Gestation of Halcyon Commons
City government at last yields to a citizen-initated change;
Citizens assume responsibility for staying within a city project's budget.
by Bruce Wicinas, from a personal archive documents and the accounts of other founders.

This is dedicated to those who would create a park or change some physical feature of their neighborhood. Go forth, but be prepared.

Setting. The wide stretch of Halcyon Court (just behind Whole Foods) was a parking lot - a barren, oily stretch of asphalt. All day every day, vehicles containing Alta Bates Hospital staff or visitors would circle it and adjacent streets seeking free parking spaces.  A few non-functional vehicles were permanent eyesores. The surrounding neighborhood was dilapidated. The houses had been allowed to run down. A trend from owner-occupancy to absentee landlord had persisted for decades. The percentage of tenants was high. Liquor stores abounded. This was not the kind of neighborhood in which anyone planned to reside for long. The owner-occupied homes mostly changed hands rather rapidly, serving their owners as "entry level" homes from which their owners hoped to "move up" as soon as possible. The streets and sidewalks reflected this "short-timer" mentality. There were almost no street trees. There was no neighborhood organization.

By 1992, unnoted by anyone, the conditions had grown ripe for a change.

1992 June 1992 Dozens of residents from Halcyon, Prince, and Webster streets hold a Block Party in the center of Halcyon Court. The parking lot in the center of Halcyon, consisting of 27 spaces, is free of cars for the day. Residents sit about talking, eating, watching the kids play with wheeled devices and having an unexpectedly good time. Several people start talking about how nice it would be in the lot were clear of cars every day. “Wouldn't it be nice to have a park and some trees here!” The idea is born (reborn, we were to learn.)
  October 2, 1992 Friendly young neighbor Ross Jackson organizes a meeting at the parish house of Bethlehem Lutheran Church to thaw some neighbor to neighbor connection. He encourages us to discuss anything on our minds. Nearly thirty people attend. Disaster preparedness is a topic. But the most intriguing topic is the idea of a park in the center of Halcyon Court. Pros and cons are raised. One resident arrives late but speaks with assurance. As a community organizer and urban planner, he declares, he helps communities do this sort of thing "all the time." He warns that creating a park will require years and stamina, the implied challenge "does our neighborhood have what it takes?" With this brief speech he leaves to go assist some more cognizant neighborhood. After a moment to regain composure we turn to each and declare, "let's try it."

We discover among us a conjunction of people with useful expertise. This includes Nancy Carleton, a free lance book editor and onetime organizer for the United Farm Workers; John Steere, effervescent community organizer / urban planner; Michael Lamb, landscape architect for East Bay Regional Parks and a parent; and Bruce Wicinas, engineer, recent MArch grad and a parent; We are joined by Susan Hunter, professional chef and able person. These became the main cast of characters. Other neighbors share their skills over the long course of the gestation.

We name ourselves Halcyon Community Association (name later changes to Halcyon Neighborhood Association, or HNA). We decide the neighborhood boundaries with which we wish to identify, 167 households on Halcyon Court, Prince and Webster Streets from Telegraph to Deakin, and Deakin from Prince to Webster. Lacking any fund source it seemed the limit of outreach we could fund from our own pockets. Flyers for future meetings are thenceforth distributed to these households. A meeting date is set for November to focus on the park idea.


November 13, 1992 (Flyer; sketch reflecting fanciful street and auto dimensions) Twenty-seven people attend the community meeting focusing on the park. We learn that at least one former neighborhood resident had a similar idea back in 1976 and even secured some public funding via a parcel tax. $25,000 was allotted from "Measure Y" to build a park in the center of Halcyon. Due to the resident's failure to secure prior neighborhood engagement in the idea, the park did not happen and the money was diverted elsewhere. Carole Schemmerling, former parks and recreation commissioner, attends the meeting to give us input on the process of designing a park. Residents raise both good reasons for having a park and concerns such as effect on crime and potential vagrancy. A sign-up sheet is passed to form a committee, the Halcyon Commons Planning Committee, to continue to work and to solicit further neighborhood input.

We realize the park will cost something but our ambitions are modest. We are prepared to take turns with the jackhammer. Then we hear from our council member that the City has just received from the state a $4 million windfall, part of which it has designated for parks deferred maintenance. We estimate that a small fraction of this could fund our modest park. This greatly improved our estimate of our odds. We are confident we can make this happen.

