Category Archives: Government
One of the strongest safeguards of open government is the California Public Records Act, but like any powerful instrument, it can cause great damage when abused.
I was shocked on July 14 when I was informed that Shirley Dean, a former Mayor of Berkeley, has filed a Public Records Act request for hundreds of thousands of city records that will require several weeks of work by many City employees.
Her request – which the City is legally bound to fulfill – is for all records related to appointments for meetings involving the Mayor or any Councilmember for the past five and a half years. She seeks all calendars, memos and meeting notes from every appointment, as well as all emails and correspondence with other parties, “that are relative to appointments, including those seeking, confirming, mentioning and discussing appointments in any way.” … Continue reading »
A month after a fifth-floor balcony snapped off the façade of 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths and injuring seven others, hundreds of people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday to honor them.
The event was a “Month’s Mind,” a traditional Irish requiem mass held a month after a death, according to Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco. It is meant to remember and honor the deceased. There is a moment of silence for reflection.
“It’s a moment of reflection on what happened and where we’ve come,” said Grant. … Continue reading »
Seven of these buildings were approved when Berkeley residents voted in favor of the city’s Downtown Area Plan in 2010, but the type of significant community benefits required of those projects was left vague to allow flexibility during the permitting process.
Since then, city zoning board commissioners have expressed frustration about that ambiguity, and asked for more direction from council. In April, council launched a series of public discussions to clarify the requirements.
In late June, city officials voted in favor of a proposal from council members Lori Droste and Darryl Moore designed to help guide the process going forward. They described their proposition as a compromise meant to combine the best elements of earlier proposals that had been introduced by Councilman Jesse Arreguín and, separately, Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli.
Council ratified that vote Tuesday night. The four-part resolution will now be shared with the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board to help it determine whether projects that come before it meet the city’s requirements. The resolution is meant to offer guidance to the zoning board about the council’s policy as it relates to significant community benefits. The resolution could, however, potentially be challenged by a referendum from local residents who disagree with the approach. … Continue reading »
After a deadly balcony collapse in June that killed six and injured seven in downtown Berkeley, the City Council voted Tuesday night to change several laws to improve building safety throughout the city.
Council voted unanimously to require periodic inspections of all existing weather-exposed exterior building elements, including balconies, stairs and decks. Those elements now need to be inspected within the next six months, and every following three years.
City planning director Eric Angstadt said 6,000 buildings in Berkeley would be affected by the new program, which he said covers “anything exposed to weather that could have water intrusion, [and] yield deterioration.”
An investigation by city building inspectors identified wood rot as the sole contributing factor in the June 16 collapse of a fifth-floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment complex. … Continue reading »
The final Berkeley City Council meeting of the season begins tonight, July 14, at 5 p.m. First, there’s a closed session on the city’s labor negotiations with many of its employees, including firefighters and Local 1021 maintenance and clerical workers. That’s followed at 6 p.m. with a special session on an affordable housing nexus study that’s been in the works, which many housing advocates have been curious to see. Then, at 7 p.m., the regular meeting kicks off. On the action calendar: stiffer building safety standards following a fatal balcony collapse in June; the adoption of new standards for the developers of tall buildings downtown related to significant community benefits; the appointment of an interim city manager; and the possibility of converting Dana Street to a two-way street. Note: An item related to the possibility of burying the city’s utility lines underground is likely to be postponed until September. … Continue reading »
UPDATE, July 13: Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who originally brought the undergrounding item to council, will recommend at this week’s meeting that the item be held over until September. “I originally brought this item forward and I feel that it is an extremely important issue. Fearing that it will be discussed at 1:30 a.m., I would prefer to delay it to another time,” she told Berkeleyside. “It deserves a good vetting and discussion.” The commissions involved in the issue are in agreement with her, she added. The item is currenly listed as 57th on a 62-item long agenda. The last council meeting, June 30, ran until 1:30 a.m.
ORIGINAL STORY: Three city commissions have asked the Berkeley City Council to approve the creation of a plan to underground the city’s electrical wires, and council is set to consider the issue Tuesday night.
The report, submitted by Margo Schueler, Sofia Zander and Bob Flasher (chairs of the Public Works, Transportation and Disaster and Fire Safety commissions), names disaster preparedness and community feedback as the core reasons for undergrounding the wires. … Continue reading »
An orchestrated clearing out of books at the Berkeley Central Library, ordered by the library’s director, Jeff Scott, has sounded alarm-bells for some current and former librarians, as well as community members. Their concerns, which they have shared with the city’s mayor as well as the Board of Library Trustees, center on who is doing the weeding of books — what is technically referred to as “deaccession” — the number of discarded volumes, as well as their fate.
Scott said the weeding — a standard library practice — is overdue, as it had been done irregularly prior to his arrival in late 2014, and that, once it’s completed, the library will actually see a net gain in books as new ones are brought in. He said the total will rise from 452,000 to 470,000. Full capacity for the main branch is half a million books, he said.
