The lowdown: Berkeley council on affordable housing, PRC protest report, homeless services, protest march

2020 Vision Symposium, Oct. 11, Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley, CA. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Tuesday’s council meeting will take place at Longfellow Middle School. Photo: Emilie Raguso

At its Dec. 1 meeting, the Berkeley City Council is set to kick off with a special 5:30 p.m. session on affordable housing, followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m. The action calendar includes two appeals related to a Durant Avenue housing project, a look at the Police Review Commission’s report about last December’s protests, and a proposal from Councilman Jesse Arreguín to expand the city’s services for the homeless. The meeting is set to take place in the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, at 1500 Derby St. Scroll down to see the highlights and learn how to follow along.

Special meeting: Affordable housing in Berkeley

The special 5:30 p.m. meeting includes three items — one of which, from Councilman Kriss Worthington, has five different elements — related to affordable housing in Berkeley. The first item will be a presentation about what the Berkeley Housing Authority does to create more affordable housing in the city. According to the presentation, the BHA is “the single largest provider of deeply affordable housing in Berkeley.” There are 1,660 households in Berkeley that receive rental assistance from the agency. The program is, however, struggling due to budget deficits and a declining supply of affordable housing.

Strawberry Creek Lodge. Photo: Nicholas Bruno
Strawberry Creek Lodge was rehabilitated with help from the Housing Trust Fund. Photo: Nicholas Bruno

Worthington’s items include a proposal for a streamlined permit process for housing projects with a majority of affordable units; a $1 million loan to the city’s Housing Trust Fund; a proposal to match federal Housing Trust Fund grants for projects in Berkeley; a request to change the way the city handles its applications related to funding for Housing Trust Fund projects; and a push for the city to create a comprehensive Affordable Housing Action Plan. (This last item is also on the action calendar (#34) during the regular meeting.) Berkeleyside highlighted several of these items in a previous council round-up.

The staff report for Tuesday’s meeting includes information about some of these items. According to the report, the average market-rate rent in Berkeley ranges from $1,105 for a studio to $2,914 for a four-bedroom apartment. Quoting a recent nexus study about affordable housing in Berkeley, “as of July 2014, the median home sale price in Berkeley was $785,000, an increase of 21 percent over the July 2013 median.”


The city’s Housing Trust Fund (HTF), which it uses to help build affordable housing, has about $3 million in it, according to the staff report. Another $3 million is expected to be paid into the fund from two projects in the works. The city spent about $4.7 million on Housing Trust Fund projects in 2014 and 2015. Four other projects, with more than 108 units, have also received about $7.6 million in HTF commitments. According to the city, “A total of 1,388 units of affordable housing have been created through the Housing Trust Fund since its establishment in 1990.” Don’t miss recent Berkeleyside coverage about affordable housing.

Regular meeting: Action items

The planned five story apartment building. The owner wants to demolish the current structure and build from scratch.
The planned 5-story Durant project. Image: Stanley Saitowitz

APPEALS Council is set to hear two appeals of a zoning board decision to allow the demolition and rebuild of 2631 Durant Ave. Staff has recommended that council rejects several of the appeal issues, and remand the rest back to the Zoning Adjustments Board for further consideration. Two appeals were filed, by both the property owner and on behalf of the UC Berkeley student governance group, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). From the staff report, “The project approved by the ZAB would allow the demolition of the existing 18-unit rent controlled residential building to allow the construction of a new 5-story, 56-unit residential building with 40 studios and 16 2-bedroom units.” The project approved by ZAB included four below-market-rate units and incorporated the applicant’s offer to include 20 units with a limit on future rent increases to no more than 65% of the regional consumer price index. The staff report goes into detail about the appeal issues. In a separate item, the owners of Lasher’s Electronics are asking the city to forgive a fine related to their failure to retrofit their building at 1734 University Ave.

BERKELEY PROTEST REPORT The Police Review Commission has completed its assessment of the Berkeley Police Department’s analysis of its response to Black Lives Matter protests last December where officers used tear gas and other types of force to break up crowds on Telegraph Avenue. The PRC report “presents the PRC’s findings of what occurred on the streets of Berkeley that night, analyzes those events and makes recommendations for improving BPD’s readiness and appropriateness of its response to future such protests.” Read the PRC report. In a response to the PRC from Police Chief Michael Meehan, he asks the city manager to direct the department to work with the PRC “to further develop mutually agreed upon revisions to the Berkeley Police Department’s policies and procedures regarding response to protest activity and to report back to the Council within 180 days for an update.” He notes as well that six of the PRC recommendations concur with those outlined by BPD, and says there is “substantial agreement” with many others. BPD put forward 32 recommendations related to everything from communications, tactical command, situational awareness and dispersal orders to the use of force and accountability. Read complete coverage of the protests.

