The Lowdown: Council on police grants, budget, infrastructure, fees, more

The Berkeley City Council, December 2016. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A 5 p.m. special session next week Tuesday, May 16, before the regular Berkeley City Council meeting, focuses on infrastructure and public works improvements over the next five years. Then, at the regular 7 p.m. meeting: federal funding and an armored van for police that’s been disputed by activists, a new appointment to the city’s library board, a ban on fur, various fee schedule increases and additions, a public hearing on the budget, and more. Scroll down to see how to follow live meeting coverage and participate from afar.

The action calendar: 7 p.m.

FEDERAL MONEY, ARMORED VAN FOR POLICE? Local activists, against what they see as the militarization of police, have been urging the city to forgo some of the federal money, training and other resources Berkeley gets for local law enforcement and disaster preparedness efforts, and be cautious of certain agreements. Similarly, they have been battling plans for an armored panel van police say they need for their own and public protection. Council is set to look Tuesday at grant funding related to the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (“UASI”) and the information BPD provides to, and gets from, the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, or NCRIC (pronounced “nick-rick”).

In its staff report, the city says it has sought UASI money in the past for things like disaster preparedness caches in student housing, bomb disposal and detection devices, an armored van for police and a 3-D laser scanner to help at crime scenes. UASI has also provided training, available to Berkeley police, about bomb awareness, HAZMAT and medical response, school shootings, public information, disaster recovery and campus emergency prevention. According to the staff report, the program provides money for “equipment and training, but not weapons.”

BPD organized an “active-shooter” training — similar to, but on a smaller scale than, UASI drills — at at Muslim college in Berkeley last month. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The highest-profile training local activists have taken issue with is called Urban Shield, which includes both in-depth mass casualty scenarios — on a much larger scale but similar in purpose to last month’s “active-shooter” drill at a Muslim college in North Berkeley — as well as a trade show critics say contributes to the militarization of police. Police Review Commissioner George Perezvelez, recently in a Berkeleyside opinion piece, argued in favor of the training scenarios but said BPD should skip the vendor show.


As for NCRIC, the city says it receives, through the program, “general officer safety information, such as when a weapon is concealed in an unusual way, and descriptions of unusual occurrences across the state.” BPD is able to find out more about certain license plates it believes may be tied to crimes, and submits “suspicious activity reports” to NCRIC, from a high of 11 in 2012-13 down to just one in all of 2016, according to the city. According to existing city policy, those reports may not ever be submitted on the basis of “ideology, social or political opinion or advocacy of religious beliefs or association with a particular group.”

Regarding the van, council already approved the money on a preliminary basis back in December, but funding has been on hold since then pending the final council vote. Both items are slated for a vote Tuesday. See Items 53 and 54 for details.

THE LIBRARY BOARD Council is set to consider appointing to the library board John Selawsky, at Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s behest (Item 60), or Elizabeth (Libby) Hadzima Perkins, at the recommendation of the board itself. The Board of Library Trustees has been struggling over its composition, and council recently removed two of its members for the first time in the board’s history. Read more about the Board of Library Trustees, or BOLT, in past Berkeleyside coverage.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY A number of fees are up for review, and a public hearing is scheduled on the budget (Item 42). The city is looking at establishing a new $300 first responder fee (charged only if a patient is taken to the hospital, and potentially reimbursable by insurance) expected to raise $361,000 annually for the General Fund. Numerous surrounding agencies charge $300 fees or more for that service, according to the staff report (Item 45). According to the city, the Berkeley Fire Department responds to more than 15,000 calls each year, and takes nearly 7,000 patients to the hospital out of about 10,000 medical calls.

For developers of below-market-rate (BMR) units in Berkeley, the city is looking to set a flat $10,000 fee for new projects with BMR units, plus fees of $450 each year per unit, to help monitor those developments to ensure they are in compliance with city rules (Item 46).

