Preservation Used As A Blunt Force Object

Brought to you by the city's preservationists, who'll do anything to stop a bulldozer.

One woman's future two-car garage is another's historic streetscape. The courts typically let locals decide what's worthy of the "L" word. That, however, can be a perilous proposition in Berkeley, CA, where the landmarks commission is dominated by zealous foes of development. Berkeley's landmarks commission also has more power than its counterparts in other Bay Area cities. The commissions in Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, for example, are all advisory bodies answering to the planning commission or city council. In Berkeley, however, if the LPC deems something a landmark, it's a landmark. A builder can appeal the decision to the city council, but that entails further delays and expenses. The practical result is that Berkeley has created more than 260 full-fledged landmarks, while neighboring Oakland, an older and much larger city with similar architecture, an active preservation community, and four times the population, has only 134 designated landmarks (not counting its seven historic districts). San Francisco had 231 individual landmarks as of 2002."Most of the [Berkeley's] homes, and to a lesser extent its commercial structures, have been around awhile... Current city zoning law says that if you want to demolish any commercial structure older than forty years, you need approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the nine-member, city council-appointed enforcement body created by Berkeley's 1974 Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. Because so many local structures are forty-plus, the commission has a say over the fate of an extraordinary number of commercial developments..."

Thanks to Karolina Bufka and Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch

Full Story: A walking tour of Berkeley's Hysterical Landmarks


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