Berkeley Unified School District will build a Parking Structure on its "tennis courts" site. Of what capacity?

BHS Tennis Courts Site; click to enlargeBerkeley, 1/29/2004. The location is the vacant lot opposite the Berkeley High campus, formerly used as tennis courts, now utilized by Berkeley High staff as a parking lot. On Milvia, East side, between Durant and Bancroft.  Total site area: 37411 sq. ft.

Click for Aerial photo of downtown
(Click on any image for an enlarged view.)

This IS NOT AN OFFICIAL BUSD DOCUMENT. It is authored by the formally constituted "Citizens' Construction Advisory Committee" of Berkeley Unified School District. Its intent is stricty informational.


1. A fairly recent study commissioned by the City forecast a parking deficit in the Berkeley High School vicinity of 700 spaces per day once the new Vista complex is completed.

2. The City of Berkeley will not begin to provide additional downtown parking by "doing something" with its Center Street garage until three or four years from now. (Source: Mayor Bates presentation to the Downtown Berkeley Association, Jan. 11, 2005)

3. Last week (1/20/2005) SMWM, BUSD's master planning firm, reported to the public the outcome of the "Berkeley High Campus South of Bancroft" master planning public exercise. Reflecting unanimity of the four citizen-authored "master plans" for BHS south of Bancroft, the planners proposed a multi-level parking structure located on Berkeley High "tennis courts" site. This reflects the overwhelming logic of this arrangement.

4. Vista College has escrowed a $3.5million parking mitigation fund, a concession to the fact that Vista has removed 50 off-street parking spaces while it will greatly increase the parking need in the downtown. The City of Berkeley assumes it is going to spend this money at a future time but, as Mayor Bates made clear, will not BEGIN figuring out how to deliver new parking until three or four years into the future.

5. BUSD's institutional "mission" is simpler than that of City of Berkeley. Hence its planning and decision-making, though slow, are less encumbered than the city's. The acute education-based need for efficient land use of the high school translates crisply into a need to situate its parked cars compactly.

6. BUSD is advantageously positioned to build a parking structure. It has the necessary property, has more viable options for financing than does the city, the educational rationale (get the parked cars off the BUSD campus,) a "common civic good" rationale (Berkeley downtown is declining due to inadequate parking) and obvious need for any recurring income which a strategically located parking structure could provide.

Introduction and Background (through 10 /23 /2003)

When the Berkeley High "B" building burned in spring, 2001, a "village" of portable buildings sprang up on the Berkeley High campus where cars had formerly parked. The BHS parking situation became a big step more dysfunctional. The tennis courts and on-campus playing fields were seized for parking. The BHS campus is tiny by California standards. A California high school of like population typically occupies 65 acres - Berkeley High is about 18. The last thing the land should be used for is parking. If all the staff vehicles could be “quarantined” to the opposite side of Milvia by containing them in a parking structure it would be a major benefit to BHS students.

The idea has been publicly discussed on occasion for many years - ever since the building which sat upon the tennis courts site was demolished. But a recent development has sharply altered the cost/benefit prospects. In 2003 the CCAC learned of the anticipated removal of the “Hinks” parking structure. Now that the City will suffer a major parking deficit in that vicinity, BUSD has an opportunity to go into the parking business, generating revenue by vending parking while addressing the parking needs of its staff. Teachers need the parking only until about 3:30, and only about 185 days of the year. That leaves a chunk of the clock and of the calendar when these spaces are vacant. There are various alternatives for financing a structure, including “parking bonds”. In addition, BUSD has some flexibility thanks to its unexpended bond funds. Though the bonds must not be permanently spent on a parking structure because that was not what was pitched during the campaign, the expending of bond revenue is spread over years. The facilities projects are deliberately initiated in a staggered basis to "level" the project management and tax rate burdens. To the layperson this would seem to allow some latitude for moving around money provided it’s all spent as pledged in the end.

The tennis court site has already been withdrawn from athletic and recreational use by the high school and the community. Cars will be parked on it probably permanently. This site is more apt for development than other properties owned by BUSD. It is located in downtown, not in a residential neighborhood of separated houses. It is a valuable property, its use wasted as merely a parking lot. 

So for several months (prior to 10/23/2003) the CCAC has been “kicking around” the idea of building a parking structure on the tennis courts, anticipating a “pitch” to the Board to this effect.

On 10 /23 /2003 the City of Berkeley "Parking Czar" Matt Nichols gave a presentation to the CCAC at its regular meeting. That evening the CCAC learned that the City of Berkeley had  commissioned a site feasibility study of a structure upon the tennis courts site. (International Parking Design, Inc. April 2003. For City of Berkeley Planning and Development Department, Current Planning Division.) No one in BUSD, neither board member nor superintendent, had been aware that this study was underway. Copies may be obtained upon requrest from the CCAC or presumably from the City.

Recent Developments (1 / 20 / 2005)

Plan; click to enlarge BUSD's master planning firm presented its final recommendation to the public on 1/20/2005. The drawings show the tennis courts site shared by a 2.5 level, 180 space parking structure and by a newly contructed Warm Pool. The warm pool needs only a minor fraction of the 37,000 sq ft site, perhaps 10,000-12,000 sq. ft. 180 spaces is a little less than the current parking need of the Berkeley High staff. Presumably copies of this plan are publicly available. (The drawings of structures proposed for the tennis courts site are now included, left and below, 2/23/05.)

Obviously, the structure COULD be built to five stories instead of only 2.5 - one subterranean, one at grade, three above-grade. Section; Click to enlarge

Who, What, When?

The Citizens' Construction Advisory Committee (CCAC), a BUSD board-appointed advisory committee, commenced the discussion of options in early 2003. It started when the committee gathered three "dots" of information which begged for "connecting."

1. Berkeley High permanently allocates 230 parking spaces to individuals of its staff without any fee, almost half on the Milvia-to-MLK park of the campus. This is not widely known. (U.C. does not do this for their faculty except for Nobel prizewinners who are allocated spaces near the stadium.)

2. A major purpose of BUSD's 2000 bond, which CCAC is charged to oversee, was the resolution of use of the south-of-Bancroft part of the Berkeley High campus. The tennis court site belongs to that and the parked cars are its occupant of largest footprint, and

3. The Downtown Berkeley Association design subcommittee, upon which the CCAC chair sits, learned of the anticipated loss of the Hink's lot long before it went down and raised all available flags of alarm.

The CCAC has no formal authority but has "big picture cognizance" and excellent access to the ears of BUSD board members and BUSD administration. Its member are using their affiliations to inform decision-making authorities, so that they may join in the "connect the dots."

In this venture BUSD and the City's interests are not identical. The city government's most important mission is the viability of the City. The city goverment IS extremely concerned about the downtown parking situation, as reflected by the study which they quietly executed. Besides the permanent parking shortfall the city is concerned about an even more acute transient condition that will prevail when the city demolishes its Center Street garage in order to rebuild it. However, if BUSD chooses to immediately build a bigger structure to relieve the parking crisis it seems - to the layperson - to have a claim to a portion of the Vista-furnished parking mitigation money. The city government also covets this. But the city goverment has no plan by which that money can be spent on parking instructure sooner than several years from now.

If left quietly to its own devices BUSD may pursue the most passive path, construction of a 180-space parking structure upon the site. All things considered, that would be a tragedy of missed opportunity for Berkeley's downtown and for BUSD's long-term fiscal prospects.

Contact: Bruce Wicinas, CCAC chair