Category Archives: Government

City of Berkeley (finally) goes live on Twitter

City spokesman Matthai Chakko. Photo: Matthai Chakko
Print Friendly

After four years of consideration, the city of Berkeley launched its Twitter account Monday afternoon to help improve the consistency and flow of information it provides to the public.

The first tweet from the city? “Hi, Berkeley, we’re here!” was posted just after 12:20 p.m., and followed quickly by a link to a news release about the launch.

The account — @CityofBerkeley — will be a conduit of information from every department, said city spokesman Matthai Chakko, who will run the account. It already had more than 3,400 followers before posting a single tweet.

“The goal is for departments to be communicating much more,” he said. “We want to improve the amount, and the quality and consistency, of information to the public.”

Chakko said last week he was looking forward to the launch.

“What I’m most excited about is that we’ll be communicating with a voice that represents the whole city,” he said. “To have every department involved and communicating is a big step for us. It’s a good step.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,

Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers

Caption here
Print Friendly

The city of Berkeley is crafting a new law to require private developers of many buildings to spend 1% of their construction costs on public art.

Under a recommendation put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and approved in concept by the Berkeley City Council at its March 17 meeting, the “private percent for public art” legislation would apply to all new commercial and industrial buildings, and residential buildings with at least five units, except for projects in downtown Berkeley. The one-time fee would pay for publicly accessible art on-site, or the developer could instead pay into a new city pot for public art.

At the same meeting, council expanded the city’s definition of art to include installations, performance and social practice works, and other types of original displays. Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Old Berkeley animal shelter to become live-work units

A photo simulation of 2013 Second St. Image: Levy Design Partners
Print Friendly

A new live-work project for artists and craftspeople has been approved in West Berkeley by the zoning board, to take the place of the city’s old municipal animal shelter, which closed in 2012.

The project, at 2013 Second St., was unanimously approved April 9 by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, with no one speaking against the proposal.

The four-story, 26,500-square-foot building would include 19 one-bedroom live-work rental units of approximately 1,000 square feet each. It is also set to include one vehicle and one bike parking spot per unit. According to the project staff report, “A large landscaped courtyard will provide shared work/live open space for the residents.” The old animal shelter would be demolished to make way for the new project.

Read more about West Berkeley.

The building is the latest to win approval in the increasingly busy neighborhood, where the nearby Grocery Outlet, at University Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, is set to be demolished and replaced by a large housing complex (152 units), and plans are underway at 800 University (between Fifth and Sixth streets) for a five-story building (58 units). In recent years, new apartment developments have gone up nearby at Fourth & U (171 units) and The Avalon (99 units), which opened last May.

City staff noted last week that there aren’t very many live-work complexes in Berkeley. The West Berkeley Plan — from 1993 — put the number at about 2% of the area’s housing, but also noted that the city had no comprehensive directory of those properties.

Chris Hoff, who owns the Second Street property with his brother Greg, said theirs is the first project of its kind to come to the city in more than a decade.

“We want to run a great artist, ‘maker’ community,” he told the board. “We think it’s a great idea.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , ,

Mental health calls #1 drain on Berkeley police resources

Thirty-five percent of calls to the Berkeley Police Department are for people who are having a mental health crisis. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Print Friendly

Responding to people with mental health issues is the number one drain on police resources in Berkeley, a police officer who specializes in the topic said this week.

Nationally, 10% of police calls are for people having a mental health crisis, according to Berkeley Police Officer Jeff Shannon. In Berkeley, that number is 35% or more. Over the past five years, police have seen a 43% increase in calls for “5150s,” or people who are a danger to themselves or others, he said.

“Not only in Berkeley, but across the nation, we are experiencing a mental health crisis,” Shannon told members of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee on Monday. “We are seeing way more people who are sick, way more people who are in crisis, who need help, than we have capacity.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Judge dismisses Berkeley’s bid to stop sale of post office

Tents on the front of the building were not being taken down at lunchtime on Thursday. Photo: Lance Knobel
Print Friendly

A U.S. Federal Court judge on April 14 dismissed the city of Berkeley’s lawsuit to stop the sale and relocation of the city’s main post office on Allston Way. However, from the city’s perspective the news is not all bad.

