Re-evaluation of Harrison
Street Playing Fields Zoning


To: Mark Rhoades Manager,
Current Planning Division Planning and Development Department
From: L A Wood, November 23, 1999

Re: Re-evaluation of Harrison Street Playing Fields Zoning

I write this letter to formally notice my concerns over the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) draft findings for the Harrison project as well as the subsequent report recently offered to this CEQA process by the City of Berkeley's Public Health Officer regarding the air quality and possible health impacts of the proposed site. (See enclosure 1.) The re-zoning with an evaluation of the air quality for the proposed Harrison playing fields was first completed within an earlier CEQA process last year.

The primary focus of that earlier CEQA review was to establish possible environmental impacts of future recreational projects such as the one presently being considered. Now, this CEQA evaluation and re-zoning plan are being called into question by the City of Berkeley's own Public Health Officer. The air quality evaluation for the rezoning was based principally on a two-day sampling and a report by the Acurex Environmental Corporation in the fill of 1997. This report, generated for the Planning and Development Department, was used to qualify the air quality for the Initial Study regarding of the re-zoning the site. It should be noted that the Initial Study/CEQA review for the Harrison Project is basically the same as was used to support the rezoning Initial Study/CEQA review.

Now, in the recent CEQA public hearings on the Harrison Project, as well as in written public comments to the same, several critical questions have been raised about Acurex's air quality evaluation and its obvious inadequacies. In response to this public discussion, both the Public Health Officer and Health and Human Services offered a written assessment of the Acurex Environmental Technical Report (TR-97-146) support which verify these public concerns.

In addition, they suggest that the project will conduct future air monitoring of the site. These are highly irregular actions by the Public Health Officer. Moreover, her assessments of the site's air quality (Acurex Report) have raised certain legal questions regarding the validity of the 1998 re-zoning process and of the CEQA review process concerning the development project currently under consideration.

These actions were echoed by the various commissions which have suggested zoning mitigations ranging from plantings trees along the site in order to disrupt air pollution to annual soil testing for toxics. It should be noted that the Public Health Officer's Acurex report assessment has been incorporated into the Harrison Street CEQA Initial Study in both public presentations and city commission discussions. This has set into motion an awkward attempt to mitigate these new concerns raised by the Public Health Officer, city commissioners, and Harrison Project management. Although there seems to be an extreme effort by staff to validate the recent re-zoning of the Harrison site, their actions clearly undermine those recent changes. However, it does illuminate the CEQA process and clearly identifies the critical deficiencies in the re-zoning of Harrison Street. Again, these claims by the city's Public Health Officer require a formal investigation by the City of Berkeley Zoning Advisory Board and the City Attorney.

As you know, the Draft Initial Study for Harrison Street Playing Fields CEQA is being finalized. This document will soon arrive at City Council for a vote along with the proposed Negative Declaration for the projects. It is a concern that the Harrison project CEQA is not being allowed to move forward when the site's re-zoning has been thrown into question. The Zoning Department has a legal requirement to review this zoning conflict before any project can be approved, it is requested that:

1. Zoning and Planning notify the Harrison Street Playing Fields Project lead agency of the concerns stated above, and that the current project development be suspended until all these issues have been resolved.

2. Zoning reopen the re-zoning discussions concerning the Harrison Street site and incorporate the Public Health Officer's most recent assessment.

3. A legal evaluation as to whether the Parks and Waterfront Department should be or is even qualified to be, the lead agency for the Harrison Street CEQA process. The project management's complete lack of understanding of the CEQA process has allowed both discussions and, mitigations which would not normally be part of a CEQA review. This has contributed significantly to the confusion and distortion now apparent within the Harrison Street Playing Fields CEQA Project.
(See enclosure 2.)

Finally, the City of Berkeley has a legal obligation to answer the above mentioned zoning conflicts before any further actions are taken on the proposed Harrison site project, its proposed Negative Declaration, and its CEQA review. Be noticed that a third party legal opinion is being sought regarding these matters and possible future legal avenues.

cc:  Berkeley City Council
Terry Roberts, Office of the Governor, Planning and Research

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