Public Comment

Hopkins Decision Postponed After Commission Comments

Kelly Hammargren
Thursday January 26, 2023 - 02:02:00 PM

Last, night (January 25) , the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, a commission of great importance that rarely gets much public attention, voted five yes (with two abstentions) to send a letter to City Council that originated with this statement read by Commissioner and former mayor Shirley Dean:

I move that the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission (DFSC) inform the City Manager and City Council that in consideration of major street changes to streets which have an existing designation as an Emergency Access and/or as an Evacuation Route or is in the process of being considered for such a designation be subject to analysis prior to commencing any planning process to implementing proposed major changes. Further, that major changes be defined as changes that would result in narrowing all or part of a street or other changes that go beyond ordinary repair and maintenance that would lessen the street’s functioning as an Emergency Access or Evacuation would be denied and an alternative to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety without lessening the Emergency Access and Evacuation Route designation be pursued.
You can read the full the full statement from Commissioner Dean with the references to the California Code of Regulations, Title 19, Division 1 in the Disaster and Fire Safety packet pages 9 – 11. 

Fire Chief David Sprague said the system is broken, so the Fire Department will be engaging with a consulting service to analyze evacuation and emergency access routes for the entire city of Berkeley, and also that while he is a bicyclist with children who bicycle, emergency response time and emergency evacuation are of utmost importance. The Fire Department has not been part of the process since March 2021, before Sprague came on board as the new Fire Chief. 

Commissioner Degenkalb referenced a report from Los Angeles that since that city took up similar changes, the emergency response time increased three to four times and pedestrian and bicycle deaths increased. 

Commissioner Murphy, the new appointee of Councilmember Wengraf, reported that the Council’s planned Hopkins Corridor meeting for February 2 is now moved to April 16. 

Commissioner Raine, appointed by Councilmember Robinson, who voted against establishing a subcommittee on emergency access and evacuation routes and sending a letter to council, asked Chief Sprague if the Fire Department could use the bike lane with its curb for emergency vehicles since it was wide enough. 

Obviously, Raine had not heard Commissioner Kim Walton’s comment from last Thursday, January 19, when Walton said she had seen a person in a wheelchair using the bike lane, indicating that concerns from the disabled community could be resolved by adding them in their wheelchairs to bike lanes. 

This gives me a vision of a fire truck barreling down a bike lane, with a person in a wheelchair unable to get out of the way or panicked children frozen in place. 

Chief Sprague said he had never heard of such an idea. 

All this follows the January 19th Transportation and Infrastructure Commission meeting, with Farid Javandel, Transportation Division Manager as its staff secretary, which voted seven to two to approve the extension of Hopkins Corridor with Plan 3 from Gilman to Kains. The commission voted previously for the Hopkins Corridor Plan with protected bike lanes in the emergency access and evacuation route. 

On Wednesday, January 18th, before the Transportation and Infrastructure Commission meeting, the Commission on Aging met at 1:30 pm and the Commission on Disability met at 3 pm specifically to address the Hopkins Corridor Plan, which was expected to be before Council on February 2, 2023. Of concern for both commissions was the impact on the Monterey Market and the businesses between California and McGee, the loss of 100 parking spaces and the impact on the elderly and disabled. 

Transportation Commission meeting attendee Sheridan Pauker asked if the city’s parking analysis included the impact on teachers and staff, and if the impact of delivery trucks was considered. These questions were never answered. Martin Hammer who identified as an architect and bicyclist, said, he liked the Ada Street bypass plan and the City’s plan created more problems than it solved. Many of the attendees liked the Ada bypass plan (and so do I) which was presented by Bryce Nesbit, newly appointed to the commission. 

Commissioner Ray Yep stated the obvious and then voted with the group for Plan 3 with the protected bicycle lanes, two lanes of traffic and parking removed for the bike lane. 

He said, “We have very strong opinions that are very different in my community and I think for the people in the Hopkins community. I don’t think we can move forward with a project where there’s a winner, and there’s a loser. Communities don’t work like that…” Yep went on to say that there are many streets in the city in need of repair and this project should be swapped out for another. 

Where people who need cars would park was only discussed as driveways not being long enough to park a car and not intrude on the sidewalk and small garages designed for another time. The discussion by the majority of commissioners revealed an assumption that with the bike lanes cars would either be unnecessary or kept in some other unnamed place. 

Commissioner Liza Luttzker stated, “Just like everybody can’t ride a bike, everybody can’t ride in or drive a car. Children can’t drive a car. And, in fact, you people with disabilities are much less likely to own and drive a car than anybody else, and there are many people who with disabilities who do need to drive a car, and there are also many people with disabilities who can’t drive a car and we need to plan for all of that. “ 

That’s when Commissioner Kim Walton said she had seen a wheelchair user in bike lanes. 

After the vote, at the end of the very long night at 12:44 am, Machai Freeman, who depends on a wheelchair, countered Lutzker and the commission, saying that their assumptions on the disabled were wrong. Freeman stated she worked hard to acquire a car to be independent and hires drivers. 

None of the discussion at the Transportation and Infrastructure Commission devoted much attention to emergency access and evacuation routes. Transportation Division Manager Farid Javandel could be seen with an enormous grin on his face at the close of the commission meeting with the passage of the Hopkins Corridor Plan. I imagine today he is busy CYA as yet another problem with all this remodeling of city streets is revealed. Remember wthe Milvia bike lane when it was discovered that the turning radius for large trucks and emergency vehicles was not taken into account and sections had to be redone? 

This is not over. 

With all the enthusiasm for protected bike lanes with curbs, someone asked that if the City directs drivers to drive over curbs into the bike lane to get out of the way of emergency vehicles, who pays for the damage to the cars when drivers follow City directions? Again, what about who might be in the bike lane? 

As for the two who abstained at the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, that was Weldon Bradstreet, appointed by Commissioner Terry Taplin, District 2, 12/08/2020, and Harrison Raine, appointed by Robinson, District 7, 12/02/2022.The two who voted no to approving the Hopkins Street Plan at the Transportation and Infrastructure Commission were Rick Raffanti, appointed by Harrison, District 4, 01/18/2023 and Bryce Nesbitt appointed by Hahn, District 5, 01/18/2023 

And, thank you Margot Smith, for your laser focus on emergency access and evacuation routes. 

The Hopkins neighborhood is organized and can be contacted and supported through