Make a donation with PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, American Express, Discover cards - it's fast, free and secure!

Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988

Culture Change e-Letter #84

More parking than ever?
The David Brower Memorial Parking Garage is on a head of steam (a greenhouse gas)

by Jan Lundberg

"Start your engines for Dave and the Earth!"?

There is so much wrong with what the city of Berkeley, California, the late David Brower's home town, is doing—and what his "heirs" are doing—in his name, that one gets bogged down in details, arguments, the workings of construction, technology, property and politics.  However, the basic difference between the perpetrators/beneficiaries of the project and those that object to the perpetuation of car dependence and paving is a spiritual difference 

Dave Brower was deeply connected with the Earth.  We are all deeply connected to the Earth and the universe, but in the present dominant culture almost every one of us continues to act separately and in isolation for short-term gain.

After reporting on this story last spring, and seeing little action on the surface since, the great push is suddenly on to build the David Brower Center with even more parking, possibly, than we knew then.  Up to 246 parking stalls could go in, almost doubling the 132 spaces already on an unsightly lot that brings car-filth and danger to downtown Berkeley.  

The present site could instead be easily turned into an organic permaculture garden to feed people and allow species diversity, which we all know Dave would have vastly preferred to the mostly lifeless building/car complex as planned.  So, as the new year gets into gear (ahem), once again some of us are objecting to the accommodating of cars as if they are a priority at what is supposed to be a preeminent environmentalist building.

David Brower Epicenter

The building could turn out to be nice looking, relatively speaking, from the drawings, but as Jim Doherty says (Culture Change's Bike Blogger), "the building would crowd the sidewalks."  What's more, he reminds us, it could be all too near Strawberry Creek (probably sacred to David Brower), and the building would also be right near a serious earthquake fault under the adjacent stadium.  Hence, Jim calls the proposed complex "the David Brower Epicenter."  Many cars with their gas tanks under a building in an earthquake is not the most comforting image.  When a building several stories high rests upon a parking garage, especially if it is a two-level garage, structural integrity is grossly compromised.

From the architect's website:

"Named after the Sierra Club’s founder [sic] , David Brower, the project houses 90 apartments, arts space, a restaurant, underground parking [and above ground parking - ed.], and 50,000 square feet of office and educational space for environmental non-profits. A dramatic public rotunda provides daylight and natural ventilation for the various commercial uses.  The proposed platinum LEED rating is based on environmental technologies and architectural elements related to siting, daylighting, natural ventilation, structure, photovoltaic power generation, and solar hot water." - Solomon E.T.C., architect

Greener areas above are University of California campus.  Area outlined in red is the present parking lot that the city wants to allow development on, as long as the Brower Center continues to accommodate cars and produce parking revenue.

Is PVC (=dioxin, lead, and more) "green?"  Will the Brower Center be PVC free?

We must question the green-ness of this building, if it is not going to surpass the vaunted LEED system.  "The real consequences of human chemical exposures are [not] valued by the US green building movement as it debates a PVC-related materials credit for the US Green Building Council's LEED green building rating system." - Bill Walsh, National Coordinator of the Healthy Building Network.  A Culture Change reader affiliated with the American Institute of Architects advises us in a follow up on the PVC question: "The US Green Building Council has caved in to industry and refuses to offer credit for PVC elimination as part of LEED building evaluation system.  The prestigious and increasingly popular LEED cetification gives architecture the "green" stamp of approval. San Francisco has recently adopted LEED criteria for its civic buildings... I agree with your assessment of the parking situation for the Brower Center in Berkeley."

The players

The main players for the David Brower Center's completion include Brower's last major group, the Earth Island Institute, the Center for Ecoliteracy (can they define "car domination"?), nonprofit groups such as Rainforest Action Network and International Rivers Network getting office space, businesses such as Patagonia getting prime retail space, and various individuals and departments in city government and in the University.  

True enough, rents are ridiculously high in the San Francisco Bay area, and nonprofit groups need affordable space that the Brower Center can offer.  Likewise, the "affordable housing" component of the complex is to many an enticing part of the proposal.  However, car-free poor people abound and would love to live there without a car, using the nearby subway and the buses as well as their feet.  And nonprofit environmental groups could surely forego parking along with, one would hope, their cars.

The public has gotten in January 2005 its first glimpses of plans for the building and paving.  The city's Design Review Committee basically tossed back not even softballs but effusive praise for the plan, at its hearing on Jan. 20 where the architect held court for the friendly Committee.  A Berkeley Daily Planet report on the hearing dated Jan. 25th was merely a rundown on the praise, and was devoid of any criticism or concern that was voiced at the hearing.

For the Design Review Committee's consideration I asked on January 22 that the Committee's staffer and the city clerk forward the following message of additional official comment to the Committee chairman, all the other Committee members, and staffers: 

Mr. Clerk, I provided the following comments verbally on January 20 at the North Berkeley Senior Center regarding the David Brower Center proposal.  I preface it here with a first paragraph informing the Design Review Committee and the public about the realities of traffic generation; I was not able to fit it into the two minutes time allowed at the hearing.  - Thank you in advance, Jan Lundberg

Comments of Jan Lundberg, Culture Change

When European cities go about reducing motor vehicle traffic in downtown areas, to create pedestrian-friendly zones and improve economic vitality, they do not simply cut off a number of central city blocks to cars. Car-free sections are easily created and they prove popular, but to reduce the number of cars approaching the car-free areas, and to create quasi-friendly pedestrian zones that are not car-free, the government additionally raises parking fees, decreases parking places, and institutes traffic calming -- which Berkeley has partially implemented. Disaccommodating the car has been proven necessary in Europe to reduce congestion. This works not just in Europe, but in the U.S. another method of reducing congestion was discovered to be lane removal: a lane is freed up for non-car travel. Studies from even the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit District showed that the remaining lanes, after a lane was taken away from car travel, were less congested with cars. This lesson from Europe and Los Angeles should be heeded by the city of Berkeley. The obvious meaning of this reality is that any parking for the David Brower Center simply adds to the problems of congestion, pollution, oil dependence, noise, and lack of safety. To approve a large building that features parking — the way the David Brower Center does — is unconscionable, unscientific, unjust, obsolete, and inconsistent with modern planning.  The color of parking lot walls are of no legitimate concern.

