Category Archives: Government

Op-ed: The decay of Berkeley’s infrastructure

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On May 12, the city of Berkeley’s budget manager, Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, will present to city council the proposed spending over the next five years for capital improvements. This includes money to be spent on sidewalks, streets, parks, storm drains, sewers, and transportation such as bike improvement projects.

Between 2016 and 2020, Berkeley plans to decrease its spending on infrastructure by 43% from approximately $36 million to $20 million, a reduction of $15 million.

This cut is despite an acknowledgment by Christine Daniel, the city manager, that “Berkeley is an aging city and thus its infrastructure faces challenges that other younger cities do not.” … Continue reading »

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Neighbors outline demands for Adeline Corridor grant

About 100 South Berkeley residents gathered Saturday to discuss community demands for a plan to revitalize the area. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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About 100 neighbors gathered Saturday morning at the South Berkeley Community Church to work on a document outlining their hopes for the city’s revitalization of the Adeline Corridor.

It was the second meeting of Friends of Adeline, a community group created after the city was awarded a $750,000 planning grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission last year. At a public information session hosted by the city in January, many residents said they were concerned the project would threaten the diversity and history of the neighborhood.

With the encouragement of Councilman Max Anderson, neighbors convened for the first time in April to begin to draft a “manifesto” to present to the city and MIG, the Berkeley-based project consultant that will oversee the grant.

“We are a resident-led group here,” said Chris Schildt, who facilitated Saturday’s meeting with planning commissioner and Berkeley native Ben Bartlett. “I think it’s important to recognize that, while the city is creating this process for us, we need to make sure that we know, and as a collective voice can say, what neighbors want.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley launches donation boxes for homeless people

(From left to right) Downtown Berkeley Associatoin CEO John Caner, Vice Mayor Linda Maio, Berkeley Food & Housing Project Executive Director Terrie Light, and City Councilman Jesse Arreguin pose before making the first donations to the Positive Change box. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
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Members of the Berkeley City Council, the Downtown Berkeley Association, and the Berkeley Food and Housing Project gathered by the downtown BART station Thursday to launch a donation program for the city’s homeless population.

The “Positive Change” program will install up to 10 tamperproof donation boxes around downtown Berkeley in which donors can drop off money to pay for social services geared to help reduce homelessness. Collected by the Downtown Berkeley Association once a week, the donations will go into a bank account from which the Berkeley Food and Housing Project can allocate funds.

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.

The donations will go toward transportation assistance in the form of bus or BART fares; ID card and housing application fees; supplies, such as socks, underwear and toiletries; and the Homeward Bound Program, which pays for long-distance bus tickets to reunite with family members in another California city, according to a statement released by the Downtown Berkeley Association. … Continue reading »

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After outcry, library board votes to change South Branch name to include civil-rights leader

Protesters at BOLT meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor
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The Berkeley Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) Thursday night voted to recommend to the City Council that the South Branch of the library be renamed to include the name of Tarea Hall Pittman (1903-1991), a long-time South Berkeley resident and civil-rights leader.

The 4-1 vote overturned a previous April 22 vote by the board that prevented the library from including Pittman’s name. The decision marked a shift in its renaming policy that applies to all four Berkeley libraries, so petitions for more name changes may be in the city’s future.

Read more on the run-up to Thursday’s meeting.

Public outcry, in the form of a grassroots campaign by South Berkeley neighbors to see the library renamed, led by local resident Charles Austin, appears to have had an impact on the board, which called the special May 7 meeting to reconsider both the general naming policy of its libraries, and whether to include Pittman’s name in the South Branch’s name. Campaigners collected more than 2,000 signatures on a petition in favor of the idea.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council says affordable housing, union labor should be priority community benefits

Speakers at the May 5, 2105 city council meeting on community benefits could pick up a number of signs that represented their point of view. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The Berkeley City Council took its first steps Tuesday to prioritize which community benefits it will require from developers, and affordable housing and local union jobs were the top priorities.

Council members said other priorities could include ensuring that businesses impacted by the 18-story apartment building proposed at 2211 Harold Way, particularly Habitot Children’s Museum — which says it will have to relocate — receive some sort of remuneration. They also want a better understanding of the profits developers stand to make so the city can recapture some of the increased value that comes from up-zoning land to allow for taller buildings downtown.

The council discussion came after close to 90 residents talked for three hours about their concerns and hopes for three tall buildings now proposed downtown. They include the Harold Way project, an 18-story hotel proposed at 2129 Shattuck Ave. at Center Street, and a 120-foot-high condo complex, L’Argent, proposed at Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. UC Berkeley is also planning to build a 120-foot building on Berkeley Way but, as a government entity, local zoning laws do not apply. … Continue reading »

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11 groups vie to open Berkeley’s 4th cannabis dispensary

Amoeba Music. Photo: Tom Dalzell
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The owner of Amoeba Music, former managers of the largest cannabis dispensary in Oakland, a current Berkeley medical cannabis commissioner, and a group that has filed numerous lawsuits against the city, have all applied to open the fourth dispensary in Berkeley.

