Category Archives: Government

Would a homeless mayor in Berkeley make a difference for the homeless?

Mike Lee, who is running for mayor, at his "office" at Au Coquelet on June 22, 2016. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Guy “Mike” Lee sat at a wooden table in the back of Au Coquelet restaurant on University Avenue. His laptop computer was open in front of him, its cord stretching behind to an electrical outlet on the wall. Lee’s cell phone was also charging.

This spot serves as an office of sorts for Lee, 60, who is running for mayor of Berkeley. Lee is homeless, so every morning he travels from where he sleeps (which he won’t reveal – for safety reasons, he says) to coffee shops and quick-serve restaurants in the downtown, meeting people along the way.

“People come looking for me,” said Lee, who has a broad forehead, deep brown eyes and a long, wiry salt and pepper beard. “They check in at Starbucks depending what time it is. Generally Monday through Friday it’s Starbucks or McDonald’s. If they don’t see me, they’ll come down here.”

Lee only arrived in Berkeley on this go-around about a year ago, but in that short time he has emerged as a voice for the homeless, as well as a leader. He was part of the “Post Office Defenders,” the group that occupied a space next to the Main Post Office on Allston Way until it was shut down in April. He participated in Liberty City, the encampment outside Old City Hall last winter. Lee is active on Facebook and keeps up a steady stream of posts on his page, The Bum As Mayor?  He is also in regular communication with city officials and politicians. … Continue reading »

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Government

Grand jury dings city of Berkeley on email transparency

Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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An Alameda County grand jury has criticized the city of Berkeley’s approach to municipal emails, which are automatically purged after 90 days unless employees manually take steps to save them.

The grand jury report, released Tuesday, noted that Berkeley is one of just four cities in Alameda County that does not automatically archive emails and keep them for the two years required by the state for most public records.

The report urged the retention of all city emails for at least two years.

According to the report, city of Berkeley employees “must examine all email they receive with the complicated rules of the PRA [Public Records Act] in mind. They must then take the time to individually save or print each public record prior to its being automatically purged from the email server after 90 days.”Continue reading »

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Berkeley council denies landmark status for The Village

The Village. Photo: Emily Dugdale
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The Berkeley City Council on Tuesday, June 14, rejected an appeal to landmark The Village, the eccentric collection of restaurants and small businesses at 2556 Telegraph Ave. A seven-story mixed-use project is planned for the site. In January, the Landmarks Preservation Commission had denied landmark designation to the two-story The Village, which dated in its current form to 1972.

Public comment on the appeal at the council meeting elicited extreme reactions on both sides.

“It’s a bit of a dump,” said John Caner, CEO, Downtown Berkeley Association, speaking in a personal capacity.

“This is a site and a place of high significance,” said John Mink, one of the appellants on the appeal. “This is a very important cultural, architectural, historic and educational landmark in Berkeley.”  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley balcony collapse tragedy: One year later

People comfort each other at a vigil at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, on Friday, June 19, 2015, for the victims of Tuesday's balcony collapse in Berkeley. Photo: David Yee ©2015
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One year ago today, Berkeley woke up to the horrifying news that a balcony holding 13 people had sheared off the face of Library Gardens, an apartment building in downtown Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths.

News of the tragedy rippled through the world, as most of those killed were young Irish students who had come to the Bay Area on J-1 visas for the summer. Families who had sent their children off for three months of fun, work and American culture boarded transcontinental flights with heavy hearts to bring their children’s bodies home.

Read more Berkeleyside coverage of the balcony collapse.

From the earliest hours of the tragedy, questions arose about why the balcony had fallen off. Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St. had only been built nine years earlier. When reached by phone shortly after the calamity, John DeClercq, one of building’s original developers insisted to Berkeleyside that top-notch contractors and materials had been used.

But clearly something had gone wrong. The city of Berkeley conducted an investigation and concluded that the wooden beams holding up the balcony had rotted. The beams had not been properly waterproofed during construction, allowing water to eat away at the fibers. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Council approves alternative minimum wage measure for ballot

Many Berkeley business owners say they are still concerned about whether they would be able to survive a new minimum wage plan under consideration by the city. Photo: Postcard PR
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After a heated debate, the Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 Tuesday night to place a measure on the November ballot that would raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2019. A citizens’ ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $15 next year will also be on the ballot.