Excited by the prospect of this money, various "friends of park X" groups emerge around the city. To commence some cooperation instead of a feeding frenzy of self interest, a city-wide advocacy organization "Berkeley Partners for Parks" comes together. Members of the Halcyon planning committee are proactive in making this organization advocate for a rational allocation of the money.

  Late November 1992 The first issue of Halcyon Community News is distributed to the 167 households in our neighborhood. In addition to articles on our crime watch, on creating community, and on our new neighborhood association, the newsletter gives a detailed outline of the November meeting so that all in the neighborhood will be informed about plans for Halcyon Commons. The newsletter is well-spoken and lovingly crafted, suggestive of an endowed nonprofit rather than merely a livingroom full of neighbors.
  December 1, 1992 The Halcyon Commons Planning Committee holds its first meeting, attended by nine people. The Planning Committee continues to meet on a monthly basis (or more frequently) throughout 1993. Its first task at this meeting is delegating writing of a community questionnaire to a subcommittee of three. Half the questionnaire will focus on general neighborhood concerns and half on Halcyon Commons (both to determine the degree of support for the Commons and to present three potential layouts). Its second task is the create a time line for Halcyon Commons planning, to be presented at the community-wide meeting December 11.
  December 11, 1992 Twenty-nine people attend this meeting. Our council member, Carla Woodworth, comes to offer her input on the planning process for Halcyon Commons and on organizing a block-by-block crime watch. The Halcyon Commons Planning Committee outlines an aggressive time line for Halcyon Commons planning: 1) January: Prepare and circulate questionnaire. 2) February: Summarize/compile findings from questionnaire; gauge level of neighborhood support; investigate process for incorporating as a nonprofit. 3) March: Contingent on community support, hold design workshop to select preferred design. 4) April: Continue planning process; second design workshop if needed. 5) May/June: Hold Block Party in temporary Commons; meet with City staff for input.
1993 January 1993 The Halcyon Commons Planning Committee subgroup drafts a four-page questionnaire to analyze and quantify neighborhood support for Halcyon Commons. Three alternate park footprints are included, with a number rating system and space for comments.The questionnaire is distributed to all 167 households in the neighborhood.
  Winter 1993 The edition of Halcyon Community News contains the questionnaire, along with articles on neighborhood pride projects, “Growing Community: Greening the Neighborhood,” the community Crime Watch, and highlights of community meetings, including ongoing discussions about Halcyon Commons.
  January 12, 1993 About thirty people attend the monthly community meeting, focusing on organizing our crime watch, with police Sergeant Cliff Romig as our guest presenter.

February 1993 The Halcyon Commons planning Committee evaluates questionnaire results. Initially, 39 questionnaires are returned, and 6 more trickle in over the next month, bringing a total of 45 responses out of 157 questionnaires distributed (a 28.66% return rate, considered excellent for surveys of this kind). With regard to the idea of creating a commons on Halcyon Court, 40 responses are positive (89%), 1 is neutral (2%), and 4 are negative (9%).On Halcyon itself, all but one household has responded [either to the questionnaire or verbally; that one house turns out to be owned by Alta Bates and visiting guests, not permanent residents -- indicating enthusiasm from those who live adjacent to the proposed site. Alternative #2, situating the "Commons" in the center of Halcyon, is favored over the other two alternative proposals by a two-to-one margin. The hesitations voiced are parking sufficiency and crime fears.

(?) Planning Committee members meet with Carla Woodworth and city officials to get their input on the Commons planning process, particularly with regard to its impact on parking availability. We drafted a survey about household parking needs and other issues which we distributed to every household in the greater neighborhood.  The survey informed us that the total parking need of the neighborhood could be met without parking in the street midsection if parallel parking surrounded the park. We computed a parking space target figure which informed our subsequent parking layouts and, in turn, the footprint available for a park.

  February 23, 1993 Twenty-nine people attend the community meeting, which includes a report by the Halcyon Commons Planning Committee on questionnaire responses and plans for a design workshop to be held in March.

