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A leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors

Berkeley, CA

Success Story:
Downtown Area Plan

Mayor: Tom Bates (2002-2016)
Institute Session: 2004 MICD 33

Being prepared produces results. When former Mayor Bates attended MICD in 2004, he presented what was arguably the most aptly timed case study project of the year. The mayor was seeking development strategies for a key block between the Downtown Berkeley BART Station and the University of California campus. The site is part of the Downtown Area Plan that was about to undergo a comprehensive policy update for the first time since 1990. The feedback Mayor Bates received from fellow mayors and MICD Resource Team over the course of two days helped prepare him for an intensive public discourse about the plan that went on for the next seven years.

Having attended the Institute at an early stage of the plan update, Mayor Bates was able to apply his crash-course education in urban design and influence the plan in ways that maximize community benefits. Some highlights of the new Downtown Area Plan include new zoning that allows higher density and height limits (capped off at 180 feet); stringent green building standards for new construction; policies that support green space and affordable housing; and a signature “Green Pathway” program that incentivizes good development practice by streamlining the permit process. Per MICD’s recommendation, Mayor Bates reinforced the relationship with the University, making sure that the anchor institution was involved in every step of the planning process.

A policy document seven years in the making did not come without challenges and setbacks. MICD provided the mayor of the city infamous for its outspoken public with the tools and conviction to navigate countless public hearings, Planning Commission and City Council meetings, legal debates, and press coverage leading to the final approval of the plan in March 2012. As for the project that the mayor brought to the Institute: “The museum moved forward and we have a new prospect for the hotel tenant,” he says. “It’s helpful to be in office for an extended period to follow through the project and see how the pieces are coming together.”

Landing page photo by flickr user Daniel Parks