Category Archives: Government

Berkeley puts sugar tax on November ballot; could be first city in country to take on Big Soda

Dr. Vicki Alexander, xxxxx, at a rally about the sugar tax before the City Council meeting. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to include a proposal that would tax distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages on the November ballot.

The measure, which proposes a 1-cent-per-ounce charge at the distributor level, would be the first such tax passed in the country. Richmond tried to pass a similar tax in 2012, but it was voted down after a $2.7 million campaign by the soda industry. … Continue reading »

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Government

The Lowdown: Berkeley council on soda tax, medical cannabis, minimum wage task force, BART plaza

No city has yet been successful in passing a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. Will Berkeley be first? Photo: Mike Mozart
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On July 1 — with one more meeting to go before its summer recess — the Berkeley City Council will hold a special session on park facility needs at 5:30 p.m., followed by a regular meeting at 7 p.m. to hammer out the details on a proposed task force to study the minimum wage, decide how to choose which lucky operator will get to run the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary, agree on how a proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax will be presented to voters in November, and get an update about plans to update the BART plaza.

Read on for details in this week’s Lowdown. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how to participate and weigh in about the meeting, even if you can’t attend in person.

Action items

As discussed previously, council is looking at creating a task force to study the minimum wage in Berkeley, which it established officially last week. See the staff report, along with past Berkeleyside coverage. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley sets new minimum wage; up to $12.53 by 2016

Labor advocates and other supporters of a $15 minimum wage attended Tuesday night's council meeting in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to officially adopt the city’s new minimum wage ordinance, setting hourly pay on a course to reach $12.53 by October 2016.

The city’s new law will raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $10 per hour this October, then to $11 after one year. A statewide increase to $9 per hour takes effect July 1.

The journey to reach a consensus on the new law has been far from straightforward. After a lengthy review dating back to last summer by the city’s Labor Commission, council has struggled since April over how to structure its minimum wage plan.

Read previous coverage of the minimum wage debate in Berkeley.

Council initially pledged to adopt a more aggressive increase, but backed off from that proposal after members of the local business community said it moved too fast and might lead to layoffs or closures. … Continue reading »

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Downtown initiative on ballot; Berkeley city, schools may lose millions in fees

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The majority of the Berkeley City Council exerted its political muscle Tuesday night by voting for a ballot description for the downtown initiative drawn up by Mayor Tom Bates that is less flattering than the ones offered by the city attorney and Councilman Jesse Arreguín, the main proponent of the initiative.

Bates’ description of the initiative, which would require all buildings in the downtown area over 60 feet to meet high environmental standards that are now voluntary, uses terms like “impose significant new requirements,” and “restrict” and “reduce.” It also mentions a provision that would “reduce hours of operation for businesses selling or serving alcohol.” … Continue reading »

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Government

The Lowdown: Berkeley council on ballot measures, downtown post office, FY2015 budget

Downtown Berkeley, May 2014. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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On June 24, the Berkeley City Council is considering a raft of November ballot measures, discussing a preservation covenant for the Main Berkeley Post Office, and voting on adoption of the fiscal year 2015 budget.

On the action calendar

The council has spent several meetings debating how to fund much-needed maintenance for Berkeley’s parks. Polling commissioned by the City Council indicated that the two-thirds vote required for bond measures would be a difficult hurdle for a parks proposal. But at the May 20 meeting, the council agreed to move forward with a 16% hike in the parks special tax and create a Mello-Roos district for continued funding of parks operations. The council is scheduled to vote to place both measures on the ballot at tonight’s meeting. There will be a public hearing on the Mello-Roos district.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley dismisses official who made ‘insensitive’ racial comment during cannabis collective appeal

Berkeley officials contend that Forty Acres operatied an illegal cannabis operation on the top floor of this building at 1820-1828 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Google Street View
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The city of Berkeley on Thursday dismissed the official who was overseeing the nuisance abatement appeal by the Forty Acres medical cannabis collective after he made “insensitive” remarks concerning race during the hearing.

It is the fifth hearing officer to be assigned, and then withdrawn, from the case. Berkeley officials are now uncertain how to proceed. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley adopts anti-bias policing policy, commits to collecting data to tackle alleged racial profiling

Police on the sidewalk at La Quinta. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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The Berkeley City Council on Tuesday adopted an anti-bias policing policy with a view to eradicating, or at least reducing, alleged cases of racial profiling by the city’s police. The policy will see the city begin to collect data on police stops to analyze whether incidents of profiling are happening.

Currently, Berkeley Police record data about vehicle stops, but data about other types of contacts — including pedestrians and bicyclists — is not collected unless there is an arrest.

The “Fair and Impartial Policing Policy” has been a year in the making, and was crafted by a committee that included representatives from the Berkeley Police Department working in collaboration with the Police Review Commission, the Peace and Justice Commission, the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, and the East Bay ACLU. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley step closer to limiting number of large drugstores

Walgreens. Photo: Luke Chan
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Berkeley City Council last night adopted a first reading of regulations that will limit the number of large drugstores from opening in certain areas of the city.