Most of the 11 applicants want to locate their dispensaries along Berkeley’s main arterials, including San Pablo Avenue, University Avenue, Shattuck Avenue, and Telegraph Avenue. All are not-for-profit entities that vow to give back to the community in many ways.

The applicants predicted a range of incomes, saying their dispensaries would gross from a low of about $1.2 million to a high of $4.6 million in their first year of operation. In their third year, the applicants predicted the dispensaries would bring in from $2.1 million to $9.5 million. … Continue reading »

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Nonprofit accuses city of Berkeley of ‘unethical contracting practices’ for new homeless center

Berkeley's new approach to homeless services. Image: City of Berkeley
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The city of Berkeley says it will change its commission recommendation process after a community agency brought allegations of serious conflicts of interest during a recent bid for municipal funding.

Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) raised these concerns in an April 16 letter to city officials after bidding to run a new one-stop homelessness services center for which the city plans to issue a contract next month.

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.

BOSS and one other agency, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP), put in bids in December to run the new center. Both service organizations are based in Berkeley, and have worked in the city since the early 1970s. BOSS requested $450,145 to run the center, and the BFHP requested $996,899 for the job. The city’s Homelessness Commission and city manager have recommended that the contract go to the BFHP, and council is slated to make its decision next month.

The commission report said only that the BOSS application did “not contain all of the necessary functions” required by the city in its request for proposals.

BOSS challenged the commission recommendation in April, saying two Homeless Commission members affiliated with the BFHP and another group, YEAH, should not have taken part in the discussions. BOSS wrote that their “organizations will gain financial resources as a result of their participation in the funding discussions and eventual funding recommendations” made by the commission and the city. … Continue reading »

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Forty Acres’ new cannabis site is illegal says Berkeley

Forty Acres Ashby Avenue. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Three months after the city council ordered the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers Collective to shut its doors at 1820-1828 San Pablo Ave. because it was a public nuisance, the medical marijuana organization has relocated to 1510 Ashby Ave. – and is once again operating illegally, according to city officials.

Chris Smith, the co-founder of Forty Acres, opened up the Chris Smith House of Compassion/Forty Acres (he uses both names) on April 11 at his home on Ashby Avenue near Sacramento Street. Berkeley ordered Smith to shut operations on April 16. … Continue reading »

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City may boost affordable housing with density bonus

This proposed four-story, 23-unit project on San Pablo Avenue is partially funded by Berkeley’s Housing Trust Fund. Image: HKIT Architects
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The city of Berkeley is looking at how to build up its affordable housing stock by giving developers an alternative to a state law that grants them extra density in exchange for including affordable units on site.

Under the proposal, from Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli, developers of rental housing seeking a density bonus would not have to include below-market-rate units in their projects. They would instead pay new fees that could potentially bring millions into the city’s Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing, Bates said.

The state density bonus allows developers who include 11% below-market-rate units meeting very-low-income standards to add 35% more units to the project. Council previously created a $20,000-per-unit fee for developers who prefer not to include affordable units on site and do not seek the density bonus. But most projects that have come before the city have elected to take the bonus — to get the extra units — which has meant that little money has come into the city’s Housing Trust Fund. … Continue reading »

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Government

The Lowdown: Berkeley council on density bonus, housing plans, public budgeting, solar taskforce, water cutbacks

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession on social service funding for the next two fiscal years. At its regular 7 p.m. meeting, council is set to vote on that plan, which includes funding related to homelessness and other services. Also on the action calendar: a proposal for a new city “density bonus” approach for developers, and a plan to engage citizens with the city’s budget. Council is also set to consider whether to establish a “solar taskforce” to help the city increase its solar energy capacity. N.B.: An item on the city’s approach to mini-dorms, as well as fraternities and sororities, has been postponed (again) until the fall. … Continue reading »

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Local man pushes for better restrooms at Berkeley park

Berkeley resident Martin Nicolaus has been petitioning for cleaner, more permanent restrooms in Cesar Chavez Park since this March. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
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For years, Berkeley resident Martin Nicolaus has been coming out to César Chávez Park to admire its natural beauty and take photographs — a collection of which he published in a book last December.

But over the past four months, Nicolaus, who is arguably the park’s number one fan, has been engaged in a more earnest mission: to persuade the city to install cleaner, permanent restrooms in Berkeley’s largest park.

A Berkeley resident since 1992, Nicolaus sets up his base-camp by the two portable bathrooms by the park’s entrance on Spinnaker Way to collect signatures and video-interview park users on their experiences using the toilets. He said over the past decade he has often seen the portable toilets in near-unusable condition, and has been frustrated by the lack of action to improve them. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: How to get more affordable housing in Berkeley

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One of the most contentious issues facing Berkeley is how to require developers to help provide affordable housing. We are proposing a new approach.

Everyone agrees we face a critical shortage of affordable housing, but what’s the best way to increase it?

Under current City law, developers of market-rate rental housing projects are required to pay an “affordable housing mitigation fee” into the Housing Trust Fund, which funds affordable housing in Berkeley. There was considerable debate when we voted with … Continue reading »

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City of Berkeley (finally) goes live on Twitter

City spokesman Matthai Chakko. Photo: Matthai Chakko
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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 »

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