Corporation Yard needs
more than just a makeover
In 1916, Berkeley's Public Works Department
completed construction of its new corporation yard on Allston Way. This
early city project moved the existing maintenance yard, which at that
time was little more than horse stables, from the north corner of University
Avenue and Sacramento to its current site. The Public Works commissioner
stated at the opening of the new yard, "We have made a beginning
of which to be proud, and when completed, may well serve as a model
for other cities." Almost ninety years later, even after several
major renovations in the early 30's, the 50's, and again in the late
1980's, those words and that vision have all faded away.
Last Friday, the Public Works Department applied for a use permit to relocate the yard's staff out of the old, single story structures and into portable office trailers. This move signals the beginning of the seismic upgrade of the site's unreinforced masonry buildings. The cost to move the yard's staff and to plug in the trailers is expected to reach half a million dollars, or more. However, no overall cost analysis for this retrofit has been made public. The city knows the seismic project is more than a simple posting up of the buildings so as to keep them from falling down on city employees. In the past, each of the yard's major renovations has both added structures and expanded operations in order to meet the needs of the department. And today, that need has never been more pressing.
The option to expand is being challenged by the area's R2 zoning and the fact that the maintenance yard has become the largest non-conforming land use in Berkeley. Both the city's General Plan and the yard's Master Plan acknowledge the need to relocate, and not to expand at the Allston location. This message also has been echoed by residents who have publicly requested reductions in the yard's activities, and specifically that the rock and gravel storage areas, as well as the yard's fueling station, be moved to a more appropriately zoned site. All council reports evaluating the corporation yard in the last decade have reflected this same reality. The Public Works Department operations have simply outgrown the present site.
Another serious barrier to the future expansion of the
corporation yard is concern over landmark preservation. The centerpiece
structure, the oldest on the five-acre site, was designed by Walter
Ratcliff, the city's architect at the time. Unbelievably, it has never
has been listed in any local or state Historic Resources Inventory.
However, there is no question that the main administration building
has need for landmark protection. The brick detail, wooden floors, and
barn-like shop areas bring back the memory of those first days when
a staff of 150 worked out of the yard, including a blacksmith.
Fix it, expand it, or move it. Those are the options, and each has its special cost for the Public Works Department, Berkeley taxpayers, and the surrounding neighborhoods. Though staff is reluctant to lay out the entire plan, our past experiences with cost overruns for seismic work done at the library, the public safety building, and the civic center, all confirm one thing. The corporation yard upgrade will ultimately cost two to three times more than originally estimated. Even a minimum investment in the site's structures will cost several million dollars. A full-blown expansion will run six million dollars or more. If the city's management of the project is factored in, the costs for the yard could reach up to fifteen million dollars, the projected cost of an entirely new facility. And with all costs being fairly equal, only a new location will meet the future operational needs of the department and the city.
Moreover, Berkeley owns an ideal site at Harrison and Fifth streets where the city has begun construction of a park. With relativity little invested to date, the corporation yard should simply trade locations with the soccer fields and proposed transitional housing. This would put an end to all existing zoning conflicts at both sites. More importantly, it would give the Public Works Department a long overdue professional yard, something that will never be achieved at the yard's current location, no matter how much money is poured into it. We can no longer afford to ignore the necessity of moving the corporation yard.
Once again, hoping to fly under the radar of both neighbors
and taxpayers, the yard's renovation is being offered up in a piecemeal
style. Public Works is now saying that it is merely fixing the yard
while actually preparing the site for another expansion. The first phase
of the capital project, in addition to the modular trailers, involves
the removal of several sheds and buildings. Phase two of the seismic
retrofit will involve new construction. This stealth project, like the
last one offered to residents in 1987, needs to be revealed for what
it really is.
Historically at the corporation yard, the city,
as developer, has always played the bully. The Public Works Department
has avoided the scrutiny of permits, honest environmental reviews, and
a fair public process. For the benefit of area neighbors and local taxpayers,
let's have all the cards on the table! With so much at stake, Berkeley
can not afford to miscalculate the needs of Public Works or the impacts
of the corporation yard on the surrounding community.
Berkeley Citizen © 2003-2010 All Rights Reserved