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Berkeley Firm Picked for El Cerrito's 'Urban Greening' Plan

The El Cerrito City Council has given the green light to hiring a Berkeley-based environmental design firm, MIG, to develop El Cerrito's "urban greening plan." The specifics will be shaped by public input.

It was probably a coincidence that the El Cerrito City Council voted two days after St. Patrick's Day to hire a Berkeley firm to add more green to the city.

At its most recent meeting, on March 19, the council voted 5-0 to approve a $154,000 contract for the Berkeley-based MIG environmental design firm to develop an "Urban Greening Plan" that might add pocket parks, community gardens on paved areas, bicycle and pedestrian corridors, and other enhancements for an environmentally friendly urban environment. 

MIG was chosen from among four firms that submitted complete proposals. 

The origins of El Cerrito's urban greening plan stretch back at least to state Prooposition 84, a bond initiative passed by voters in 2006 for supporting water supplies, flood control, natural resources and parks, the city Environmental Services Manager Melanie Mintz told the council.

That measure provided funds that led to El Cerrito last year being awarded $239,498 in funding from the California’s Urban Greening Planning for Sustainability Communities Grant program to develop an urban greening plan, according to the staff report prepared for the council by Mintz and Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos. The report is attached to this article.

The goals of the state program include promoting "greener, healthier public places" in urban areas, Mintz said.

The groundwork for El Cerrito's securing the grant and initiating the process to develop a plan was laid in the city's Parks & Recreation Commission and the Environmental Quality Committee, Mintz said.

She acknowledged that "urban greening" is an elastic concept.

"Hopefully through this urban greening process, the city of El Cerrito will be define for ourselves what this means," she said. "It's a relatively new field. It's related to parks and recreation planning and urban sustainability efforts."

The contract approved by the council calls for broad community participation through meetings, surveys and other means to assess needs and identify specific strategies to pursue.

MIG's proposal, which is included in the attached staff report, discusses a number of possible improvements for adding greenery, including pocket parks, community gardens and more trees.

The wide range of other strategies in the proposal include several for reducing pollution from water run-off and for reducing the community's carbon footprint by making the city more accommodating for bicycling and walking.

Mintz noted that the urban greening plan complements other city initiatives, such as the new Climate Action Plan and Strategic Plan.

The staff report cited a number of reasons why the MIG proposal was accepted:

MIG was selected due to the firm’s exceptional graphic, public involvement and presentation tools and capabilities; their vision of the role urban greening could play in El Cerrito; and their thorough understanding and response to the challenge and opportunities of creating urban greening projects in a built-out “constrained” City such as El Cerrito. MIG’s proposal and interview demonstrated the most thorough understanding of the project, project goals, and of how urban greening projects could best fulfill the City’s environmental and placemaking goals. MIG had the strongest vision for how urban greening could enhance the City as a transit-oriented destination and support future development through identifying the City as a unique location between the “Blue Belt” of the Bay and the “Green Belt” of the East Bay Regional Park District. Their approach and focus on identifying strategic opportunities for increasing green, open space provided the most innovative and place-appropriate approach and was unique amongst the teams. 

The staff report adds that MIG "was also the City’s consultant for the 1999 General Plan and is currently working with the City on the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan."

The $154,000 contract approved by the council includes an additional $15,400 to cover authorized change orders.

After hearing the presentation on the plan, El Cerrito Mayor Greg Lyman commented, "I look forward to the concept of pocket parks and how we might be able to reuse some of our pavement." 

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