Category Archives: Government

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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Berkeley council votes to put minimum wage on ballot

The turnout was sparse for Tuesday night's council meeting, which included a vote on the minimum wage. Photo: Mark Coplan
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A Berkeley City Council majority voted Tuesday night to put an alternative minimum wage proposal on the November 2016 ballot they say will be more moderate than a community measure announced last week.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli — mayoral hopeful — put forward the alternative proposal and asked city staff to come back with a resolution city officials could put on the ballot. Council had been slated to vote to revise the city’s minimum wage ordinance Tuesday night, but instead voted in favor of the substitute motion from Capitelli.

Read more on the minimum wage from Berkeleyside.

The Capitelli proposal would take the minimum wage for all businesses in Berkeley to $15 an hour by October 2019. It is already slated to increase to $12.53 in October of this year. Under the proposed resolution put forward Tuesday night, this would be followed by annual increases each October to $13.25 in 2017 and $14.05 in 2018.

The initiative put forward last week would raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15 by October 2017.

Unlike many prior Berkeley council meetings focused on the minimum wage, the turnout Tuesday night was sparse. A handful of speakers asked council to move faster to help workers, while others asked for more time for small businesses to weigh in and adjust. … Continue reading »

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Luxury rental housing to replace Berkeley offices

1950 Addison. Photo: TCA Architecture
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A 2-story office building in downtown Berkeley is slated to be replaced by a 7-story building with 107 luxury apartments and no retail. The project, at 1950 Addison St., between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, was approved Thursday night by the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.

A ground-floor parking garage will have space for 68 vehicles on lifts, and 75 bicycles. Total project height is slated to be 74 feet. The units will be a mix of studios, and one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Four of those units will be below-market-rate apartments. The developer is expected to pay $1.26 million into the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which is used to build affordable housing elsewhere in the city. The property is owned by Westwood BayRock Addison LP of San Francisco.

See the Berkeleyside real estate section.

The project is opting to take advantage of the “density bonus” and a use permit to build up to a height of seven stories. Zoning board members spent a significant amount of time discussing the density bonus and, in some cases taking issue with, how the city calculates it. (Scroll down for details.) … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: The ‘Right to the City’: Who should control the process of urbanization in Berkeley?

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The “Right to the City” is an idea proposed by Lefebvre that those who live in a city have a democratic right, a human right, to shape the process of urbanization.

Unfortunately we seem to live in a world where private property rights, where profit rates, trump all other human rights. We seem to live in a time where the majority of our City Council believes the neoliberal notion that markets should determine all change -— that profit-driven decision making … Continue reading »

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Ohlone human remains found in trench in West Berkeley

Construction workers uncovered ancient Ohlone remains on March 29 while digging a trench in front of Spenger's Fish Restaurant at 1919 Fourth St. Photo: Wendy Kenin
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Update April 10: The developer of the Fourth Street site issued a statement to Berkeleyside through its publicist, in response to the original April 8 story:

“Jamestown is complying with local stakeholders, including the recommendations of the appointed Most Likely Descendent, in order to ensure the respectful and dignified treatment of the remains. In light of this discovery, Jamestown is performing further archaeological studies of the property and has enlisted a member of the Ohlone Tribe to monitor future excavation work. Construction will continue but all excavation work will stop until a monitor is in place. We are committed to the local community and protecting the traditions of the native peoples.”

Original story: Construction workers on March 29 uncovered what appear to be “pre-contact” Indian remains while digging a trench on Fourth Street near Hearst Avenue as part of the redevelopment of Spenger’s Fish Grotto and adjoining parcels.

Workers excavating adjacent to 1919 Fourth St. immediately stopped all work on the site and notified authorities, as required by the use permit, according to Matthai Chakko, a city of Berkeley spokesman. Jamestown, the corporate owner of the property, brought in an osteologist, or bone expert, who determined that the remains, which lay among shell midden — remnants of the ancient shellmound that sat for centuries in that area — were human. The Alameda County Coroner’s office later confirmed the finding.

“Because of the context with shell midden around it, and because we know that part of town contained shell mounds, we know it was a burial and it was human,” said Andy Galvan, a Chochenyo Ohlone Indian who is the curator of the Mission Dolores Museum in San Francisco and who often helps developers determine whether there are Indian artifacts on their properties. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council votes to increase inclusionary housing

Many community members attended Tuesday night's council meeting, which was slated to focus on housing. Photo: Ben Gould
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Despite an ambitious agenda, the Berkeley City Council managed Tuesday night to vote on just one policy shift related to affordable housing after attendees became outraged at proposed agenda changes put forward early in the evening by Mayor Tom Bates.

Council voted 8-1 on the Bates proposal to increase the percentage of affordable units required in new projects from 10% to 20%, and to increase the mitigation fee developers can pay if they don’t want to build those units on site. Councilman Max Anderson was the lone “no” vote.

The fee per unit — for all units in a project — is set to increase from $28,000 to $34,000, payable when the certificate of occupancy is issued. There’s a temporary discount, to $30,000, for those who pay early, when the building permit is issued. The discount is slated to sunset after 18 months. Those who choose to build below-market-rate units on site can get out of the fee or pay less, depending how many units they build.

Council asked the city manager to come back with revisions to the existing affordable housing mitigation fee ordinance, which would also “expand the level of affordability” for the below-market-rate units. Currently, units must be affordable for households earning up to 50% of the area median income; the new proposal would add a second tier of units affordable to households earning up to 80%.

The idea behind the mitigation fee is to bolster the city’s Housing Trust Fund to help Berkeley build greater numbers of affordable units around town. To some degree, there is an ideological divide between those who believe developers should include affordable units on site, and those who want to boost the city’s own fund. Proponents of the fund say it can be used to go after grants and leverage the money to get more units in town than building on site — mixed in with private developments — would allow. … Continue reading »

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