Berkeley protests, Dec. 8, 2014. Photo: Kim Aronson
Berkeley protests, Dec. 8, 2014. Photo: Kim Aronson

Berkeley Copwatch has completed its own investigation into the police response to the Berkeley protests that took place Dec. 6, 2014. In a prepared statement released last week, Copwatch said it “has gathered primary documents, videos, pictures and accounts of what happened on that night. We have made these available as part of the investigative timeline and we encourage people to examine them and to draw their own conclusions.” See that report.

HOMELESS SERVICES Councilman Jesse Arreguín is asking the city to put more resources into efforts to address homelessness, including “expanding the city’s Homeless Outreach Team and Mobile Crisis Team, increasing funding for the [police department’s] Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), increasing the number of public restrooms, and providing additional storage spaces and warming centers for the homeless population.” The recommendations came out of a Homeless Task Force community process organized by Arreguín in 2013. According to the report, the city currently has just one full-time position allocated for its Homeless Outreach Team, “which is too low to adequately handle the workload needed.” The city’s Mobile Crisis Team only operates from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and should be  expanded, he says. Read the proposal. In June, council members said they supported many of the ideas but were not sure how the city would be able to afford them. (This item has been postponed repeatedly during prior meetings.)

Mike Zinn inside the tent he has set up on the lawn of Old City Hall. Zint said he has been living at the Main Post Office on Allston Way for more than a year and was a main organizer for the current camp out:. Photo: Frances Dinkelspie
Mike Zint inside the tent he has set up on the lawn of Old City Hall. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

PROTEST RALLY AND MARCH Opponents of new street behavior ordinances adopted preliminarily at the last council meeting say they plan to meet Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Old City Hall, where a homeless encampment called “Liberty City” now stands. Advocates for the homeless say the laws criminalize people on the streets and say the city should not enact the laws. A protest and rally are planned, followed by a march to Longfellow to oppose adoption of the new ordinances (Item #4 on the consent calendar). Read more about homelessness in Berkeley in past Berkeleyside coverage.

RENTAL HOUSING SAFETY PROGRAM REVISIONS Councilman Arreguín has put forward a proposal to revise the city’s existing Rental Housing Safety Program, which he says would improve housing safety in Berkeley. The 8-point package includes a range of ideas: increasing the fines for non-compliance; identifying mold and mildew as a public nuisance; allowing for confidential housing code complaints; stepping up proactive inspections on problem properties with a history of complaints; and more. According to the item, on Oct. 8, the city’s Rent Board Habitability Committee voted unanimously in favor of the proposal. See it here.

ORDINANCE PREVENTING EVICTIONS Council members Worthington, Arreguín and Max Anderson say Berkeley needs stronger protections in place to prevent evictions “for minor offenses.” According to their item, San Francisco has recently put more protections in place for tenants, and Berkeley should consider taking a similar approach. See the item.

The next council meeting is Dec. 8, focused on appeals related to project approvals for 2211 Harold Way. That meeting is also set to take place at Longfellow. See the public hearing notice.

Meeting details

Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.
Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.

Berkeleyside often covers council meetings live on Twitter. Others sometimes do the same and the discussion can get spirited. See council coverage on Twitter marked with #berkmtg. Follow along in real-time, and tag your tweets with #berkmtg to join in.The Berkeley City Council generally meets Tuesday nights at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The special session starts at 5:30 p.m. and the regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. Council agendas are available online here. Watch the meetings online here.

You do not need a Twitter account to follow along. Just click here.

Council-related Twitter handles:
@MayorTomBates (Mayor)
@LindaMaio (District 1)
Darryl Moore @BerkCouncil (District 2)
@JesseArreguin (District 4)
Laurie Capitelli @berkcap (District 5)
Kriss Worthington @k__worthington (District 7)
Lori Droste @loridroste (District 8)

Learn more about the Berkeley City Council and how to connect with local representatives via the city website.

Related:
Berkeley council on granny flats, Climate Action Plan goals, homeless services (11.03.15)

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