The law, which prohibits the location of drugstores over 5,000 square feet from locating within 1,000 linear feet of each other in some commercial districts – including the Elmwood, Solano Avenue, and North Shattuck — would prevent a controversial new Walgreens from being built at 1830 Solano Ave., currently the site of a 76 gas station.

The Council was essentially approving the zoning change recommendation made by the city’s Planning Commission in March. The ordinance will likely be passed after a second hearing at the July 1 council meeting. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley City Council: Let’s add 4th cannabis dispensary

Cannabis
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The Berkeley City Council took a huge step Tuesday night towards the approval of a fourth medical cannabis dispensary, but deferred passing an ordinance until July 1.

The Council voted unanimously to adopt regulations put forth by the Medical Cannabis Commission, with some amendments, to set up a process to select a fourth dispensary and the guidelines for selection. The council also indicated they wanted to adopt new rules to better regulate both dispensaries and the smaller, less formal, cannabis collectives. … Continue reading »

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Government

The Lowdown: Berkeley Council on medical marijuana, drugstores, policing, Telegraph Avenue

Cannabis being inspected at Berkeley Patients Group. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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On June 17, the Berkeley City Council will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. to finish up discussion, and possibly take action, on four items that were continued from June 3.

The first two items on the agenda relate to medical cannabis, and how the city will select who gets to open the city’s fourth medical cannabis dispensary. There are two reports posted, one from the city’s Medical Cannabis Commission and one from the city managerRead more of the background on Berkeleyside.  … Continue reading »

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Government

Berkeley animal shelter budget raises questions

The animal shelter's grand opening celebration takes place at 1 Bolivar Drive on Saturday. Scroll to the bottom of the story for details. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Community supporters of Berkeley’s municipal animal shelter have been raising alarm bells about the shelter’s budget for the coming fiscal year — and their concerns about the city’s lack of budgeting transparency are broadly shared.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in July is $1.69 million, which is comparable to what the shelter ultimately got in the fiscal year that ends this month, City Manager Christine Daniel told city officials by email May 27.

But shelter supporters say that amount has not been enough to cover operating costs, and fear the shelter may be forced to close one day a week or more as a result. They say the shelter has struggled to cover increased utility costs in its new, larger space, which has a sophisticated air filtration system to cut down on the spread of diseases. Supporters say, too, that services the city used to pay for, including a spay-and-neuter program for low-income residents as well as training for pit bull owners, now must be funded through community donations.

The budget has come before council and the public several times since May 20, and is expected to be approved next week.

According to city spokesman Matthai Chakko, a detailed budget that would show utility costs for the Dona Spring Municipal Animal Shelter is not available: “The budget doesn’t have line items to that degree,” he said via email. Chakko said animal shelter director Kate O’Connor was not available last week for an interview. He said the shelter is “fully funded,” but did not respond to questions about whether the shelter might have to reduce its hours. (The facility is currently open seven days a week.)

The lack of transparency has been a bone of contention for shelter supporters, particularly those who worked to help build the new shelter and fund some of its services. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley still battling Forty Acres cannabis collective

Berkeley officials contend that Forty Acres operatied an illegal cannabis operation on the top floor of this building at 1820-1828 San Pablo Avenue. Photo: Google Street View
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The lawyers for Chris Smith, the owner of Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Grower’s Collective, will ask an Alameda County judge Friday to force the city of Berkeley to hold a public hearing on Smith’s appeal of the declaration that his collective is a public nuisance.

Berkeley officials have scheduled a closed-door hearing, with no press or public allowed, for June 17 on the appeal and have hired an outside administrator to rule on the case — at a cost of as much as $12,000.

Smith wants his appeal to be heard, instead, by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), where he and others can talk openly about operations of the collective, said Lee Hepner, Smith’s attorney. When the city declared medical cannabis collective Perfect Plants Patients Group, or 3PG, to be a public nuisance, both the zoning board and the Berkeley City Council heard the matter, said Hepner. Forty Acres wants that opportunity as well, and suspects Berkeley has political reasons for choosing a closed-door hearing.

“We believe it is because they don’t want a public airing of the city attorney’s and city manager’s costly persecution of Mr. Smith (spanning over three years) brought before the City Council and ZAB, who have a level of expertise on zoning and use issues and can grant Mr. Smith various additional relief to which he is entitled,” said Hepner. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley voters likely to see joint parks funding measure

More than 30 Berkeley residents came out Wednesday to express support to for the city to re-open Willard Pool. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Two Berkeley officials put forward a new proposal Tuesday night for a combined bond and tax measure that could go before voters in November.

The idea, presented by Berkeley City Council members Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli, would cost property owners about $58 a year for an average Berkeley home, which is defined by the city as 1,900 square feet.

The combined bond and tax measure, which is called a Mello-Roos, could bring in $19 million to improve existing parks, re-open Willard Pool and create public gardens in a two-block section of the abandoned Santa Fe Right of Way in South Berkeley, among other projects. It would also include an annual $1.1 million operations tax to help pay for parks maintenance. (The bond would be paid off over 30 years.) … Continue reading »

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