BUSD likely to drop staff parking lot plan following criticism


In Nov. 2020, Berkeley Unified School District revealed plans to build a three-story staff parking garage with rooftop tennis courts. The funds for the $27 million project would have come from Measure G, a $380 million bond for school construction that was passed in March of the same year. However, due to pushback from climate activists and other concerned community members, this project will likely be thrown out in favor of other, more sustainable options.

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, the City Council approved a proposal that would give residential parking permits to around 60 percent of Berkeley High School staff members. This proposal, authored by councilmember Sophie Hahn, would lessen the need for a new parking garage. It suggests that BUSD “consider formally withdrawing” from the project and use the bond money from Measure G to improve the school in other ways.

An alternative plan for the money was proposed a few weeks ago in a meeting with the Director of Facilities, Principal Raygoza, and other staff members. Instead of spending the $27 million on a parking garage, it would be used to improve other aspects of the BHS campus.

One part of the proposed plan was to build a two-story CTE building containing a new robotics classroom. According to robotics coach Dirk Wright, the current classrooms are unable to meet the needs of the robotics team. They don’t have the room to bring in larger materials, and the room is not equipped to handle experiments like welding or even building with large equipment.

“And for a math teacher, a square room with tables and chairs in it is probably most of what they need, but … (for us), the kind of traditional classroom spaces we are in right now just are not able to host these classes,” said Wright. 

The proposed building would also contain features such as gender-neutral bathrooms and tennis courts. Twenty years ago, BHS’s home courts were taken out and replaced with staff parking, and they have never been replaced. According to tennis coach Jeffery Jue, who has worked at BHS for ten years, new courts are long overdue. Without home courts nearby campus, the team has had to rent space at UC Berkeley, which is approximately a 30-minute walk away.

“(Berkeley High School) is the only public high school in the East Bay that does not have home courts on or close to campus … not having courts on campus made it difficult for the students’ travel time,” said Jue.

Jue considers the solution of parking permits to be a win-win, saying that it would solve not only the parking problem but the tennis court problems, as well.

The potential benefits of an alternative plan are not the only reasons community members oppose the parking garage plan. According to Tom Lent, the E-bike Project Coordinator for Walk Bike Berkeley, the parking garage has the potential to impact the environment negatively.

“It would have been a really unfortunate waste of dollars … and would’ve locked us into decades of unsustainable driving as a primary transport for people getting to and from Berkeley High (School), which we, as you probably well know, cannot afford given the current climate crisis,” said Lent.

According to Liza Lutzker, a BUSD parent who also works with Walk Bike Berkeley, the school district needs to take action on its sustainability plan — and a new parking garage would do the opposite.

Lutzker suggested that instead of spending millions on a parking garage, BUSD should collaborate with the city to find an alternative solution to the parking problem. She and other Walk Bike Berkeley members have been attempting to broker a deal between the city and the district to allow teachers to park in the mostly empty parking garage two blocks from BHS, but due to legal restrictions, the deal didn’t go through.

“I’d really love (BUSD) to put their money where their mouth is and help their staff get to school more sustainably,” said Lutzker.