In deciding that the city’s case was moot, Judge William Alsup ruled that the United States Postal Service “had to formally rescind its decision to relocate the post office from 2000 Allston Way,” according to a summary prepared by Berkeley city attorneys.

That means, for now, the Main Post Office is not officially for sale. … Continue reading »

Tagged , ,

Berkeley officials seek feedback on ‘community benefits’

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
Print Friendly

The Berkeley City Council has launched a public discussion on what sort of benefits are required by developers who hope to construct tall buildings downtown, with two meetings focused on the topic in the next few weeks.

The conversation about “significant community benefits” generally comes up before the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, but that panel has struggled to determine whether tall building proposals it has reviewed meet current city guidelines. That’s because those guidelines, set out within Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, are more of a menu of suggestions, rather than concrete items that can be checked off a list.

Crafters of that plan have said the city wanted to offer flexibility to developers to work with the community to come up with the right mix of benefits. But, so far, the lack of specificity has made it difficult for various stakeholders to agree on what developers should bring to the table.

Last week, council took public comment on the topic at its regular Tuesday night meeting, but did not itself much discuss the issue. Mayor Tom Bates — whose office is spearheading the new talks in collaboration with council members Jesse Arreguín, Laurie Capitelli and Darryl Moore — announced a special council meeting May 5 at 7 p.m. for that discussion to take place.

Separately, Councilman Arreguín also has scheduled a workshop on the subject, from 7-9 p.m. this Wednesday, April 15, in Live Oak Park’s Fireside Room. The workshop will focus on the general framework of community benefits, not specific projects, and attendees will be asked to rank the categories of benefits that matter most to them.  … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Op-eds: On park maintenance and misallocated budgets

caption goes here
Print Friendly

In the past few days, Berkeleyside has published two opinion pieces focused on the city’s parks and spending.

Diz Swift, a Berkeley public works commissioner, argued last week that Berkeley does not have the money to maintain all of the city’s parks and other facilities. There is an urgent need, Swift writes, to write “an over-arching, coherent plan for maintaining city facilities.”

“We’re very good at building new things,” Swift writes, “but then we neglect to remember we have to have funds to maintain them. Maintenance just isn’t very ‘sexy.'” … Continue reading »

Berkeley Tuolumne Camp plans show several changes; public process has launched

Camp, as proposed. The city will be seeking feedback during a series of community meetings over the next few months. (Click to view the map with a key.) Image: City of Berkeley
Print Friendly

The city of Berkeley has announced a series of public workshops over the next few months for those interested in helping bring back Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, which was destroyed by the Rim Fire in 2013.

According to the city, much of the camp is set to be rebuilt “essentially in place,” though several significant changes will be necessary: overnight camping will not be allowed in the 100-year flood plain; use of the northern area of camp — called Sun City — will be prohibited, according to the forest service; and two new parking areas are set to be created off of Hardin Flat Road, as parking will no longer be allowed on the road itself.

The city will need to create a master plan if it hopes to get approval to rebuild the popular family camp, which opened in Groveland in 1922. The city hopes to reopen camp by 2018 under the current timeline.  … Continue reading »

Tagged , , ,

Berkeley council votes to support state vaccination bill

Opponents of state bill SB277 came out Tuesday night to testify before the Berkeley City Council. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Print Friendly

Dozens of people opposing state legislation focused on making it tougher for people to opt out of vaccinations testified Tuesday night before the Berkeley City Council, which ultimately voted 7-1 to support the new bill.

Opponents of SB277, a state bill that would require vaccinations for more Californian schoolchildren, told council they should be allowed to make personal medical decisions with their doctors, and that too many vaccines are recommended on the current schedule. Many said they do not trust the pharmaceutical industry, and that it is unknown how many vaccines might be added to the schedule in the future.

“It is abhorrent for any government to force any medical procedure on children,” Leslie Hewitt, a Danville-based chiropractor, told city officials. Most of the people who testified — many of whom said they live in Berkeley or nearby Albany — agreed with her position, and urged council to do more research before voting to support the new law.

