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I was sitting outside at a restaurant, on Center Street in downtown Berkeley, when my friend Martin the mailman approached. “Hey Winston, what’s going on with downtown Berkeley and all that stuff you were dreaming about two years ago? Pretending you were sitting under a shady tree in front of a grand hotel, looking at a new museum, kids playing in a plaza, a creek on this very block, and a Jimi Hendrix statue down the street. Looks the same to me!” “Martin, Martin, Martin my friend, as I said before, sometimes you have to eat dessert first!” I told him. “If you mean DAPAC and the planning for downtown, I just completed a two year appointment, and we’re gradually moving forward. But sometimes only visions can be enjoyed in the now, and reality can take a long time. If we had a dictatorship we could make decisions instantaneously, lop off the heads of those who object and move rapidly. But this is Berkeley! And we are striving for consensus, which takes more time, but ultimately in the end it’s worth it! Every body needs to take a deep breath and be patient.”

“Well, what’s taking so long?” Martin said impatiently. I tried to explain. “People are concerned with the height of buildings, blocked views, sunlight and shaded neighborhoods. Others are focused on who or how many people should be in the buildings, and open space – which every one wants, but no one wants to pay for it! Then there’s build green, build smart and build in sustainability. Some people are passionate about preserving the charm and history of downtown, while others are convinced there’s very little history, nothing that’s charming so let’s plan for the future. Toss in what’s the University’s role, NIMBYism, BRT, classism, racism and best practices in Vancouver, San Luis Obispo and Paris. In addition to relevant topics about downtown businesses, homeless services, density and capacity, we’ve had presentations about everything else under the sun except a partridge in a pear tree or should we say oak tree! Trust me, I‘ve listened and learned from them all, and I think we’ve got a lot accomplished! I’ve attended at least two, three-hour meetings a month, for the past couple of years and have missed a lot of family time and Monday Night Football. Don’t you get it?” I said, my voice rising. “This is Berkeley! I could discover the solution to world hunger and Henny Penny would say I’m only contributing to overpopulation and global warming. You can’t please everybody! I think we did the best thing possible – compromise! Nobody got everything, and everybody got something and right now we have nothing, but our imaginations, which is what we all started with!”

Martin looked at me and said, “You sound kind of angry – are you burnt out?”
“Not really”, I told him. “I’ve always tried to be on time to hear the public comment part in the beginning of each meeting, which I still believe is one of the most important parts of the process. I will not be intimidated, and I’m determined to do my civic duty impartially. I actually enjoyed most of the meetings and I think that the other 20 committee members were the brightest and nicest people I’ve ever worked with. I applaud them all for being willing to give up their evenings and family time also to discuss and work on things that may never come to fruition in our lifetimes!”
“So what’s next?” Martin asked. I told him, “Well, as the prisoner told the guard when he was being released from San Quentin, ‘My time is up when’s yours?’ ”

Winston Burton
Former DAPAC (Downtown Area Advisory Committee) member