South Berkeley locals may have heard of plans for new affordable housing units, which are to be built in the space that is now the parking lot of the Ashby BART station. This is part of a larger plan to provide more affordable housing for Berkeley residents and has been in the making by Berkeley officials and community members for over eight years through much planning and public meetings. BART, however, announced this year that they will be combatting this long-term plan in favor of the construction of a new power substation. The substation, and all of the repercussions of its construction, will have a significant negative impact on the South Berkeley community.
The original housing plans for the Ashby station included hundreds of new homes to be built atop the station’s parking lot. The housing was to be affordable and the plans also featured ground-level retail and a potential permanent home for the Ashby Flea Market. Overall, this expansion would have provided economic growth, stability, and vibrancy to the surrounding area, and was a project that gave residents hope for the future of their community.
The power substation, on the other hand, would consist of a 180-foot long and 15-foot tall facility, surrounded by a 10-foot wall. The station would take up nearly all of the space between the station concourse and the intersection of Adeline St. and Ashby Avenue, as well as provide pedestrians with a 10-foot wall where they hoped for convenient retail and vibrant spaces. Locals may also experience an added layer of disappointment and distrust in the BART organization when it is realized that BART representatives have been attending public meetings and backing the housing project for years, despite having a more self-serving agenda.
The power station itself does provide benefits for BART functionality and infrastructure. The added resources allow over double the amount of trains to run, as well as more reliability and ambitious expansions in the future. Though more public transport is certainly beneficial, it is nowhere near as necessary as housing, and seems to be more motivated by financial gain for the company. It has been proposed by the public and various Berkeley officials that BART should build the station on another parcel of BART-owned land, or any place where the construction wouldn’t impact the housing plan, but BART has committed to no such move.
The South Berkeley community is not easily succumbing to this change, with organizations such as South Berkeley Now! raising awareness about the situation and making known ways that one could help, such as writing letters to the City Council and attending public meetings. Despite active rebuttal, BART executives are refusing to let go of the power station plan, arguing that it provides the company with necessary revenue that the proposed developments would not. Some community members are arguing that the city should stop trying to negotiate with BART and instead make compromises on the power substation’s location, as it is not worth holding up the construction of housing.
The housing plan brought a lot of hope to those in the Berkeley community, with many seeing it as a feasible way to combat the city’s large and continuously growing homeless population and bring renewed life to the space. It’s truly a disappointment to see all of this dismissed by the company’s board of executives in favor of monetary gain. The lack of willingness to compromise for the well-being of the residents of Berkeley clearly presents important insight into the values of the major Bay Area transportation corporation.