Category Archives: Government
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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 »
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.
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 »
After 41 years and a stellar career, Capt. Cynthia F. Harris retires from Berkeley Police Department
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 »
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 »
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 »
Due to a flea infestation which could not be eradicated, Berkeley’s adult Mental Health Clinic closed on June 27 , which has meant cutbacks on core services until a temporary solution is implemented, according to city officials.
Described by officials as an emergency, the closure of the clinic, at 2640 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, has meant, “a number of core services have been halted or severely curtailed for the past two weeks,” according to a memo from city manager Dee Williams-Ridley. Among the services affected are assessments and intakes, psychiatry appointments, and onsite case management services — the most critical of which is the Mental Health Division inability to accept drop-in patients, according to an expert.
“We typically assess over 20 people per month,” the memo reads. “It also means that each week 25-50 severely mentally ill people in Berkeley do not get the psychiatric treatment they need to remain safe and to support them functioning well as they navigate the city’s streets parks and public spaces. There are an additional 60+ clients who we are unable to serve in the field and therefore are not receiving the support they need to continue their recovery.” … Continue reading »
A Berkeley church on Wednesday announced it would provide sanctuary to local residents seeking refuge from deportation, and it unveiled a newly created apartment designed for that purpose.
University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley (ULC), at 2425 College Ave. (at Haste), held a press conference and ritual blessing to launch the initiative, which is supported by more than a dozen local congregations and was orchestrated in partnership with the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition.
The City of Berkeley also supports the move. Last month it passed a resolution of support for sanctuary to refugees and migrants. It was put forward by Councilman Kriss Worthington, who attended Wednesday’s event.
“Today is a day of victory for compassion and a day of victory for courage. Most importantly, it is a victory for common sense,” Worthington said, addressing the roughly 100-strong group that gathered for the announcement. It included, along with members of the press, several congregational leaders from around the Bay Area. Worthington condemned what he said was the “unprecedented level” of raids on migrants. “It’s a deportation dragnet that is scooping up and deporting people unceremoniously, and often illegally,” he said. “Berkeley is saying: ‘enough is enough.'” … Continue reading »
“We have a real problem and it’s a regional problem,” said Mayor Tom Bates on Tuesday night amid a brief discussion by the Berkeley City Council related to plans by Sutter Health to move inpatient services to Oakland, leaving Berkeley services focused on outpatient care.
Sutter Health said in a July 12 memo to the city that state seismic laws “require us to reevaluate the inpatient, acute care services at Berkeley’s Alta Bates campus before 2030.” According to the memo, “rebuilding on the current site is not feasible.”
Sutter Health says it remains “committed to a strong medical presence” in Berkeley as the “center for outpatient care in the East Bay.” … Continue reading »
A state agency has fined the city of Berkeley nearly $100,000 after a worker was crushed by his garbage truck in the Berkeley Hills in January, according to a recently concluded report obtained by Berkeleyside on Tuesday.
Johnny Tolliver Sr., 52, was working as part of a two-person team collecting trash when their truck lost its brakes and rolled, pinning Tolliver against a utility pole in January, according to preliminary reports. Although Tolliver was conscious and talking at the scene, at 90 Parnassus Road, he died later that day at Highland Hospital of his injuries. He had worked for the city for more than 25 years.
Scroll down to see the city response.
Tolliver was “fatally crushed” as he tried to stop his truck from rolling down the hill on Parnassus, according to the June report from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.
The agency, which is charged with investigating workplace safety issues and on-the-job fatalities, found the city responsible for three accident-related penalties categorized as “serious.” Each carries a fine of $22,500. Three other general penalties categorized as “serious” carry fines of more than $8,400 each, and a fourth serious violation has a listed fine of more than $5,000, according to the June 22 report. … Continue reading »