Category Archives: Government

Berkeley council passes minimum wage law for $15 in 2018

A Friday morning special council meeting with low attendance. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Berkeley City Council today unanimously approved a new law that will see the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 in 2018.

The vote came during an unusual Friday morning special session of the council, after weeks of negotiation to resolve a battle between two competing minimum wage ballot measures. One of those, the council-approved Measure BB, would reach $15 by 2019; the other, labor-supported Measure CC, would reach $15 in 2017.

“This is a consensus document,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who said it involved 40 or 50 hours of meetings over the last few weeks. “I don’t consider it a compromise document.”

The new law will make Berkeley one of the first jurisdictions in the country to reach a $15 an hour minimum wage. San Francisco will reach the $15 mark on July 1, 2018. Berkeley’s $15 wage starts on October 1, 2018. … Continue reading »

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Council plans special meeting on minimum wage (again)

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Remember the special Berkeley City Council meeting on the minimum wage that didn’t happen?

On Aug. 10, the City Council hurriedly announced a special meeting for the following day. The two often-divided wings of the council had seemingly agreed wording for a new, accelerated raise in the minimum wage that would remove the need for dueling ballot measures in November. But in the 24 hours between announcing and holding the meeting, the council failed to summon a quorum. Only council members Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Darryl Moore showed up.

The council is trying again, with a special meeting called for the unusual time of 11:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 26, in the council chambers in Old City Hall. In this second effort, four council members — Laurie Capitelli, Lori Droste, Linda Maio and Susan Wengraf — have jointly submitted a new ordinance that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 on Oct. 1, 2018, one year earlier than the council-approved ballot measure and one year later than the union-supported measure.  … Continue reading »

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Government

New deputy city manager has been hired for Berkeley

Jovan D. Grogan
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Come September, the city of Berkeley will finally be getting a new deputy city manager, officials announced Wednesday.

The position has been filled on an interim basis for more than a year, ever since the person who used to hold the role — Dee Williams-Ridley — took over for prior City Manager Christine Daniel when she left for Oakland in July 2015. It’s the second highest position in the city’s municipal leadership.

Jovan Grogan has now been appointed to the role. He is currently the deputy city manager of Concord, “where he has earned the respect of the City Council and staff for his work to improve city services and address budgetary challenges, as the City recovered from the recent recession,” according to a memo to the Berkeley City Council that Williams-Ridley sent out Tuesday.

Concord, which has a population of about 126,000 people, is the largest city in Contra Costa County.

Grogan is set to begin working for the city of Berkeley on Sept. 12. His annual salary will be $200,000.

Grogan has a background in municipal financial planning, along with “skills in labor relations, infrastructure management, performance measurement, and economic development,” wrote Williams-Ridley.

“Jovan is a gifted leader and we are eager to bring him to Berkeley. His strong background in finance and commitment to serving the community make him the perfect fit,” she said in a prepared statement.

Grogan said Wednesday he is excited about his new role.

“Berkeley is an amazing city,” he said. “As a native of the Bay Area, I cherish the opportunity to serve the citizens of Berkeley, and the partnership that I’ll have with the city manager and the council.”Continue reading »

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After Berkeley soda tax, sugary drinks less popular

Photo: Gael McKeon (file photo)
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By Yasmin Anwar / Berkeley News

In a sign that taxes can work in the fight against obesity, a new study from the UC Berkeley shows a 21% drop in the drinking of soda and other sugary beverages in Berkeley’s low-income neighborhoods after the city levied a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

While Berkeley, the first U.S. city to pass a “soda tax,” saw a substantial decline in the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks in the months following implementation of the tax in March 2015, neighboring San Francisco, where a soda tax measure was defeated, and Oakland, saw a 4% increase, according to the study published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

Read more about the Berkeley soda tax.

“Low-income communities bear the brunt of the health consequences of obesity and diabetes, so this decline in soda and sugary beverage consumption is very encouraging,” said study senior author Kristine Madsen, an associate professor of public health at UC Berkeley. “We are looking for tools that support people in making healthy choices, and the soda tax appears to be an effective tool.” … Continue reading »

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Feds file lawsuit over Berkeley’s main post office

Post Office Inspectors cleared protesters from the steps after nearly 17 months. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Berkeley’s attempt to limit commercial development of the Main Post Office conflicts with federal law and should be overturned, a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday by the U.S. Postal Service declares.

When Berkeley passed the Civic Center Overlay in September 2014, limiting the post office and eight other buildings to civic uses such as museums, libraries and performance halls, it violated the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, said the lawsuit.

