Construction Begins at the Brower Center
It Takes a Village to Raise a Building

June 13, 2007

Construction Begins at the Brower Center
By Gar Smith / The-Edge

The work begins. Earthmovers and engineers arrive at the site of the future Brower Center. Credit: Edge photos by Gar Smith
After seven years of planning, The David Brower Center and Resources for Community Development have completed work on plans for a landmark LEED-Platinum-certified building green building that will include 50,000 square feet of meeting and office space for nonprofit organizations, an art gallery, an organic restaurant and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Theater. On Wednesday, May 23, 2007, the Bay Area's "eco-ratti" turned out in force for the gala groundbreaking for the new David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley, California.

(Knowing Dave, he probably would have disapproved of the word "groundbreaking." Maybe "green barn-raising" would have been more acceptable.)

Joining Mayor Tom Bates, and City Councilmember Linda Maio at the podium were members of Brower's family, and Urban Habitat Founder and Former Earth Island Director Carl Anthony, now with the Ford Foundation.

Author/publisher Malcolm Margolin (Berkeley's Heyday Books) opened the festivities by invoking the spirits of the wild bears and native peoples who once occupied the land and recalled the days when swarms of migrating fish filled the San Pablo Bay "in numbers that were so amazing that it was said you could be at the Carquinez Straights and you could walk across the backs of the salmon."

Today, of course, swarms of human migration are so thick that on any gridlocked day it is said that you could reach the Bay by walking across the hoods of gridlocked Hummers.

The Brower Center is, naturally, going to be a very Green building architecturally, using natural light and heat to minimizes its ecological footprint on the region's resources.

Author/publisher Malcolm Margolin invokes the spirits of vanished salmon and grizzlies.
But, at the convocation, one of the building's architects went so far as to say that, in the event of a major earthquake, the building is designed "to heal itself." (Whatever architectural potions were used to accomplish this should immediately be applied to the Bay Area's accident-prone bridges.) The Brower Center's architects included the firms Tipping Mar & Associates and Siegel & Strain -- so some of the engineers apparently know something about Tipping and Strain.

What surprised me was that many of the real stars of the event turned out to be members of the groups that put together the financing.

We don't usually think of money guys as being tree-huggers. Well, think again. Cheers rang out for visionary DBC Chair Peter Buckley and reps from Wells Fargo Bank, Home Depot, RSF Social Finance and the US Bank Community Development Corporation (among others).

My favorite finance guy was Rick Gross of the Enterprise company. He began by saying "When I heard there was going to be a David Brower Center, I said: 'We have to get involved in this. Even it if means we lose money.' And, believe me, we DID loose money." He laughed good-naturedly when he said it.

Gross ended his speech with the following quote from Dave:

"The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We're still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable."

And then Gross ripped open his shirt to reveal the Earth First! T-shirt he was wearing underneath.

Capitalism rocks!

For More Information, see:

Visionaries and Financiers:
It Takes a Village to Raise a Building

Comments at the Oxford Plaza & David Brower Center Groundbreaking
By Stephen Barton, Ph.D. AICP / Berkeley Housing Director

Mayor Tom Bates welcomes the Brower Center to downtown Berkeley.
It's a great pleasure for me to be here today, as we mark the transition from all the necessary preparations of planning, fundraising, designing, permitting, contracting, subdividing and so on and go into actual physical construction. On this site, two buildings of outstanding design will enable Resources for Community Development to provide 97 units of urgently needed permanently affordable housing and the David Brower Center to bring environmental and social justice organizations together for the preservation of our global environment.

This development embodies the ideals and aspirations of the citizens of Berkeley as perhaps no other. We must create an equitable society in which every human being can have a decent and independent life, regardless of how much money they have. Here we will have permanently affordable new apartments for families in the heart of our downtown, with community spaces and play areas for the children. It is clear that this development will have a long waiting list of applicants wanting to live here for generations to come.

We must make our society environmentally sustainable, and here we are investing in green buildings and a David Brower Center in which environmental and social justice organizations will work with each other and with the great public university next door to find solutions to environmental and social problems for the benefit of all living beings.

Getting here has required the cooperation of hundreds of people and dozens of organizations. The City team alone included the Planning Commission, the Housing Advisory Commission, the Departments of Housing, Planning and Public Works and the City Attorney and City Manager.

There are a great many people from the City staff who worked on this project and who deserve recognition, but I am going to single out Roger Asterino for his tireless dedication and skill and for literally doing the work of two people to keep this project moving. Without him I don't think we would be here today. We also received invaluable help from the National Development Council, Goldfarb & Lipman, Sieffel & Associates among others. There are so many people on the City team who deserve recognition and who, I hope, will forgive me for not mentioning them all by name so that I can take some time to reflect on the part of the process we have just completed.

Former Earth Island President Carl Anthony joins members of the Brower family at the podium.
Overall, we have here a model partnership, bringing together non-profit organizations, Resources for Community Development and the David Brower Center, working with service providers and advocates; supported by city, county, state and federal government, and private foundations; and working with for-profit businesses ranging in size from small consulting firms to construction companies to international financial companies.

We hear a lot of talk about cooperation and partnership, but we rarely pause to reflect on how difficult it really is to resolve our differences and conflicts so we can work together to reach our common goals. We are here today to celebrate this project, and with it our common values. Yet those of us who participated in even a few of the many meetings and conference calls that preceded this day know that there were times when the sheer multiplicity of different organizational interests nearly dragged this project down into the land of unbuilt dreams.

Great aspirations require great risks, risks bring fear, and fear destroys our ability to cooperate. This is an 80 million dollar project, and we all needed each other to make this project possible. We had to find ways to exercise reasonable and necessary caution, but without locking ourselves into self-protective positions that would tear the project apart.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his book Strength to Love, said that fear can be transformed into a creative force if we accompany it with openness, with courage, with good will and with the faith that we are not alone. Somehow, just barely, we found enough of those resources within ourselves.

We are here today only because everyone helping to fund this project set aside some of their normal ways of doing business and protecting themselves. The negotiations were painful, but eventually we managed to balance our fears with our hopes, we were creative and we worked it out.

So as we celebrate the start of construction, we also celebrate a victory for optimism and good will. You all have my deepest gratitude that you took the risks necessary to make this project possible.

We are now laying foundations for the essential work of the next century. Resources for Community Development and the David Brower Center have a mission that will last for generations, and they will be sustained in their work because they will own these buildings that will also last for generations. So as we deal with fundamental but ultimately solvable problems such as homelessness and global warming, let these buildings help remind us, even in our most difficult hours, that we must and we can work together.

Thank you.

Stephen Barton, Ph.D. AICP is the Housing Director for the City of Berkeley. He can be reached at: 2180 Milvia Street, Berkeley, CA 94704.

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