EL CERRITO -- A plan that would guide development on the San Pablo Avenue through 2040 and envisions a more densely developed corridor won preliminary Planning Commission approval July 16.

The San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan would encourage denser private development in the 2.5-mile-long, 206-acre specific plan zone, with higher buildings and smaller housing units, especially near the city's two BART stations.

The premise is that residents will take advantage of opportunities to walk to shopping and bike or take public transit to work if given the opportunity.

But not everyone who attended the study session held before last week's commission meeting was excited about the transportation element in the plan that de-emphasizes cars and parking in favor of walking, cycling and public transit.

Some speakers questioned the wisdom of placing bike lanes on San Pablo, adding planter boxes to replace some street parking, encouraging construction of high-density housing with limited parking requirements and other aspects of the plan.

"I'm not going to buy merchandise on San Pablo and then try to carry it home on public transit," said Lloyd Coyne, a 57-year El Cerrito resident. "By encouraging public transit, are we supporting retail on San Pablo?"

"San Pablo Avenue is a state highway, it's not going to be Solano Avenue," echoed Carol Langhauser, another longtime resident. "If there is no parking near San Pablo, it's going to spill over onto residential streets."


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Richmond Annex resident Garland Ellis also expressed concerns about the transportation assumptions underlying the specific plan, saying that El Cerrito needs more parking around its two BART stations, not less.

"Parking is a challenge around any BART station," Ellis said, "BART parking is spilling over into Richmond Annex, and we need bigger parking garages and more garages near the stations."

Despite these concerns, the five planning commissioners in attendance were united in expressing satisfaction with a draft version of the specific plan.

They agreed that it meets the needs of El Cerrito's future of higher housing costs, more density of development and a need to move away from automobiles as the dominant form of transportation.

Commissioner Tim Pine pointedly contradicted critics, saying that El Cerrito needs to send a message "that cars are a problem, they are not a good thing."

"Cars are a terrible misuse of space," Pine said. "We pave over farmland, pave over parkland for them to have them sit unused 10 hours a day, dripping pollutants."

Fellow Commissioner Michael Iswalt seconded Pine's sentiments by saying that the city needs to recognize that the Bay Area is "in the middle of a modal shift toward (public) transit."

Transportation issues aside, the specific plan would set clear standards about a host of aesthetic and practical considerations, including the form and mass of buildings, the design of facades, open space included in developments, appropriate landscaping and other issues.

It sets up four well-defined categories for project review, enabling developers to receive lower-level approvals of qualifying projects. Planning commissioners would also face fewer variables in considering projects that are appealed.

The commission will hold a special meeting to consider recommending the specific plan to the City Council on Sept. 4, and the council will consider adoption of the plan on Sept. 22.

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