Want to get married at the rose garden? The fee for residents is about to increase from $615 to $1,000. Several other parks are set to raise their wedding ceremony fees by about $100 each. And, for the first time, Spinnaker Way Vista in the Berkeley Marina will be available for wedding rentals at a cost of $750. (See more parks fee increases under Item 50.)

Among other adjustments: BFD may also increase its ambulance transport fee (base rate) from $1,895 to $2,054 (Item 43) and its “indoor entertainment” inspection fee from $93.50 to $196 (along with a new $98 fee “per subsequent quarter hour when the venue fails the initial inspection”) (Item 46); and the city may bump up hourly fees for planning staff time at the permit service center from $180 to $200 (Item 51). Staff estimates this $20 increase alone could increase city revenues by $180,000 annually, and says it “compares favorably” with fees from nearby cities. Concord, on the low end, charges $171 an hour, while Richmond, the priciest, charges $290. Staff says the permit center has had two years with a negative operating budget (following three profitable years).

What’s on tap at 5 p.m.?

INFRASTRUCTURE: PAVING, PIPES AND MORE Council will hear two items related to infrastructure: the latest report on the $100 million T1 bond, approved by voters in November, and an update about ongoing and planned Public Works department projects. Among other plans, the city is working to accelerate street paving (about $8.5 million in the next fiscal year); sewer repairs, inspection and more ($69.5 million over five years); and “green infrastructure” additions (about $4.4 million by mid-year 2019), according to the staff report. Nearly $6 million is proposed for sidewalk repairs over the next five years.

By the end of June, the city expects to have repaired a fire station drill tower, upgraded the communications center, improved scales at the Berkeley Transfer Station ($500,000, from the Zero Waste fund), and improved landscaping at the South Berkeley Senior Center. By mid-year 2018, the city plans to upgrade several municipal facilities: the North Berkeley Senior Center ($1.875 million, from FEMA), city offices at 2180 Milvia St., Adult Mental Health Clinic and Center Street Garage ($23.3 million, from the off-street parking fund). Currently, $210,000 is allocated for carpet replacement at the Public Safety Building (where police and fire operations are centered) and at 2180 Milvia, as well as $250,000 for a leak causing water intrusion at the Public Safety Building.

From 2018 to 2020, the city will put nearly $1.2 million into its streetlight program. Lots of other work is underway, too, including more than $8 million in transportation related improvements (see the chart below). In case you missed it, the city has more than $500 million in unfunded infrastructure needs. The T1 bond is expected to help pay for, and accelerate, many projects.

A number of transportation projects are proposed over the next five years, including the reconfiguration of Shattuck Avenue, an improved Center Street Plaza, signal upgrades at San Pablo and Ashby avenues, and more. Source: City of Berkeley

Council takes no action at work sessions, but they offer in-depth looks at items of importance in the city. See the agenda and related staff reports.

Mark your calendar

The next council meeting comes May 30. The full agenda packet, and any information about special meetings before the regular meeting, will be posted on the city website.

Meeting details

Berkeleyside often covers council meetings live on Twitter. Others sometimes do the same and the discussion can get spirited. Follow along in real-time, and tag tweets with #berkmtg to join in. The Berkeley City Council meets at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The May 16 special session starts at 5 p.m. and the regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. You do not need a Twitter account to follow along. Just click here.

Council agendas are available online. Watch the meetings online.

Council-related Twitter handles:

@JesseArreguin (Mayor)
@LindaMaio (District 1: Northwest Berkeley)
@benny4berkeley (District 3: South Berkeley, Ben Bartlett)
@Kate4Berkeley (District 4: Downtown Berkeley, Kate Harrison)
@SophieHahnBerk (District 5, North Berkeley, Sophie Hahn)
@k__worthington (District 7, Southside Berkeley, Kriss Worthington)
@loridroste (District 8, The Elmwood, Berkeley Hills, Lori Droste)

Not sure who your council member is? Use this handy tool to find out. See the full council roster and contact information. Looking for public communications and other documents related to the city? Find them on the city website.