        Read about the fight surrounding the downtown Berkeley post office.

The law was “enacted primarily to prevent the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office,” according to the lawsuit. “The shape of the Zoning Ordinance confirms that it was designed to regulate the Berkeley Main Post Office rather than to preserve the character of a neighborhood in the City. Within a given block, certain buildings are included, while others are not.”

Before the overlay was passed, the Main Post Office could have been used for retail or high-density residential. … Continue reading »

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Downtown BART plaza renovation work to begin soon

A rendering of what the renovated BART plaza will look like at night. Image: BART
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Work on creating a new, brighter BART plaza in downtown Berkeley will start any day now, and those using the trains or AC Transit can expect to find their usual entrances or bus stops changing over the next year.

When construction is completed in September 2017, Berkeley will have a BART plaza with a more open layout, better lighting, a signature glass awning, new bus stops, and places for special events, according to Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for the city of Berkeley. There will be screens displaying real-time arrival and departure times for BART trains and AC Transit buses, as well as better signage directing travelers to UC Berkeley and other locations of interest. The signature red brick rotunda will be gone.

The $7.6 million project, formally known as the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza and Transit Area Improvement Project, will also have bio-retention planters and landscaping that can treat on-site stormwater, according to a BART press release. Restaurants will have space for outside tables, which downtown business boosters hope will create a town square sensibility.

Read more about the BART plaza project on Berkeleyside.

“I think this is going to be really transformative for downtown Berkeley,” BART director Rebecca Saltzman told Berkeleyside in April. “The area right now is very congested. This will really open up the space and improve the biking and walking options to BART. I think this will really be a model.”

The BART Plaza at Shattuck Avenue and Center Streets serves 30,000 daily transit riders who use BART, AC Transit, and UC Berkeley Bear Transit Shuttle. The project is expected to “improve traffic safety and enhance the transit rider experience,” according to a Berkeley press release. … Continue reading »

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Council cancels special meeting on minimum wage

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Update 6:15 p.m. Only three council members were present for the special meeting: Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín and Darryl Moore. After brief thanks from the officials to city staff for preparing the meeting, it was canceled for lack of a quorum.

Original story: Two votes scheduled for Thursday night’s special Berkeley City Council meeting, which was just announced Wednesday, may not actually take place due to “insufficient quorum,” according to various reports being circulated online.

The focus of the meeting was supposed to be a compromise related to two competing minimum wage proposals that are slated to be on the November ballot.

A spokesman for the city, Timothy Burroughs, said as of 5:16 p.m. that “There is still a Council meeting scheduled for 6pm.”

City Clerk Mark Numainville confirmed at 5:24 p.m.: “We will not know if the meeting is cancelled for lack of quorum until after the noticed start time.” … Continue reading »

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Special Berkeley council meeting announced to vote on compromise minimum wage

Old City Hall. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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A special meeting of the City Council has been announced for Thursday night to vote on a compromise minimum wage proposal for Berkeley.

Up to this point, voters were set to consider two competing minimum wage proposals this fall, one sponsored by labor advocates, and another supported by a Berkeley City Council majority. Both were set to appear on the November ballot.

According to a statement released shortly before 5 p.m. Wednesday, “Working collaboratively, an agreement that avoids dueling ballot measures on the minimum wage in Berkeley has been reached.”

Workers’ rights attorney and EBMUD Director Andy Katz, who sent out the statement and helped facilitate the compromise, said the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, and Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli had reached that agreement together.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the minimum wage.

A vote on the new language is expected to come Thursday, Aug. 11, at a 6 p.m. meeting of the City Council. If all goes according to plan, that will mean Berkeley will have new minimum wage language on the books after the vote takes place. … Continue reading »

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2 open Berkeley City Council races draw significant cash

The retirement of Max Anderson and Laurie Capitelli's decision to run for mayor rather than for re-election in District 5 has created two open council seats. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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With the retirement of councilman Max Anderson, and fellow councilman Laurie Capitelli’s decision to run for mayor, there are two open seats on the Berkeley City Council this fall, which may explain the heavy fundraising going on.

Read more on the Berkeley 2016 election.

Below, a round-up of how the different candidates are doing in terms of raising those campaign funds.

District 5: Sophie Hahn / Stephen Murphy

Sophie Hahn, a lawyer, who has twice run unsuccessfully against Laurie Capitelli for the District 5 seat, and who has high name recognition because of those races and her position on the Zoning Adjustments Board, raised the most among her fellow District 5 candidates in the first six months of 2016. Hahn is seen as a progressive who would be closely aligned with City Councilmen Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington, and many of her donors are also their supporters.