“What we’re proposing is a progressive and aggressive approach to getting to $15,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “It gets us to $15 four years ahead of the SEIU state proposal.”

Councilman Jesse Arreguín scoffed at Capitelli’s description of the measure as “progressive,” saying that Berkeley had lagged behind neighboring cities on the minimum wage. That’s what had driven citizen groups to launch their initiative, he said.

“They didn’t have faith in this council majority to do the right thing,” Arreguín said. “The fact that we’ve got to the point of two competing measures on the ballot is a real failure of leadership by this council.”

The citizen initiative raises the minimum wage to $15 next year, and then increases it annually by CPI plus 3% until it reaches $16.37 in 2016 dollars (after that, increases are by CPI). It also mandates a minimum 72 hours of paid sick leave each year. It was organized by a coalition of unions, politicians and community activists, under the banner Berkeley for Working Families. The council measure is more gradual in its increases and mandates 48 hours of paid sick leave.  … Continue reading »

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The Lowdown: Berkeley council on minimum wage, housing, small business, more

Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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After three months at the Berkeley Unified school board chambers, Berkeley City Council is returning to the seismically unsafe, dilapidated (but externally photogenic) Old City Hall. Before the regular Berkeley City Council meeting at 7 p.m. tonight, there is a brief special meeting of the Joint Powers Financing Authority at 6:45 p.m. to approve the issuance of up to $40 million in parking revenue bonds to finance the new Center Street garage. Then, at the regular 7 p.m. meeting, items include two rival minimum wage/sick leave ballot measures, support for the Berkeley Housing Authority, a small business development package, and a ballot measure to allow 16-year-olds to vote in school board elections. Scroll down to see how to follow live meeting coverage and participate from afar.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley City Council OKs spare bedrooms, but not backyard cottages, for short-term rentals

The owners of this rent-controlled apartment complex at 3100 College Ave. are renting out three of its apartments on Airbnb. Berkeley law does not allow rentals shorter than 14 days. Photo: Melati
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The City Council adopted strict new laws on short-term rentals on May 31 that would allow homeowners to rent out spare bedrooms, but not their backyard cottages.

The new rules also make it clear that owners of multi-unit apartment buildings cannot rent their apartments for less than 14 days. Hundreds of these kinds of units are listed for rent on short-term rental sites like Airbnb, Home Away, FlipKey, Craig’s List, SabbaticalHomes.com and VRBO. Many believe that those kinds of rentals have contributed to the housing shortage.

“We’ve gone years letting large landlords take entire buildings and a sizable number of rental units off the market,” said City Councilman Kriss Worthington.… “We need to start enforcement on large landowners who are constantly breaking the law and raking in lots of money… We need to stop that as fast as we can.” … Continue reading »

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City begins first phase of Rose Garden trellis restoration

Rose Garden. Photo: Colleen Neff
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The trellis at Berkeley’s storied Rose Garden is to be rebuilt, and on Monday afternoon a small event was held to mark the  ‘groundbreaking’ for Phase 1 of the Rose Garden Trellis Restoration Project.

This phase consists of the documentation and demolition of the existing trellis; the salvage of existing wood members; the reconstruction of the center portion of the trellis; pathway accessibility upgrades; and lighting and safety upgrades, according to the city, and is estimated to cost $391,620. It is being underwritten by the Measure F parks tax, the General Fund, and the East Bay Regional Parks District (Measure WW).

Read the city’s plan for the Rose Garden trellis restoration.

The second phase of the restoration would be to complete the trellis reconstruction and accessibility upgrades, and is tentatively scheduled for 2018, dependent on raising the necessary funds. … Continue reading »

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The lowdown: Help for small businesses, Telegraph; more

The Berkeley City Council now meets in West Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Two special sessions take place tonight, Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m., both of which are open to the public, before the regular Berkeley City Council meeting. The first session focuses on the City Council referral prioritization process. It will examine the system of “re-weighted range voting” to provide direction to city staff on which referrals are the highest priority. The session at 6:45 p.m. will consider a resolution to vote in support of district formation on the “Ballot to Reestablish the Downtown Berkeley Property-Based Business Improvement District.” Then, at the regular 7 p.m. meeting, items include a proposal to help small businesses and a request to increase development potential in the Telegraph commercial district. Scroll down to see how to follow live meeting coverage and participate from afar.  … Continue reading »

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Plans for Berkeley’s Adeline Corridor begin to take shape

City planners have drawn up possible changes to problematic intersections in South Berkeley, including the Ashby and Adeline intersection.  Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Realigned intersections, relocated roadways, new bicycle lanes, and affordable housing on public lots are among preliminary ideas city planners have floated for the Adeline Corridor planning project.