[The following is the gist of Jan Lundberg's comments given verbally]

"Good evening.

"I have been moving to Berkeley since I testified before city council on this matter last spring and published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on the David Brower Center's planned car-dependency.

"The David Brower Center has good goals, and the building itself is admirably designed, but a success would have to be seen only as a qualified one and a compromise.  The Brower Center fails regarding the car factor.

"Accommodating cars as a priority is not consistent with sustainability or David Brower's true vision.  He was an Advisor [and active supporter] of the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium which not only opposed no new parking lots but advocated some depaving as well.

"One of the most important activities your Committee ever does is to determine motor-vehicle traffic volume and thus pollution, and energy security.  Additionally, when cement and concrete manufacture produce so much greenhouse gas, it is vital to make sound choices in large developments, especially when it is not known if one or instead two underground parking garages would be built.

"I therefore urge a redesign to deal with the problems posed by accommodating cars.  Richard Register, of the group Ecocity Builders which took the mayor of Berkeley to San Luis Obispo to view the downtown open creek, informs us that his suggestions for design of the complex at the outset, were ignored, so he urges a redesign as well.  He, like many in the community, is against developments that cater to car and oil dependence."

[Given more than two minutes, (Mr. Chairman), I would have added also (1):
"If you wish background on petroleum and climate issues, which the Brower Center entails, I would be happy to provide information based on my 14 years serving the oil industries and government before my nonprofit employment."]

And (2):
The only other person from the public to address concerns about cars and pavement at the aforementioned hearing was Jason Meggs, the bicycle activist of Berkeley, who pointed out that his suggestions for reducing street area around the complex were ignored.  Meggs also reminded the Committee — and the many present backers among the public who stand to gain socially from the completion of the Brower Center — that "the city's general plan does allow car-free development."  His comments, along with mine, were ignored by the Committee members and the many professional environmentalists present who want the complex built as proposed.  Fortunately, the decision rests with the public, ultimately, up until the city council may rubber-stamp this not very progressive building in terms of transportation-related land use, energy and pollution.

Respectfully submitted by

Jan Lundberg
email jan at - see Culture Change Letter #63
tel. (215) 243-3144


To support Culture Change's activist journalism and other projects, please make a donation:

Berkeley Daily Planet letter to editor on David Brower Center

For reader feedback on the above article on the Dave Brower Center, please visit
letters.html, and feel free to send in your comments on any Culture Change Letters for us to post.

See Culture Change Letter #63 on the David Brower Memorial Parking Garage
A shorter version of that Culture Change article was printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 2, 2004, and can be viewed at the Chron's website

Send a comment to the City of Berkeley (email:, fax (510) 981-6901) and tell the Council Members that, for example, you would more likely visit a David Brower Center and the fair city of Berkeley if they did not represent the same old oil, fumes & road hog paradigm. 

For green city/building design expertise see of Oakland and Berkeley, California - Richard Register, President, author and illustrator.  Read his recent response to the public debate over the David Brower Center, Design flaws of David Brower Center plan

Healthy Building Network and its campaign against PVC

Jan Lundberg publishes Culture Change, nonprofit, which was founded upon his petroleum industry experience at Lundberg Survey Corporation which served industry, government and news media.


To: Editors, Daily Planet (published January 28, 2005):

Your coverage of the proposed David Brower Center’s praise by Berkeley’s Design Review Committee omitted criticism delivered at the same hearing that your reporter may have attended. One reason for this omission may have been the odd impression your reporter had—or he has a brilliant sense of humor—in your Jan. 25-27 edition: “No parking is planned for the Brower Center, in keeping with the organization’s pro-bike and mass transit agenda.”

Wow, I love that! If only it were true. It’s more like, “Enviros, start your engines!” The amount of parking on the site could almost double, from 132 spaces at present. On the architect’s website as of Jan. 26, the claim was that only underground parking would be available, but the plan is for above ground pollutionmobiles to be accommodated as well. The architect’s website also had David Brower down as the “founder” of the Sierra Club, which the Club was amused by when I visited yesterday at its headquarters for an all-day session of the Campaign Against the Plastic Plague. Perhaps one of the lead nonprofits in the “David Brower Memorial Parking Garage” scheme, the Center for Ecoliteracy, could educate the architect as to who the hell John Muir was.

Planet readers can see a full report on the Brower Center and the criticisms, with some nice pictures of Dave himself, at the website (top of homepage). The report was sent out this week to over ten thousand subscribers of the Culture Change Letter, and the feedback has been emotional, such as from the architecture review editor of The Nation magazine, Jane Holtz Kay: “This is @#$%^&*() unbelievable. I will have to put it in my global warming book, or something. It sounds like your basic ‘Let all ye who enter here be damned.’” Mark Robinowitz, of, wrote in: “The irony is overwhelming...”

Wait, perhaps your reporter has a crystal ball about the “no parking,” and the city and the establishment environmental groups will soon see the light. More and more of us are crying out: Change this plan regarding designing a future for more global warming, oil wars and car injuries/fatalities, and instead honor David Brower as we all know he should be honored!

Jan Lundberg

Publisher, Culture Change

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.