Hahn raised $45,244 in this last campaign cycle, spent $6,437, and has $49,427 cash on hand — an amount significant enough for her to to do a number of district-wide mailings. … Continue reading »

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Homeless advocates in Berkeley say officials are dumping too many prized personal possessions

Crews load stuff found near Gilman Street in June  Photo: Ted Friedman
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By Mary Rees

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but who gets to decide which it is?

Every two weeks, Caltrans clears items out from the homeless encampments along the Gilman Street underpass near Interstate 80, according to Bob Haus, the public information branch chief for Caltrans. Sometimes workers from the city of Berkeley remove things, too, such as on July 7.

Read more about Berkeley homelessness on Berkeleyside.

The clean-ups are announced in advance, and when workers arrive the people living there pack up their things as quickly as they can and move them a few hundred feet. Then crews from Caltrans and Berkeley sift through what’s left and decide what’s valuable and what’s not.

“If belongings are deemed valuable, we hold onto them for 30 days at the nearest maintenance yard,” Haus said. If something’s unclaimed and considered worthless, Caltrans disposes of it. … Continue reading »

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After 41 years and a stellar career, Capt. Cynthia F. Harris retires from Berkeley Police Department

Capt. Cynthia F. Harris
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Late Thursday afternoon Berkeley Police Department communications manager Monique Frost’s voice crackled over the police radio and signed off Capt. Cynthia F. Harris for the last time, a day ahead of her official retirement on Friday after 41 years of service to the department.

In fact, many radio units went on the air to thank Harris for her leadership and guidance and for spearheading change. And the distorted voices were often emotional — Frost told Berkeleyside how Harris had helped her in her career, and over the radio she listed many of the highlights of Harris’ lengthy service, which are legion.

In a male-dominated profession, Harris has broken barriers. She was the first female cop to work for the Drug Task Force, a street unit responsible for handling some of Berkeley’s more dangerous criminals. From 1991 to 1993, the captain was the first African-American elected president of the Berkeley Police Association. And Harris was the first female officer to serve on the Crowd Management Team, which handles Berkeley’s many demonstrations.

Despite her accomplishments and accolades — and there are many, many more — Harris says she didn’t want to be a cop when she was younger.

“Initially, it wasn’t my career of choice,” she said. “Certain circumstances led me here.” When asked about those circumstances, Harris explained: “When I was 17, my mom passed away unexpectedly. I had promised my parents that I would finish school — I had wanted to pursue a law degree, but I just couldn’t do that at the time.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley may soon have 6 cannabis dispensaries

Cannabis
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Two months later, the council is on the verge of approving another two new dispensaries, which means Berkeley may soon have six places to buy medical cannabis.

The rapid turnaround came in part because city council members were so impressed by the presentations made by the six finalists vying for the fourth spot, said City Councilman Kriss Worthington. He said the presentations were “compelling,” and the applications were very different from one another.

 “The council was reluctant until they saw the depth and breadth of the applications,” said Worthington.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Adding another two dispensaries will also add to the city’s coffers. In 2014, the existing three dispensaries contributed $638,938 in taxes, according to a staff report. Another three dispensaries would almost certainly generate several hundred thousand dollars in taxes annually. … Continue reading »

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Hotel developer seeking $11M+ in Berkeley tax rebates

2129 Shattuck Ave.
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Update: Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night approved the occupancy tax rebate, with eight votes in favor and one abstention (Councilman Max Anderson). There was heated public comment that the rebate was an unnecessary giveaway to the developer, but city staff and councilmembers said their independent analysis had concluded the rebate was essential for the project. “In the end, the economic benefit to the city is significant,” said Councilman Jesse Arreguín. “We cannot lose this opportunity.”

Original story: Saying that it might not get construction financing unless its rate of return improves, the company slated to build a 16-story hotel at 2129 Shattuck Ave. is asking Berkeley to rebate as much as $11 million in fees.

Center Street Partners wants the city to provide “financial assistance” equivalent to the amount it will pay in permit and impact fees. To achieve this, the company is asking that Berkeley rebate half of the transient occupancy taxes (TOT) the hotel pays the city for up to eight years. With inflation, that could amount to around $13.1 million, according to city staff.

City staff, citing Berkeley’s desire for a hotel with its economic benefits, is suggesting to the City Council that it accept this financing deal. Even if Berkeley agrees to rebate about $1.5 million in TOT taxes each year, the hotel will still be a financial boon, according to Michael Caplan, the manager of the economic development program. The City Council will take up the proposal at tonight’s meeting. … Continue reading »

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