The Density Bonus is designed to "increase the supply of suitable space for fine arts and performing arts organizations in the downtown" by offering two extra floors to builders who include a public space for the arts.
The concept is inspired. The language, however, is ambiguous, and mixed with a developer's pressure and the planning department's sometimes short-sighted enthusiasm, the results can be as embarrassing as the empty cultural space that bestowed the density bonus on Patrick Kennedy's downtown "Gaia" building, which argued successfully that the inclusion of a (now defunct) bookstore satisfied the density bonus requirements, and netted the community an empty hole.
The Seagate Properties' promoters brought the Berkeley Repertory Theater into the package to add solidity to the deal and oversee the performance space, but negotiated with that group and the planning department for 32 months in private, by their own admission, presenting the proposal to the commission as a done deal. Their proposal states, "It should be noted that these drawings were approved in draft form with Phil Kamlarz, City Manager then acting as Planning Director as part of the three-way negotiations between the Berkeley Rep. and City of Berkeley and Seagate. The application contains these very same drawings and pre approved text."
It's not surprising that the Berkeley Repertory Theater was an enthusiastic partner. A review of the proposed floor plan shows that the actual performance space is only slightly larger than the "ancillary support" and "production support" storage space set aside for the Berkeley Repertory Theater alone. The programming proposal offers only 100 days of regularly scheduled public events, only 52 of which are required to be offered to other arts groups, who will be charged rent by the Berkeley Repertory Theater for the privilege of the use.
If this sounds okay to you, then it won't bother you at all that part of the square footage helping to meet the density bonus requirement is a pedestrian walkway connecting Center and Addison Streets which will have space for "visual display".
Seagate Properties will be collecting rent on its upper floors 365 days a year, and, with the assistance of the most well-heeled theater group in town, robbing the downtown of an honest, and honestly public, community arts amenity.
District Council Representative Dona Spring, to her credit, is suggesting tightening up the ambiguous language in the current arts density bonus. But the language is not necessarily the problem. We should be asking much more from those who interpret the language, so that Berkeley's artists are not shut out again.
Carol Denney is a musician and community activist.
Carol Denney MSL
1970 San Pablo Ave #4
Berkeley, Ca 94702
(510) 548-1512 firstname.lastname@example.org