City showcase of Adeline Street Corridor plans prompts discussion of race, gentrification

Originally published on January 29, 2017 for The Daily Californian

South Berkeley residents and city officials gathered Saturday morning for the opening of an exhibit on the city’s plans for the future of the historic Adeline Street Corridor.

The exhibit showcases the city’s goals for improving the South Berkeley neighborhood and will be open all week at the Ed Roberts Campus. In this presentation, the city recognized the Adeline area as a historically Black neighborhood and expressed an intent to preserve the heritage of South Berkeley. Attendees emphasized concerns about affordable housing and preserving diversity in the area.

“This plan is trying to look at a number of different topics, like land use, development, affordable housing and economic opportunities as well as changes to circulation in the roadway and infrastructure,” said Alisa Shen, the project manager.

District 3 Councilmember Ben Bartlett, whose district encompasses the Adeline neighborhood, said he hopes to see more parks in South Berkeley and that under his leadership, the district will see an aggressive push for progress. Bartlett explained that with the housing crisis, a lot of community members, including his own mother, have felt pressure to leave the neighborhood. He described his community’s hesitance with the project as due to what has happened in the past.

“This is the home of redlining. South Berkeley is where they cordon people off,” Bartlett said. “People are really concerned that this plan will be hijacked and used to convert the neighborhood into Walnut Creek or something, when Berkeley has a really unique character because of its diversity and its inclusive nature.”

Margy Wilkinson, a member of the Friends of Adeline, said the organization wants to see more discussion of affordable housing to prevent the continuing gentrification of South Berkeley. On Feb. 12, the Friends of Adeline is holding an event to foster more community discussion about the Adeline Street Corridor — it wants to make sure the community’s vision is considered.

South Berkeley residents Willie Phillips and John Cornwell both said that while the exhibit expressed the city’s focus on preserving diversity, the representation of people of color at the meeting itself didn’t reflect this goal. Phillips said he could count the number of African Americans at the meeting with one hand and that it’s generally a luxury for most African Americans in the area to have the time to attend city meetings.

“You feel that in a room that is well-educated on urban planning,” Cornwell said. “If you were a regular person, regardless of color or socioeconomic background, wandering in here … thinking your opinion is valid would be tough. It’d be hard to speak up.”

Mari Mendonca said, as someone who grew up in South Berkeley, that there’s little trust in the system.

After getting feedback from the community, Shen said the city plans to improve its outreach. But, she said she encourages people who visited the exhibit to bring their neighbors as well.

“We’re always trying to do better,” Shen said. “What we’re trying to do moving forward is get more of a collaboration going so that we can have people to help boost our outreach. … I hope that people can see this with a different lens.”

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