March 1, 1993 Having measured Halcyon Court with the assistance of his young daughters, the author makes the first scaled drawing of the street and draws a parking layout and a park footprint. "Version 1" proposes double-loaded parallel parking on the north side and single-loaded parallel parking on the south. This met our parking space quota, set rather high at that time. Travelled ways of 14' to the north and the south left a 32'9" wide park footprint. Following the subsequent March 11 meeting with the city the author receives from the city traffic engineer a copy of the city's official parking space requirements. Version 2, drawn later in the month, features single-loaded parking to north and to south leaving a 41'3" width. In Version 3, reflecting guidance from city engineering, the travelled way and parking lane are slightly reduced, allowing a park width of 43'3". Both versions 2 and 3 retain six parking spaces at the south end of the park in order to meet our parking space quota. V2 arranges spaces head-in; V3 arranges them diagonally.

March 11, 1993 First meeting with "the city." (Notes from meeting with city) With the aid of our council member we obtain an audience with city staff  - planners, parks people, assistant city managers, city traffic engineer Chuck Deleuw. We activists were proud of our work heretofore and felt we surely had more to show than the common herd of supplicants. But we found no encouragement. Staff's response to our initiative was, "no, no. The City has more parks than it can maintain. No proposal for a new park will be considered." We felt doused, but immediately recalibrated our strategy. We would have to advance our efforts much farther without "on the radar" help from city staff. Not joining in this chorus, Chuck Deleuw discretely asked the author for a copy of the scaled drawings ("blueprints") which he noticed amid our notes. At least one city official seemed intrigued and tacitly positive.

March 1993 A community meeting on crime is attended by twenty-seven people. A Block Party date of June 5th is selected for Halcyon Commons Mock-up. Members of Halcyon Commons Planning Committee are seated on Berkeley Partners for Parks, a city-wide group organized to support the City's Adopt-a-Park program.


March 28, 1993 First Design Workshop. (flyer) Fourteen people attend a hands-on design workshop for Halcyon Commons, including Parks and Recreation commissioner Fred Harvey.Everyone receives a handout detailing community response from the questionnaire, including comments about issues of concern, such as impact on crime and vagrancy. Efforts are made to address accessibility issues for the disabled. As a group, we brainstorm various design options. Then we break into two to come up with two potential park designs using clay and pens and paper.

The author was skeptical of this method, believing that the design of a park is a matter for experienced professionals. The author joined the group led by an experienced professional, Michael Lamb. An afternoon is not time enough to author a design. Hence Michael's first stroke was the tried and true solution: grass. It is a "law" of park design that grass has the highest utility in highly paved urban locales and is most feasible to maintain. The other committee headed a quite different direction. Their design contained close to zero grass - it seemed to the other group - but a large number of garden decorative artifacts such as arbors, gateways, statues, flower beds, furniture and dry streams. The outcome of the afternoon was two designs not easily reconciled. The minimal-grass design led in popularity. We agree to hold a second design workshop on May 12th to bring the two plans together and to present the two versions at the community meeting in April.

  April 20, 1993 Around seventeen people attend the community meeting that includes a presentation of the two designs from the March design workshop, and people offer input on the benefits and liabilities of each.people are encouraged to attend the second design workshop on May 12. Attentively studying the two designs the audience voiced what was appealing about the minimal-grass design. The compelling character was not the garden bric-a-brac but an intimate open space formed in the center suggesting a "forest clearing." So identified, everyone liked the idea. The "grass people" requested it be enlarged to allow active uses. Thus the "laypeople" of the neighborhood had authored a strong design concept that was practical. There was more about the park to decide but this consensus around a central element made the remaining decisions easy.

May 4, 1993. Phone conversation, the author and Sargeant Romig, Police Department. The author had been cautioned by staff at the city engineering department, "expect gunbattles in the night." Alarmed, the author contacted the Public Affairs bureau of the police department. "Will we have a crime problem in our little park.?" Sargeant Romig replied, "It's a residential area, not a commercial area. You therefore have the option of tolerating only as much as you want. If troublesome types behave in ways that are unaccceptable to the neighborhood, such as camp on the benches, get drunk or make excessive noise, you can call us. We will come down and get them out of there. Your tolerance will dictate our enforcement. That is the operating principle of our police work. (That is why Telegraph is as it is - it reflects the prevailing tolerance.)"

"Of course, the situation will be affected by the benches, lighting, trees, etc. Keep the trees trimmed up, the bushes trimmed down. If the benches or other elements invite problems, you can adjust them." (As of this moment we added lights to the design and their cost to the budget.)

