Category Archives: Government


The lowdown: Berkeley council on Tasers, affordable housing, cell phone warning, Tuolumne Camp

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley City Council meets tonight, Oct. 6, beginning with a special session at 5:30 p.m. focused on Tasers, which Berkeley police have been saying they should be able to carry. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m., with only 13 items on the agenda. On the action calendar: A package from Councilwoman Lori Droste related to making it easier to build affordable housing, and reduce parking requirements for those projects; a proposal from Councilman Kriss Worthington asking the city to prioritize a plan to overhaul the city’s transfer station into a “state of the art Zero Waste facility”; and the first of two votes to enact the city’s new cell phone warning ordinance. … Continue reading »

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Capitelli says he didn’t get commission from house sale for Meehan, but will donate fee he was paid

Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli said Monday that he never served as the real estate agent for Police Chief Michael Meehan’s home purchase and never split a nearly $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group.

When Meehan went looking to buy a home in Berkeley in 2010 — aided by a $500,000, 3% loan provided him by the city of Berkeley — he hired an agent from Red Oak Realty, a company in which Capitelli was once a partner with a 15% stake, but from which he had largely divested by 2009. That agent asked Capitelli some questions about whether Berkeley or a homeowner was liable for the upkeep of sewer lines and creek beds. After Meehan purchased a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, she paid Capitelli $5,925 for his advice, he said in a statement.

“I reiterate that I received no compensation whatsoever from Red Oak from the sale itself,” Capitelli said in the statement. “I have had no financial interest in the company for several years. I did not, as reported, split any commission on the sale. I did receive a $5,925 unsolicited payment for dealing with a variety of questions and issues forwarded to me by the agent, which arose during their search for a new home. To avoid any suggestion of impropriety I will nonetheless donate that fee to a local charity.” … Continue reading »

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As drought raises fire risk, Berkeley focuses on safety

Police and firefighters will be out in the North Berkeley neighborhoods this week practicing wildfire response (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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How long does it take to evacuate a block of Berkeley homes threatened by an encroaching fire? Ten minutes, 30 minutes, more? That was a question posed by Lt. Andrew Rateaver, Area 2 Commander with the Berkeley Police Department, at a community meeting on wildfire safety convened by council members Susan Wengraf, Laurie Capitelli and Lori Droste on Oct. 1.

The gathering was prompted by several inescapable, sobering facts: the state’s ongoing four-year drought is creating the perfect conditions for wildfires; trees are drying up; wildfires are spreading faster than in 30 years; and wildfires in western states generally are lasting 78 days longer on average than in the past. All these statistics were cited by Timothy Buroughs from the City of Berkeley’s resilience office. “This is not a blip, it’s a trend,” he said. More evidence if it were needed: the state Forest Service now spends more than 50% of its budget on fighting fires — as one of its directors said recently: “We’re no longer a forest service, we’re a fire department.” … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Is the city of Berkeley getting more efficient?

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Maybe the headline should be “man bites dog” but there’s a bit of good news on council’s Tuesday agenda: a vast improvement in timely approval of contracts. Our performance audit “Most Contracts Executed Timely but Contract Project Managers Could Use Better Tools and Guidance” tells the story.

The bigger story here, to me, is the many more substantial improvements I’ve seen in nearly 21 years of auditing city programs and performance. Whether I look at our 2004 audit of contracts, … Continue reading »

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Berkeley councilman Laurie Capitelli profited from $500,000 housing loan given to police chief, paper says

Laurie Capitelli, Espresso Roma, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 10, 2012.
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Update, Oct. 5: Councilman Laurie Capitelli issued a statement Monday to clarify his role in the purchase of a home by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan in 2010 following a City Council vote the prior year to loan the chief money toward the purchase. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he never served as the real estate agent for the home purchase and did not split a $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he received an unsolicited payment after providing another agent advice about sewer lines and creeks, which he says he now plans to donate to charity. He initially kept the money because he said he was advised by Berkeley’s city attorney that there was no ethical conflict related to the vote and his role in the later transaction.