But a small group of medical students from UCSF told council they should support the bill. And one school nurse said the new proposed requirements are critical in the interest of public health: “It has to be done because a lot of our parents are not doing what’s right.” … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , ,
Government

The lowdown: Berkeley council on community benefits, sewer fee increase, vaccines, parking permit expansion

A small group of people opposing a state bill to end many California's vaccine exemptions turned out at a recent council meeting in March. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Print Friendly

Tuesday night’s council meeting looks to be a doozy, with numerous significant items on the agenda. The April 7 council session begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession on priorities for the Planning Commission, and the city’s transportation division. At the regular meeting, at 7 p.m., council is set to support a state bill to “end all vaccination loopholes” in California, consider a steep increase in municipal sewer fees, discuss the city’s approach to community benefits in the context of development projects, and decide whether to establish a “solar taskforce” to help the city increase its solar energy capacity. … Continue reading »

Tagged ,

Berkeley to spend millions to fix up James Kenney Park

James Kenney is set for major improvements. Photo: City of Berkeley
Print Friendly

James Kenney Park in West Berkeley is slated for major repairs in the coming fiscal years, which will likely require closure of parts of its community center for 6-8 months, according to city staff.

Staff provided an update regarding municipal park projects to the Berkeley City Council at a March 24 worksession.

That update included some news about Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp, which was destroyed by fire in 2013, as well as an overview of park facility plans over the next two fiscal years, from July 2015 through June 2017. (An update on the camp was published separately on Berkeleyside.)

Read more about Berkeley parks.

The city plans to spend most of its capital money for parks through fiscal year 2016-17 on pressing needs at James Kenney Park, at 1720 Eighth St. between Virginia and Delaware streets. The city plans to spend more than $3.7 million to address building repairs and seismic issues at the community center, as well as updates to the picnic and play areas. Staff intends to use $2.3 million from the parks tax and general fund on the repairs, as well as nearly $730,000 from a FEMA grant for seismic improvements, and $750,000 in Measure WW funds to pay for other aspects of the projects. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Government

Berkeley may double Public Works budget, as $16 million repair backlog looms

1947 Center St. Photo: City of Berkeley
Print Friendly

Later this year, the Berkeley City Council will consider whether to more than double the public works department budget to help address a maintenance backlog of nearly $16.4 million.

The department is responsible for more than 50 buildings, many of which need significant improvements, according to information presented in late March at a council worksession.

The department currently has an annual capital budget of $900,000, and has been putting off maintenance needs because there hasn’t been a plan in place about how to proceed, or money to do the repairs.

Of the current budget, $500,000 goes toward urgent building needs, $100,000 to ADA upgrades and $300,000 to deferred maintenance projects. And chipping away at the $16.4 million maintenance backlog $300,000 at a time has not been working, staff said.

On March 24, council received a proposed five-year plan from the department about how to get going on the work. Under the proposal, the department’s annual budget would increase to $2 million. That money would come, if approved by council in the next few months, from projected increases in real estate transfer taxes the city expects to collect this year, officials said.

“During the past 25 years, the City has deferred maintenance on many City facilities, decreasing the value of these assets, and diminishing the utility of the buildings for City programs,” according to the staff report.  … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , ,

City almost ready for input on Berkeley Tuolumne Camp

A photograph taken at the site of the Berkeley Tuolumne Family Camp on Aug. 28, three days after the Rim Fire swept through it. Photo: U.S. Forest Service
Print Friendly

April may be the biggest month in quite some time for those interested in the fate of the popular Berkeley Tuolumne Camp.

A public process focused on how Berkeley may one day rebuild its Tuolumne Family Camp is expected to kick off in the next few weeks, according to city staff. There’s also a special event about the camp set for April 14 at the Freight & Salvage. (Scroll to the bottom of this story for details.)

Ever since the Rim Fire devastated the camp in 2013, the city has worked to come to an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service about what could eventually be rebuilt on the property.

Now, the city and forest service have finally reached that agreement, Berkeley parks director Scott Ferris told the Berkeley City Council at a worksession in late March. Officials have said previously the earliest a rebuild might happen is 2018.

Ferris said a community process is slated to begin at the end of April, and likely to last 4-5 months. The city will collect feedback from camp supporters, including the board of the Friends of Berkeley Tuolumne Camp, as well as Berkeley city staff and the community of Groveland, where the camp had operated since 1922. … Continue reading »

Tagged , , , , , , ,