The author referred to the alarming prediction by someone in the city engineering department, apprently based upon crime problems in mini-parks. "All of the other mini-parks are empty lots that extend into the interior of a block. They are not very visible from the street. They tend to have back fences that people can jump. The mini-parks are mostly in neighborhoods containing a lot of subsidized apartments. They are areas in which unemployed young people hang out, indistinguishable from real criminal types, making it difficult for police to do their job. Your proposed park and your neighborhood have none of these characteristics."

Sargeant Romig's final comment: "I think your park idea is fantastic. I like it. I do all the environmental impact reports on these sorts of proposals. If I have to do an impact on this I will definitely approve it."

I asked if we could get a letter of endorsement from Dash Butler, the chief of police. "I'll see about that," he said. We received the letter of endorsement from police chief Butler. It was a reassurance for all.

May 12, 1993 Second Design Workshop. (flyer) Twenty-five people attend the second design workshop for Halcyon Commons. During the course of the workshop, general agreement is reached on bringing together the two different designs for the park that came out of the first workshop, incorporating aspects of each. Karl Linn, who has helped many communities organize around common project, such as designing parks or urban gardens, shares his input. Bill Lipsky and Naomi Janowitz provide information about potential problems (and solutions) based on their experience as key members of Friends of Willard Park.

By the conclusion of the second community design workshop the major elements of the park had been chosen by the community. These included the main organizing element - the central grassy clearing nestled in a periphery of trees and shrubs, an approximately diagnonal path traversing the entire length, a small "paved" place with a table, a bench, a "community herb garden", an arbor and bulletin board, numerous large trees and generous clusters of flowering plantings. This was sufficient for Michael Lamb to execute a first scaled schematic drawing of a full design.

  May 18, 1993 The May monthly community meeting focuses on the broader Census Tract 39 traffic plan.We prepare proposals for our immediate neighborhood, including mention of Halcyon Commons and a request to have half barriers at Prince and Webster landscaped as another aspect of our neighborhood greening efforts and to serve as a gateway to Halcyon Commons. (One of the two landscaped barriers got added to the scope of work of the park construction and was created concurrently with the park. The second is constructed a few years later without city assistance by effort of neighbors and money raised by the neighborhood. Both landscaped barriers preceded by years the city-funded and constructed bloom of traffic calming circles.)
  May 22, 1993 A Four-Block Yard Sale draws hundreds as at least twenty-seven households on Deakin, Halcyon, Prince, and Webster join forces for a yard sale.Halcyon Neighborhood Association sells items at one location to benefit Halcyon Commons planning, and more than two hundred dollars is raised. Newsletters and information is available about the project for those interested.

June 1993 HNA members attend two larger (Census Tract 39) neighborhood meetings at La Peña on a traffic plan for our area.We make announcements about Halcyon Commons so that the block captains representing surrounding neighborhoods will be aware of our efforts.

The majority of residents on Halcyon Court sign petitions to extend permit parking to the center parking-lot part of Halcyon. The majority of residents on Prince from Telegraph to Deakin also request permit parking because Bateman Neighborhood's two-hour parking forced all the Alta Bates cars into our neighborhood. When two hour parking is granted, the Halcyon mid-street parking lot miraculously vacates. It turned out that a lot of the vehicles parked there overnight had belonged to people who lived far away from our neighborhood. The truth about parking had been exposed. As a result our parking space target quota is greatly reduced. The allowable footprint of the park was enlarged by deleting the six spaces formerly reserved at the south end.

  June 5, 1993 Our scheduled Block Party/Halcyon Commons Mock-up is canceled due to uncharacteristic rain that morning.As the skies clear, a couple of dozen folks decide to do a trail run mock-up of the park anyway.
  September 1993 The community meeting on September 20 includes time for planning the rescheduled Block Party and mock-up of Halcyon Commons.The Halcyon Commons Planning Committee prepares materials to supplement the Halcyon Commons Mock-up at the Block Party on October 23.