Original story, Oct. 3: Seven months after City Councilman Laurie Capitelli voted in November 2009 to loan incoming Police Chief Michael Meehan $500,000 in public funds to buy a house, he helped sell Meehan a home and garnered a $15,000 commission, according to a report by Thomas Peele for the Bay Area News Group.

Capitelli had not been hired as Meehan’s real estate agent when he voted with the rest of the City Council to provide the housing loan. Consequently, he does not feel he broke any ethical boundaries, he told the newspaper. … Continue reading »

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ZAB approves Harold Way use permit with increased affordable housing provision

A model of Harold Way drew a lot of interest Thursday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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After over 30 meetings since an initial application in December 2012, the 18-story multi-use Berkeley Plaza project at 2211 Harold Way received its use permit from the Zoning Adjustments Board on Wednesday night.

The approval, with a 6-3 vote of the board, came with significant amendments to the developer’s proposed community benefits plan that allocate $4.5 million to affordable housing, in addition to the $6 million required by the housing mitigation fee.

“We’ve got to appeal it. We can’t live with those numbers,” said Mark Rhoades of Rhoades Planning Group, a project representative, to one of the union supporters at the meeting. A few minutes later, speaking to Berkeleyside, Rhoades said, “We believe that’s outside our reach.” But he said his group would decide on any action in the coming days. Any appeal would be heard by the Berkeley City Council.

Read more about tall building projects in Berkeley.

The use permit approval came at the end of a nearly five-hour meeting, with over 80 commenters from the public. The 18-story building in downtown Berkeley is set to include 302 residential units, 177 underground parking spots and more than 10,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 10-screen movie theater to replace Shattuck Cinemas. Unusually, given the heated criticism the project has attracted at previous ZAB meetings, as well as hearings at the Design Review Committee, Landmarks Preservation Commission and council, public comment was fairly evenly divided between opponents and proponents of the project.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley mail carrier Jack Karn retires after 38 years

Jack Karn, who has delivered mail to the 93705 zip code in Berkeley and Oakland for almost three decades, is retiring. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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For the last 28 years, Jack Karn has driven all around the 94705 zip code, delivering mail to 300 families in the hills. He has climbed up and down stairs, lugged packages, and slopped through rain and traffic.

Thursday, Oct. 1 will be his last day as a U.S. postal carrier, much to the regret of the people to whom he delivers mail. After 38 years with the postal service, Karn is retiring.

“It’s time for a change,” said Karn, 67, who lives in Berkeley. “I am ready for the next step.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley cannabis dispensary selection proceeds, despite mayor’s suggestion to stop process

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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A plea by the chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission to reinstate his application for Berkeley’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary was ignored by the City Council Tuesday night, but council members did vote to slightly jigger the selection process.

The City Council voted 6-1-1, with Mayor Tom Bates voting no and City Councilwoman Lori Droste abstaining, to expand the fourth round of the selection process to include six dispensary applicants rather than five. (Councilman Max Anderson was absent.) The applicants will now hold public hearings to communicate with the various neighbors who might be affected by their plans.

The vote came after an unexpected motion by Mayor Bates to stop the selection process altogether, and to wait until 2017, after the 2016 election, when many believe there will be a ballot measure to legalize marijuana throughout the state.

“I don’t see why we need a fourth dispensary,” Bates told the council. “It’s likely it will be on the ballot in 2016. My strong advice would be to postpone this decision until after the November 2016 election and see where we are. If it fails we can revive it. If it passes, the issue is moot.” … Continue reading »

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The lowdown: Berkeley council on new group living rules, medical cannabis, burying utility wires, more

Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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Get ready: The Berkeley City Council meets Tuesday nights for the next three weeks running. Tonight, Sept. 29, begins with a special session at 5:30 p.m. focused on new regulations for mini-dorms and other group living accommodations. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. Included on the action calendar: a proposal to make a plan to put Berkeley’s utility wires underground; an update on the city’s selection process for its fourth medical cannabis dispensary; and an amendment to the city’s accessory dwelling unit law to remove parking requirements near some transit lines. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley medical cannabis commissioner faces fraud and extortion charges

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The former chair of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission (MCC) is scheduled to appear in federal court today, Sept. 23, to face extortion, fraud and money laundering charges connected to his dealings with cannabis dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland and Las Vegas.

