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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Planning Commissioner Calls On Colleagues to Save Pedestrian Path

Planning Commissioner Sean Moss is challenging his colleagues to disregard a city council move to amend Emeryville's General Plan in order to eliminate a proposed pedestrian path in the Triangle neighborhood.  The challenge comes in the form of a letter where Mr Moss calls on the rest of the Planning Commission to protect the General Plan's Guiding Principles, among which are the requirements to make Emeryville "a connected place" and a "walkable, fine grained city, emphasizing pedestrians."

The city council voted unanimously to eliminate the pedestrian route informally called the EBI Path on December 22, 2012 in an infamous decision reported by the Tattler.  The council received two complaints from adjoining neighbors to the proposed path, pitting them against the rest of Emeryville.  Emeryville's Bike/Pedestrian Committee, an advisory body, voted to save the path in a split vote on February 4th.

The city council will have one last vote to amend the General Plan and eliminate this path after the Planning Commission vote tonight.*  The vote will take place at City Hall at 6:30 PM.

Here is the letter from Sean Moss:

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Fellow Commissioners:

I regret that I cannot be present at the February 28, 2013 Planning Commission meeting.  However, I have several comments which I would like to relay to you.  This email will focus on my comments on Item V-A (Escuela Bilingue Internacional Pedestrian Path.)  I will hopefully follow this email with comments on other items.  I wanted to make sure that I had an opportunity to voice my comments on this item since I view it as the most important issue facing the Triangle Neighborhood. 

I want to iterate one point at the outset of my comments.  I will return to this point.  However, it is important enough to restate.  The City Council has the ability to require gates on this pathway.  The conditions of approval preclude the Council from requiring gates at the time of construction.  However, once the path is open, the Council can immediately make the case that a security concern exists and therefore require gates. 

As I sat down to review this item, I began with a review of the General Plan in order to asses the consistency of this amendment with the General Plan’s Guiding Principles.  I could not find even one Guiding Principle that this amendment is consistent with.  I encourage the Commission to review these Principles in considering this request.  The Guiding Principles call for “a connected place,” an “enhanced and connected open space network and green streets,” “a walkable, fine grained city, emphasizing pedestrians,” “a diversity of transportation modes and choices,” “a vibrant urban community,” and “a balance of regional and local amenities,” among other things.  The proposed pedestrian pathway will improve all of these areas.  Eliminating the pathway will negatively affect all of these Principles and the overall vision of the General Plan.  The inconsistencies with the Guiding Principles are so blatant, that I would hope that if this General Plan Amendment had been proposed by EBI, that the City staff would have never brought it forward with a recommendation for approval.  In examining the Guiding Principles, I cannot find a way that the Planning Commission can make findings for approval in good faith.  The findings contained in the draft resolution are obviously weak.  Since I could not in good faith make findings for approval I have drafted an alternate draft resolution that makes clear findings of denial based on the Guding Principles of the General Plan.  I have attached the resolution to this email.  Should a majority of the Commission present at the meeting come to similar findings, I hope that you will use this alternative resolution as a model for adoption. 

In addition to contradicting the Guiding Principles of the General Plan, I have the following concerns regarding the proposed amendment.  First, the General Plan was the result of a lengthy public process.  The Steering Committee worked countless hours developing the plan.  Many members of the community provided input.  The result is that we have a General Plan which represents the desired of many diverse stakeholders.  The General Plan enjoys wide support in our community. This support stems from the vision presented in the Plan’s Guiding Principles.  These principles establish the type of environment that our community wants Emeryville to be.  The proposed amendment does not satisfy, and in fact harms, that vision. 

The proposed pedestrian pathway provides an important, and currently non-existent, connection through the Triangle Neighborhood.  In fact, the pathway is the only thing preventing someone from walking from Ana Yates Elementary School to Berkeley without walking on a major street.  With Anna Yates in its current location, the proposed pathway will provide a safer route to school for children who live on 47th and 48th streets.  Currently, this route to school would take children onto San Pablo Avenue, an unsafe route for small children.  The pathway will also provide better access to Temescal Creek Park, which is currently being renovated.  I walk through the Triangle Neighborhood almost everyday and currently I rarely walk on 47th Street because there is no connection within the neighborhood.  I enjoy Temescal Creek Park, but find it unpleasant to walk there on San Pablo Avenue and thus when I reach the end of Salem Street on 45th, I turn around rather than walking on San Pablo Avenue, which is an unpleasant walking experience due to noise, pollution, litter, etc. 

Returning to the issue of the safety of the pathway, it is important to remember that crime is a temporal issue.  Crime rates ebb and flow over time.  However, connectivity and walkability are fixed and perpetual issues.  We will always need to physically move from one destination to another.  Human beings will always prefer the most direct route to their destination.  In this case that route is through a block.  It is not sound public policy to forever preclude the building of this pathway due to concerns over safety in the present time.  Concerns over safety may someday look quaint, and at that time we will hopefully not have forever eliminated an amenity for the community due to safety concerns today.  In addition, safety concerns can be mitigated through good design.  As I said at the outset, the City Council can require gates on this pathway.  The Council was wise in their crafting of the relevant condition of approval.  In order to appease the applicant, who wished to not build gates, the Council allowed for gates to be required in the future if safety became a concern.  This was a prudent action.  It would be a shame to now eliminate this pathway because the Council and/or the Commission feels that the pathway is unsafe before any evidence can be presented to show this.  This pathway is the only physical public benefit of the EBI project.  It will benefit the community and implement the General Plan.  This amendment will weaken the General Plan and prevent implementation of the Guiding Principles.  I doubt if any alterative public benefit could be identified which would so perfectly implement the Guiding Principles of the General Plan.  It for this reason that I cannot make the findings of approval for this General Plan Amendment. 

Sean Moss

*NOTE TO READERS- the asterisk denotes a correction to a previous sentence that falsely claimed that the Planning Commission vote would be the final say in amending the General Plan.  The council will have the final say. -ED

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