Sept 23, 1993. Carla Woodworth, our councilmember, informs our strategy: To get into the 94-95 city budget. 1. Try to get on to the agenda of the Parks and Rec Comission. 2. Start with the "Friends of" organization. Go there first. 3) Then call the chair of Parks and REc; also write letter. Explain the work we've done so far. 4. Once on the agenda, neighbors can come and speak to it. "The process works pretty well." Informal strategy conversations are ongoing. The parks citizen/advocate best known to city staff, Bill Lipsky of "Friends of Willard Park", enjoys sharing his experience and advice. Nancy and others meet with every individual councilmember in anticipation of the meetings to come.

October 23, 1993 Nineteen street trees - flowering pear and Japanese maple - are planted by residents on Halcyon and on Webster preceding the day's scheduled block party. Even if the park had never subsequently happened, this tree planting was a declaration of current residents' attitude about the neighborhood. People do not plant trees if they are not planning to stay.

"All work and no play" was not the credo of this group. Though "playing" does not get a job done it brings us face to face with residents who won't or can't pitch in with the work. The rescheduled Block Party/Halcyon Commons Mock-up is a great success on a clear, beautiful day.Over seventy-five people sign the roster during the course of the day. Dozens of children play in the blocked-off area.Using house plants, yard furniture, and paint, we outline the proposed features of Halcyon Commons from the design workshops.Story telling for the children, shared food, and music provided by Three Bean Salad make for a wonderful afternoon of community -- and a taste of the park to come. A detailed drawing of the park design is displayed, along with a blank sheet for feedback from all who attend.


November 1993 The Halcyon Commons Planning Committee incorporates additional feedback from the community harvested by the "subcommittees" we instigated for this purpose. This input is incorporated into an updated design for Halcyon Commons. It is also drafted into "questions and answers to commonly raised concerns." We plan to approach the Parks and Recreation Committee early in 1994 to request their support for this project.

HNA members participate in the nonprofit incorporation efforts of Berkeley Partners for Parks. Through Partners for Parks, we will be able to raise tax-deductible funds toward building Halcyon Commons, generating private contributions to supplement public funds requested from the City.


January-February 1994 Members of the Halcyon Commons Planning Committee contact other neighborhood organizations, community groups, and nearby businesses to request their letters of support for Halcyon Commons in preparation for the Parks and Recreation meeting in late February. We got a large pile of letters of endorsement from community leaders, celebrities, several environmental organizations and most of the Neighborhood Associations of Berkeley. The winter 1994 newsletter contains a four-page special section on Halcyon Commons with questions and answers that have emerged out of community meetings held in 1993. This newsletter is also circulated in outlying blocks surrounding our neighborhood to allow residents in the larger area to become involved in this project.As we gather signatures of support on petitions for Halcyon Commons, we receive near-unanimous support on Halcyon Court itself, with 94 percent of the block's households signing the petition.

We knocked on the door of every household in the greater neighborhood. We obtained nearly unanimous signatures on our petition in favor of the park. We were prepared for people's main doubts with our information about parking and the police chief's endorsement. Crime and encampment by the homeless were the worries most frequently encountered.


The city referred us to the Parks Commission. The citizen commissions are an organ of local government unique to Berkeley. The commissions consist only of citizens and have no statuatory role in city goverment. But because the city council heeds them they are a genuine barrier to access to government. The commissioners take their "responsbility" with the utmost seriousness. They tend to be people who have much more time than ordinary working people. Think "Circumlocution Office" where citizen initiatives can be delayed and deflated enough to exhaust the strongest passion. It's the City of Berkeley's "immune system" which shields city decision making from citizen initiative "pathogens."

February 28, 1994 We are on the agenda of the Parks Commission. Our package includes:

  • a detailed design for a sensible park of modest ambition conceived by the residents and tacitly approved by the city traffic engineer;
  • the tallied responses to the survey of neighborhood concerns and on-street parking requirements;
  • working drawings and itemized cost estimate by a professional park architect;
  • our vow to assume responsbility for the costs of the park by sticking fast to our budget for the construction and by guaranteeing donated labor and maintenance revenue commitments from neighborhood institutions;
  • petitions of support bearing signatures of nearly the entire resident population;
  • documentation of an active neighborhood organization formed around the proposal;
  • evidence of hundreds of hours of labor donated toward realization of a park;
  • an equity and policy argument for the park from the criteria of the city's general plan;
  • and a heap of endorsements from most of the city's neighborhood associations, many distinguished people and the chief of police.
The Parks and Recreation Commission gives its unanimous endorsement to Halcyon Commons following a presentation by members of the Halcyon Commons Planning Committee. The meeting is attended by twenty-five community members supporting Halcyon Commons. But the commission specifies a series of subsequent meetings we would have to attend to get in the running for a modest share of the PERS funding.

