Green building would honor Brower

| Publication: San Francisco Chronicle
The “greenest” building complex in the Bay Area would sprout from an old parking lot in downtown Berkeley as a memorial of sorts to David Brower, the pioneering environmentalist who died four years ago, under plans expected to be approved tonight.

The $47 million center would have solar generators and other energy- efficient equipment and would house headquarters for several prominent environmental groups — and a restaurant serving “natural and sustainable” foods developed with guidance from Berkeley chef Alice Waters.

“It will be very simpatico with Berkeley residents and a city government that really likes to be on the cutting edge of the environmental movement,” said City Councilwoman Dona Spring, whose district includes the city-owned land that the development would occupy on Oxford Street.

The city council will consider tonight whether to give a nearly $5 million plot of land to the developers, who would build an underground parking garage for the city to replace the lot now on the site. Previously, the project has received majority support at key points.

Brower, a Berkeley native who died in 2000 at age 88, was the first executive director of the Sierra Club and founder of Friends of the Earth and San Francisco’s Earth Island Institute, which helped found the nonprofit group that will run the Brower Center and will be an anchor tenant. Brower’s papers are archived at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.

“We really want to make this the home for the environmental movement and a tribute to David Brower,” said Dave Phillips, the institute’s executive director. Other likely tenants are the Rainforest Action Network of San Francisco and the International Rivers Network and Center for Ecoliteracy of Berkeley.

The development would consist of two parts:

— The David Brower Center would be a $19 million building featuring state-of-the-art technologies such as solar power, said John Clawson, a partner with Equity Community Builders, a San Francisco development management company that focuses on nonprofit projects.

The project will fill a need for quality office space for environmental groups, said Mill Valley resident Peter Buckley, chairman of the nonprofit David Brower Center’s board of directors.

“We have a rare convergence of folks with the skills, money and dedication to make this project a reality,” Buckley said. “We’re going to build this place.”

— Next door would be a $28.5 million, six-story housing and retail complex that would include apartments available to families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the region’s average median household income.

“The housing would really be targeted to people who work in downtown that can’t afford to live in downtown,” Clawson said.

The Brower Center would include offices, a theater, an art gallery, ground floor retail — likely anchored by Patagonia Inc. — and the restaurant, according to documents submitted to the city.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak said he expects the council to approve the proposal, but he was not sure whether he would support it.

“The problem is the city is putting a lot of money into it and it doesn’t generate much in the way of tax revenue,” he said. “Berkeley already has more than our share of nonprofits.”

Proponents say the project would benefit the city more than selling the land to a for-profit developer because the city would get a garage, affordable housing and a venue offering environmental conferences and other events that would draw visitors year-round.

Such events would probably use a proposed UC Berkeley hotel and convention complex that is being considered for a site two blocks away at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, Spring said.