At a meeting Saturday, May 21, at the South Berkeley Senior Center, planning staff and consultants from MIG, the firm working on the project, revealed initial ideas they have developed based on public input collected over the past year. A $750,000 award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission funds the process, which is slated to culminate in winter or spring 2017 with a long-term plan for the corridor.

The project area covers about 100 acres stretching south from Dwight Way to the Oakland border.

Read more about the Adeline Corridor planning on Berkeleyside.

Saturday’s meeting, which followed an extensive community feedback process, focused on potential uses of publicly owned land and transportation routes. These initial ideas are not necessarily feasible, said Mukul Malhotra, principal at MIG.

“What we’re doing is thinking of our bigger dreams,” he said. “At the end of the day we have to create an implementable plan.” … Continue reading »

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Agreement on housing breaks out at Berkeley council

Housing
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There were unusual happenings at Tuesday night’s special City Council meeting on housing. Comity broke out in a series of unanimous votes, and public comment was civil and largely complimentary to the council’s actions.

The council passed unanimously an ambitious list of items for a city housing action plan. The list consolidated proposals from Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Laurie Capitelli and Mayor Tom Bates. It also passed unanimously proposals on the “housing emergency” from Councilmember Jesse Arreguín. And Councilmember Lori Droste’s proposal on workforce housing also passed unanimously.

When the council tried to discuss housing on April 5, chaos ensued, with a raucous crowd, disputes among councilmembers and lengthy arguments over the order of the agenda. At that meeting, it took nearly three hours for the council to reach the action items on the agenda.

On Tuesday night, in contrast, even when some in the small crowd hissed Livable Berkeley’s Eric Panzer, they were quickly disarmed by his quip, “Hissing is just applause from snakes.” (Droste recognized it as a RuPaul allusion, something that flew over the head of Berkeleyside and many others during the meeting.)

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Berkeley names iCANN as next cannabis dispensary

There was a full house at the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night for the selection of the city's fourth medical cannabis dispensary. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council unanimously named the iCANN Health Center on Sacramento Street as the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary.

In what was to many a surprise move, council also voted to have city staff and the Berkeley Planning Commission look at changing the law to increase the number of dispensaries in Berkeley from four to six. Officials said there were so many qualified applicants, which evidenced such a strong need, that an increase would make sense.

iCANN, which is focused on providing medical cannabis to seniors, was among six dispensaries to present applications to the city Tuesday. Their supporters also had a chance to lobby council during public comment.

Read complete Berkeleyside coverage of medical cannabis.

Several council members expressed strong support — if the law is changed to allow for more dispensaries — for an application from Amoeba Music’s owners to open the Berkeley Compassionate Care Collective on Telegraph Avenue next to the iconic record store.

The voters of Berkeley approved the idea of a fourth dispensary with Measure T in 2010.

(In the video below, iCANN supporters, including proprietor Sue Taylor on the right, react to the unanimous vote. Taylor, a Berkeley resident, sits on the board of the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging.)  … Continue reading »

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Government

DOJ threatens lawsuit over Berkeley post office

Post Office Inspectors cleared protesters from the steps after nearly 17 months. Photo: Lance Knobel
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In a strongly worded letter, the U.S. Department of Justice has warned the city of Berkeley that a lawsuit could be coming over the city’s “interference” with USPS plans to sell its downtown post office on Allston Way.

The DOJ’s Civil Division sent the letter — stamped April 28 — to Mayor Tom Bates, and asked for a response by May 20 if the city hopes to resolve the issue without litigation.

Read more about the fight surrounding the downtown Berkeley post office.

According to the letter, from Director Joseph Hunt of the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division, the city’s downtown historic overlay is the issue. The overlay restricts a nine-parcel section of the downtown to civic, non-profit uses. The main Berkeley post office, at 2000 Allston Way, falls within those boundaries.

“In purporting to restrict the Berkeley Post Office parcel… to such civic or nonprofit uses, the Ordinance prohibits any commercially viable uses for the Property,” Hunt writes. … Continue reading »

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