April 4, 1994 "The Case for Funding Halcyon Commons" The public works department publishes its criteria for dispersing funds from the $1.5m fund. "New Parks" were assigned "Priority 4," second lowest. Since our census tract had zero parks our tract was ineligible for any of the PERS money. It is "catch 22," a situation absurd and unacceptable. The author obtains a copy of the City's capital projects list, the city's general plan, and the East Bay open space planning guidelines. The author tallies the distribution of parks in Berkeley by census tract, the unit of measure favored in the General Plan. Our tract and one other, "concrete jungles" in which nearly every square foot of land is paved or covered, had zero parks. Some tracts have far more open space than the plan-mandated mimimum. One census tract in elegant North Berkeley, where residences occupy only a small fraction of each lot, has 16 parks. And each of the 16 contains "deferred maintenance" nightmares - whimsical, fragile features crafted long ago. This was the sort of "capital project"competing against our proposal. The author discovers that the city is starkly in violation of its own general plan. 1.8 acres of open space per census tract is mandated by the plan. Our tract contained zero. Incensed by these discoveries the author prepares to "go to war" with the city. The author fashions from the City's own data and policies an equity and policy argument, tallying the "parks per tract" and "park acreage per tract" for every tract in the city. Master editors John and Nancy polish it to maximum rhetorical throw-weight. The Case for Funding Halcyon Commons.


Spring 1994 Community members attend multiple meetings for the PERS hearing process put on by the Parks and Recreation Commission to determine its recommendations for funding projects out of the $1.5 million PERS windfall allocated toward parks. As they argue the case for funding Halcyon Commons, they stress the need for more park space in South Berkeley and the importance of encouraging community involvement. We attend all the meetings and comply with every requirement.

May 23, 1994 This is the date on which the allocation is to be announced. But Public Works and the Commission decide to add additional criteria and weight them differently. This is partly a response to our "geographic equity" argument for considering a proposal for a new park. But it also obliges us to rewind our spring of patience. The city declares a new process entailing approximately nine meetings. Though attendance at all nine was "not necessary," we had learned the lesson "miss any 'non-mandatory' meeting at your own peril." Of our team only Nancy Carleton has stamina to attend all on our behalf. At one meeting when they tried to cut our $109,000 Nancy Carleton was there to defend it even though she had to defy protocol and interrupt the Commission discussion after public comment was closed to do it.

At last the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Department of Public Works both recommend that the City Council approve $109,000 in funding for Halcyon Commons. Meanwhile, John Steere secures pledges of support from Whole Foods Market and Alta Bates Hospital for the project.


At last we had made the final list of projects approved. We then have to carry it to Council. The way Berkeley works is, if a commission endorses something and funding is identified it typically breezes through Council we were told.

In fact, the package carefully crafted by the Parks & Rec Commission almost falls apart completely when it encoutners the effects of potent lobbying by northeast neighboodhoods. Councilmembers Dean & Olds respond to complaints from their constituents organized as "Friends of the Rose Garden" that their pergola project hadn't received as large a grant as they felt they "deserved." The hills folk attack Halcyon's geographical equity argument, quite unmoved by the absence of any park in South Berkeley. Under pressure from their constituents (Berkeley city councilmembers each represent neighborhoods) Dean & Olds appear willing to overturn the Parks Commission's allocations regardless of the near infinite time and good faith invested by ourselves and by others like us to shift a larger share of the funds to improving Rose Garden bric-a-brac. This would have sent the whole process "back to the drawing board," undoubtedly have resulted in less than $109,000 for Halcyon and demolished South Berkeley activists' faith in the city's rules. Nancy Carleton and Bill Lipsky of Friends of Willard Park lobby furiously, contacting every councilmember and applying pressure through intermediaries we knew the councilmembers respected. We pressure our councilmember Carla Woodworth to come through for South Berkeley parks. The final "backroom deal" (actually, a conversation in the hallway of City Hall) that saves the Commission-endorsed allocation is forged by Bill, Nancy, Carla Woorworth and Councilmember Dean. Councilmembers Dean and Woodworth agree to find money from the General Fund to make up the perceived "shortfall" in Rose Garden funding without taking funds from any of the projects "promised" funding from the $1.5 million. It is a key moment. Tipping the balance: The receipt by the Rose Garden of less than the amount the "Friends of" requested was due to their appearance at only one and perhaps two of that prolonged gauntlet of allocation hearings unlike Halcyon which was represented at every single meeting.