The method used to weed books is a process called CREW (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding), Scott said, which begins by extracting and evaluating books from shelves that have not been checked out from the library for three years or more (10+ years in the case of art and music books). … Continue reading »
The Berkeley City Council may vote next week to amend the municipal code in an effort to make local buildings safer following the fatal collapse in June of a wood-rotted fifth-floor balcony at Library Gardens.
The city pledged last month to consider the adoption of stricter rules related to building inspections following the accident at the downtown Berkeley apartment complex during a birthday celebration June 16. Six died and seven were injured as a result of the collapse. The Alameda County district attorney’s office has since launched an investigation and is considering the possibility of whether to file criminal charges.
The items on council’s action calendar at its July 14 meeting — the final one before summer recess — include amendments to the city’s municipal code suggested by the director of the planning department, along with two items from Councilman Jesse Arreguín. Arreguín is asking the city to consider requiring the steel reinforcement of balconies in all new construction, as well as a requirement to post signage on some balconies specifying their maximum weight capacity.
Berkeley planning director Eric Angstadt has suggested a slew of amendments to the municipal code, including three related “urgency ordinances” to the building code, housing code and Residential Rental Housing Safety Program. Under state law, urgency ordinances may be adopted immediately. … Continue reading »
Daniel made the recommendation in a June memo, where she estimated the costs of continuing the program at about $280,000 per year. She did not recommend expanding the program geographically or extending parking meter hours as part of the report.
The pilot program, which included the Elmwood commercial district, the downtown area and Southside Berkeley around Telegraph Avenue, began in 2013 and was originally scheduled to end in October, but the removal of a “sunset” clause from the Berkeley Municipal Code in September 2013 enables the program to continue as long as it has funding.
City staff proposed four options for moving forward in a January work session: end the program and revert to the original rates and time limits; end the program but keep the current rates and limits; continue the program in its current areas; or continue the program and expand it to other neighborhoods.
GoBerkeley was originally supported by a grant that required close tracking of “expenses and incremental revenue,” but Daniel did not suggest continuing to fund the program through grants. … Continue reading »
The Berkeley mayor’s office has asked city officials to appoint Deputy City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley as interim city manager following the expected departure later this month of Christine Daniel.
Daniel announced in June that she would be leaving Berkeley to work for the city of Oakland as assistant city administrator. Her final day in Berkeley is set for Friday, July 24.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates announced Thursday afternoon in a prepared statement that he has formally asked the Berkeley City Council to appoint Williams-Ridley to serve on an interim basis until a permanent city manager can be selected.
The nomination is set to go before council at its July 14 meeting.
The mayor has recommended an annual salary of $225,000 for Williams-Ridley to match the current city manager salary, plus a $1,600 housing allowance. … Continue reading »
Amid a raucous meeting that ran past 1 a.m., the Berkeley City Council essentially dismissed an appeal that sought to have the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission reconsider an earlier decision not to grant protected status to Campanile Way.
Three council members — Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington — voted in favor of the appeal, with Mayor Tom Bates opposed and the rest of the council abstaining. The vote came after an hour of public comment and discussion by the council.
The application to landmark Campanile Way came as plans for an 18-story multi-use building at 2211 Harold Way are working their way through Berkeley’s entitlements process. The development was the crux of nearly every public comment at the meeting: Residents and students alike argued that the development would mar the view from Campanile Way, which looks over the San Francisco Bay toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since the hearing April 2 before the landmarks commission, Harold Way developers have reworked the building massing so it would intrude even less into the view, said project representative Mark Rhoades. He emphasized Tuesday that this change was due to feedback from the city’s Design Review Committee, and was not a response to the petition for landmark status. … Continue reading »
The Berkeley City Council voted early Wednesday morning to postpone consideration of a new set of laws designed to curb problematic street behavior.
The vote came around 1 a.m. after council spent the bulk of its June 30 meeting discussing the city’s biennial budget, which needs to be adopted this month. No public comment on the street behavior proposal, which came up for discussion at about 12:45 a.m., took place.
Read about homelessness in Berkeley.
Advocates for the homeless have decried the new laws as designed to criminalize people who live on the streets, while supporters of the changes have said the city must take steps to curtail sidewalk behavior that is leading to a deteriorating situation, particularly downtown and on Telegraph Avenue. Those opposing the new laws rallied in front of Old City Hall at 6 p.m.
The four ordinances, according to Councilwoman Linda Maio’s office “address sleeping in landscaped planters, asking for money (panhandling) when a person is using a parking meter or kiosk, public urination and defecation, and the amount of personal belongings one can have on the sidewalk.” The item related to belongings would have limited their presence on the sidewalk from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. … Continue reading »
The fifth-floor Berkeley balcony that collapsed June 16, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths, was inspected less than a year before the accident and found to be structurally sound.
The Aug. 15, 2014, inspection report attesting to that was included in a slew of documents that Greystar, the management company for Library Gardens at 2020 Kittredge St., released in recent days to the city of Berkeley. The documents also include the record of a Sept. 30, 2014, visual inspection of unit 405, the two-bedroom apartment where the balcony collapsed. In that instance, two employees found that the window seals in the unit were “good,” but that the apartment was lacking a carbon-monoxide alarm, and one fire alarm was beeping. … Continue reading »