02 November 2006

That pesky LPO

Cal Ink (photo: Daniella Thompson, 2004)

As of today, most Berkeley households will have received two anti-Measure J hit pieces mailed on behalf of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce (a third is said to be on its way). In each one, the headline “Another landmark?” underscores an old structure photographed to look as ugly as possible.

It’s no secret to anyone that the land under Celia’s Restaurant and Cal Ink represents “opportunity sites” for development, so the buildings have to be portrayed as objects of derision unworthy of preservation.

Whether the Irwin Paint Company building that now houses Celia’s was worthy of a Structure of Merit designation has no bearing on Measure J, since the City Council voted not to certify the designation. (See the LPC’s Notice of Decision, the Planning Department’s recommendation to the council, and the council’s resolution.)

The Cal Ink industrial site has been a landmark since 1986. At the time of its designation, it was the oldest factory in Berkeley operating at its original location. Twenty years after the designation, Flint Ink is out of Berkeley, having left behind a neglected and toxic site. So who’s responsible? Naturally not Flint, but the Landmarks Preservation Commission. At least that’s what the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce would have you believe, with the mayor’s tacit approval.

Think of all the condos that could be built on the Cal Ink site! The only thing standing in the way is that pesky Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, an inconvenient law that only the little people in the neighborhoods want, and they don’t count.

So how do we get rid of the LPO? Easy. Just pin all of Berkeley’s ills on it. And if it doesn’t sound entirely credible, let’s throw in a handful of lies. Nobody will know the difference anyway.

Let’s tell those saps that the existing LPO (and thus Measure J) “violates state law.” It sounds convincing, even if it’s a bare-faced lie.

Let’s tell the fools that it will “give total control over their properties to unelected officials.” They won't know that not only is this patently false, but that the mayor’s proposed LPO is no different in this respect.

Let’s plant in their feeble minds that Measure J “allows designating anything built before 1966 as a landmark.” They won’t bother to investigate the truth and won’t discover that Measure J includes fairly stringent criteria for designating historic resources.

Let’s have them believe that only Measure J will reduce the number of signatures on a landmark petition to 25. Surely they won’t check the mayor’s proposed LPO and won’t find out that it stipulates exactly the same number, because the State Office of Historic Preservation recommended it.

While we’re at it, we’ll also tell the innocent ninnies that Measure J “removes the state historic standard of integrity from our landmarking process.” That’s a particularly good one. Everybody will fall for it. So what if it’s a shameless fib? Who’s to know that Measure J incorporates the state standard of integrity into the LPO?

And finally, let’s hit them where it really counts—in the pocketbook. We’ll tell them that Measure J will waste tax payers’ money and slow down their home upgrades. Yes, it’s only an urban legend, but you know how many people fall for those.

That should take care of it. Then we’ll plant some of our own on the Landmarks Preservation Commission—people smart enough to appreciate an opportunity site when they see one.

In ten years, no one will remember what Berkeley used to look like.


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