Daniel Rush, who used to serve as the executive director of the cannabis division of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 until he was fired in August, and who still sits on the MCC, faces more than 70 years in prison and a $1.27 million fine if convicted of the 15 counts with which he is charged.

In one of those counts, Rush, 55, is alleged to have offered special treatment to one of the applicants for Berkeley’s fourth dispensary spot. In exchange, Rush “demanded a well-paid job” from the applicant, according to the indictment filed Sept. 17 in federal court. The applicant is only identified in court papers as “Company A.”

Rush’s indictment has intensified criticism of Berkeley’s dispensary selection process by some applicants who had already been disqualified. But Zach Cowan, Berkeley’s city attorney, said the process was not tainted by Rush because he had nothing to do with the early stages of the selection process.

While Rush sits on the MCC, he has not played an active role in winnowing down the applicants to a smaller list, said Cowan. Rush has also promised to recuse himself in the future from any discussion or decision about the fourth dispensary, he said. … Continue reading »

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Court rules for Berkeley in cellphone right to know case

Lawrence Lessig (left) chats with Theodore Olson (right) before the two lawyers battled with each other in Federal District Court. Photo: Lance Knobel
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The City of Berkeley’s cellphone right to know ordinance, passed in May, largely survived a legal challenge in federal court by the mobile phone industry. The law requires mobile phone retailers to provide consumers with notice of FCC guidelines on cellphone use.

CTIA – The Wireless Association, the plaintiff, had sought a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the law, arguing that federal law preempted Berkeley’s law and that First Amendment rights were being violated.

In a ruling issued yesterday, federal district judge Edward Chen granted in part and denied in part the CTIA’s motion. The grant, however, concerned a single sentence of the Berkeley law, referring to greater risk for children. On the central legal argument, whether Berkeley’s law violated the First Amendment, Chen ruled for the city.   … Continue reading »

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Suit against zoning board’s Tregub resolved after apology

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The president of the Berkeley Property Owners Alliance has dropped a libel lawsuit against Igor Tregub, a former candidate for the Rent Stabilization Board and a current Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner, ending three years of controversy.

Sid Lakireddy and Tregub resolved the lawsuit after Tregub agreed to apologize for sending out an inflammatory email during the 2012 election linking Lakireddy to crimes committed by his uncle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy.

Tregub recently emailed the apology to his mailing list — to the same people who received the controversial email during the election.

“On October 18, 2012, I made a fateful mistake,” Tregub wrote. “The intent of this email is to apologize to a valued member of the Berkeley community who was rightly upset by my printed words.

“In the midst of a heated campaign for reelection, I mistakenly made inaccurate accusations about the President of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, Sid Lakireddy. I wrongly connected him to crimes committed in the 1990’s by one of his uncles, Lakireddy Balireddy, that had absolutely nothing to do with Sid.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council puts off minimum wage vote to Nov. 10

Labor advocates and workers rallied outside Tuesday night's Berkeley City Council meeting in favor of increasing the minimum wage. Photo: Mary Flaherty
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The Berkeley City Council voted late Tuesday night to hold off on a decision about a new minimum wage schedule, proposed by the city’s Labor Commission, that could increase the wage to $19 by 2020.

Seven council members voted in favor of the postponement, while Councilman Max Anderson and Councilman Jesse Arreguín abstained, after more than an hour of public comment. Approximately 31 people told council that workers cannot afford to wait for an increase, and about a dozen local business owners or their supporters asked the city to take more time to make sure their position is included in any decision to change the existing minimum wage law.

Read previous coverage of the minimum wage debate in Berkeley.

Council voted last year to increase the minimum wage annually to $12.53 by October 2016. The Labor Commission asked council to take a more aggressive approach, raising the minimum wage to $13 at that time, followed by annual increases through 2020 up to $19.

The Labor Commission has recommended the inclusion of paid sick leave and other factors in its proposal to make Berkeley’s minimum wage a living wage for workers who are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living in the Bay Area.  … Continue reading »

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