Way during the morning and evening rush hours.
The decisions driving this project seem a bit arbitrary with little or no thought about the loss of parking, and even more importantly, its impacts on our neighborhood. The proposed emergency access might also create some safety issues and traffic uncertainties for residents with the funneling of vehicles through the barrier. However, we know with reasonable certainty that the proposed change will cause traffic to increase substantially on our short, densely populated street.
It should be understood that the existing traffic-control barrier has always been movable, and in fact, the barrier was temporarily moved when the 1800 block of Bonita Avenue underwent sewer repairs. The four concrete bollards that form the barrier, weighting approximately 500 hundred pounds each, can easily be rolled or bumped aside by a truck or fire engine that needs to gain access during an emergency. However, it is difficult to imagine any kind of an emergency where this would be necessary. And if it was deemed necessary, how many times a year would this be an imperative? Once? Twice? Again, there appears to be no real necessity to alter the barrier.
It is clear that there would be no real control over the use of the “emergency flexible-pole” barrier, especially by the city’s many non-emergency vehicles or by private vehicles. It’s human nature to seek the shortcut; the shortcut, in this case, being Bonita Avenue. If this “emergency” drive-through has now become so important to emergency services, then
A locked-down steel post should be adequate to give easy emergency access for those very, very few times that would demand a pass-through on the 1800 block of Bonita Avenue and would absolutely restrict illegal uses. This solution of using a locked-down steel post would resolve any emergency “turnaround” issues on Bonita Avenue while retaining traffic protections for our neighborhood.The proposed “emergency flexible-pole” simply gives license to city vehicles and others to create an unnecessary and unwanted bypass into our community while running over our longstanding neighborhood protections.
Finally, the urban design and preservation element of city planning makes it clear that traffic-control devices have been put in place to specifically improve neighborhood safety. We respectfully remind the city that the 1800 block of Bonita Avenue is a residentially- zoned area. We need the city to be sensitive to these issues and preserve our neighborhood.
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