Thus we lost some innocence about City politics. Should one exert enormous effort meeting criteria, doing meticulous homework and community-building, composing rational arguments, faithfully appearing at commission meetings - that is, in behaving with integrity - when behind-the-scenes maneuvering and best political connection are what win the day? The answer depends upon one's faith. In the opinion of some we allocated far too much time on meticulous compliance with criteria and not enough to old-fashioned behind the scenes lobbying - in which we had to engage after all to rescue the prior work from fund denial.

Summer 1994 On June 28, the City Council votes unanimously to fund Halcyon Commons along with twenty-three other park projects throughout the city.Halcyon Commons supporters bring seventy-five green helium balloons to council chambers for parks' supporters to hold during the meeting.Dozens of neighbors attend. In July, the neighborhood celebrates our victory with a garden party attended by over thirty.


Oct 27, 1994 Halcyon Commons Planning Committee members meet with representatives from the Department of Public Works to continue the planning process and work out the schedule for Halcyon Commons. From notes of implementation meetings with Public Works: "About 6 months between now and finalizing the plans. First step is 'legal vacation' of the right of way. PW prefers sand to DG (decomposed granite.) DG is $40 /yd. It's expensive. Making it all DG is a concern. (Use of DG was new and unfamiliar to the Berkeley Public Works. Our persistence was required to make it happen.) ADA requires a fountain, a phone. Cut 3 of the handicapped ramps - save $4500. Extend curb through crosswalk."

We go before the Commission on Disability to present the project and address concerns. The park's proposed design was not well received by this commission. A Katkaesque experience is rescued by Dennis Fantin's appearance with us and by our credibility as a grassroots community group. 

Also crucial in saving dollars was work by neighbors Bud Andersen and John Chestnutt work which spared us from a Negative Dec EIR. Bud researched history of the site with a professor's level of detail, and John, an EPA official with recognized technical expertise, was approved by the City to do the sample boring for toxics.

Neighborhood participation continues through a community meeting and meetings of the Planning Committee. Articles in the summer newsletter keep everyone informed about the status of the project.

1995 Winter 1995 City landscape architect Roger Ravenstad assigned to the project. He meets with planning committee members to finalize park design and discuss logistics. He redraws and reviews every detail though it had been professionally drawn by Michael Lamb, the landscape architect for East Bay Regional Parks.Volunteers help with site history research and testing for toxins. Design presented to the Commission on Disability, which unanimously endorses it. Plans underway for arbor and bulletin board.

Summer 1995 The construction contract goes to bid. All bids come in way overbudget. For almost two years we had advocated the project with the earnest aim of conforming to our target budget figure. We mobilize in response to the unexpectedly high bids. To save costs we maneuver the City to accept a landscape contractor rather than a general contractor, requiring a concession in long-standing policy. Scott Parker, a neighborhood resident, agrees to come in at a dollar amount that matches our budget for the basic infrastructure. John Steere exploits his network of contacts to line up multitudes of volunteers to assist with planting and with other unskilled labor.

Michael Lamb arranges for the pavement breaking and removed for free - at some risk of his job, a huge cost saving to the project budget. Additional funds are raised from Alta Bates and from Jeff and Kathryn Carleton to supplement City funding.

  Fall 1995 City signs the contract with Scott Parker, a landscape contractor who lives in the larger neighborhood. Concrete curbs are poured, and work begins. A grant request authored by Nancy Carleton for wins us trees from California ReLeaf.
1996 Winter 1996 Construction continues, with heavy winter rains slowing progress for long periods.
  Spring 1996 Infrastructure completed. A long wait for the ground to dry enough to complete soil preparation. The community bulletin board and arbor, of designs that exceed the humble furniture typically found in parks, are constructed by neighborhood volunteers with materials from HNA.
  May 1996 In late May, eighty-five community volunteers, led by City of Berkeley gardeners, plant twenty-two trees and hundreds of shrubs and bushes.
  June 1996 Volunteers lay sod. Loose ends completed.
  July 21,1996 "Success has many fathers." The community celebrates the completion of Halcyon Commons and dedicates the park with speakers and music as part of a giant block party. The park had its grand opening August, 96, only three years after that originating block party. It looked fantastic and was greeted ecstatically by one and all. Every local and not so local politician was there - including Jerry Brown, who had not yet run for mayor of Oakland. Every one had to make speeches and be photographed, and take credit. The City of Berkeley listed it as among its great achievements of that era.

And the renown did not stop in Berkeley. People came from far and wide to see. Busloads of design professionals visited. Local resident "King of De-paving", Richard Register, was credited by his international following the 28 former parking spaces in addition to his former depaving total of 6, though his involvement with the project was only a letter of support and some shovelling. ("De-paving Journal")

Halcyon Commons is a frequently cited visited case study in the Urban Design school at U.C. Several times graduate students from the Urban Design school have interviewed us all yet in connection with some new study angle on the saga.

Pre-emptive Concern Addressing Many contributed. But Nancy Carleton was architect of our strategy of outreach the author later dubbed "pre-emptive concern addressing." Nancy credits its inspiration to her earlier experience in United Farmworkers. The UFW developed their methods as a variation of the Saul Alinsky school of organizing. It teaches the need for "reminder calls" and for absolute responsibility for impeccable follow-through in tracking the details involved in complex organizing efforts. The "Si se puede" attitude ("Yes, it can be done,") the slogan later adopted by Obama's campaign, means you never, ever give up and you find a way around any obstacle. In Berkeley, citizen-sponsored iniatives typically beach themselves on the rocks of division, opportunism and of self-indulgent rhetoric. Thanks to Nancy's method and carefully crafted communication there was never a peep (well, only one) of dissent from any resident in the greater neighborhood.

Various City officials have told us that they have rarely if ever seen such a sustained level of community participation in a project of this sort. And it remains true, as we have consistently helped to maintain the park over the thirteen years since its dedication, quite counter to officials' expectation. We have also been fortunate to have had the participation of people with a variety of areas of expertise, which they have freely donated to our efforts, including city planning, expertise in accessibility issues, landscape design, editing, word processing, and more.

The founding of a park, like the planting of a tree, is a commitment to the long term. Though the park effort was most naturally of interest to the "settlers" - the homeowners and long-time tenants, the collaboration was not limited to them. We solicited and received participation from tenants as well. Several short term residents were sparked by the cause, give it good efffort, and enjoyed the ride.

Postscript about Gentrification: "Planning to stay" We accelerated gentrification, inadvertently. When you change the attitude about a neighborhood from "I'm not staying here" to "I want to live here", the property gains value. We founders foresaw some bump in property values. We knew that a park would be an added asset to the neighborhood. But what we did not expect was the subtle shift in perception of the city pecking order of neighborhoods, played out over many years. The neighborhood acquired a different logic via the park, and the street improvements, the neighborhood organization and effective voice which were fashioned in tandem. City staff knew of our neighborhood. This "renown" extended to staff with typically no direct contact with residents. Over the years after the park's completion we sensed the consequence. For example, a one-mother lobbying campaign by a neighbor who who was not known to the city via the park effort shook "fruit" from the city's "tree" most definitely not low-hanging - a storm sewer improvement project. This far more expensive improvement was secured by a minor fraction of the time and effort devoted to winning approval of the park. Our neighborhood now has the best storm sewer infrastructure in Berkeley. On other occasions we have had the earnest ear of the parks and the public works departments.

The founders did not aim to "flip" our houses, take a windfall profit and leave. We simply had a mind to improve via hands-on effort the quality of this place - and stay. All of the core founders still reside in the neighborhood at the same addresses as in '92. Hosts of house flippers, realtors and absentee landlords have since profitted lavishly from the neighborhood improvement. South Berkeley realtors have been rapturous about the park, supplying design renderings to real estate prospects before ground was broken. None of those people have ever put anything back into the neighborhood. But in spite of the subsequent exploitation, the core human values to which the park gave voice have not expired. The fraction of residents who "plan to stay" is higher than in '92.


For a idyl on the purpose in the making of a park, enjoy "Ikiru" by Akira Kurosawa.
Revised 9/21/2016