Tag Archives: Berkeley City Council

Opinionator

Op-ed: Residents want, deserve cellphone ‘right to know’

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We all deserve the right to know at the point of sale the FCC required “safe distance” information currently hidden deep within the cellphone or in an online manual few read. We are entitled to make informed decisions for ourselves and for our children as to safest possible use of this device used hours daily even by children.

Berkeley can do the right thing when the City Council considers a right to know ordinance at its meeting on May 12.

The … 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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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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Berkeley looks at public art fee for private developers

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The city of Berkeley is crafting a new law to require private developers of many buildings to spend 1% of their construction costs on public art.

Under a recommendation put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and approved in concept by the Berkeley City Council at its March 17 meeting, the “private percent for public art” legislation would apply to all new commercial and industrial buildings, and residential buildings with at least five units, except for projects in downtown Berkeley. The one-time fee would pay for publicly accessible art on-site, or the developer could instead pay into a new city pot for public art.

At the same meeting, council expanded the city’s definition of art to include installations, performance and social practice works, and other types of original displays. Continue reading »

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Berkeley officials seek feedback on ‘community benefits’

2211 Harold Way is one of several tall building proposals in the pipeline that must offer "significant community benefits" under the Downtown Area Plan. Image: MVEI Architecture and Planning
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The Berkeley City Council has launched a public discussion on what sort of benefits are required by developers who hope to construct tall buildings downtown, with two meetings focused on the topic in the next few weeks.

The conversation about “significant community benefits” generally comes up before the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board, but that panel has struggled to determine whether tall building proposals it has reviewed meet current city guidelines. That’s because those guidelines, set out within Berkeley’s Downtown Area Plan, are more of a menu of suggestions, rather than concrete items that can be checked off a list.

Crafters of that plan have said the city wanted to offer flexibility to developers to work with the community to come up with the right mix of benefits. But, so far, the lack of specificity has made it difficult for various stakeholders to agree on what developers should bring to the table.

Last week, council took public comment on the topic at its regular Tuesday night meeting, but did not itself much discuss the issue. Mayor Tom Bates — whose office is spearheading the new talks in collaboration with council members Jesse Arreguín, Laurie Capitelli and Darryl Moore — announced a special council meeting May 5 at 7 p.m. for that discussion to take place.

Separately, Councilman Arreguín also has scheduled a workshop on the subject, from 7-9 p.m. this Wednesday, April 15, in Live Oak Park’s Fireside Room. The workshop will focus on the general framework of community benefits, not specific projects, and attendees will be asked to rank the categories of benefits that matter most to them.  … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Down the garden path with Berkeley City Council

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“The City’s budget is a reflection of City policies, goals, and priorities. The budget process assigns resources to address the goals, objectives, and community priorities set by the City Council.” Christine Daniels, City Manager

When the parks tax (Measure F) was passed by an overwhelming majority last fall, most residents probably assumed that the revenue raised would go toward finally fixing the dilapidated state of the city’s parks. After all, all the city council members were firmly on board … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council votes to support state vaccination bill

Opponents of state bill SB277 came out Tuesday night to testify before the Berkeley City Council. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Dozens of people opposing state legislation focused on making it tougher for people to opt out of vaccinations testified Tuesday night before the Berkeley City Council, which ultimately voted 7-1 to support the new bill.

Opponents of SB277, a state bill that would require vaccinations for more Californian schoolchildren, told council they should be allowed to make personal medical decisions with their doctors, and that too many vaccines are recommended on the current schedule. Many said they do not trust the pharmaceutical industry, and that it is unknown how many vaccines might be added to the schedule in the future.

“It is abhorrent for any government to force any medical procedure on children,” Leslie Hewitt, a Danville-based chiropractor, told city officials. Most of the people who testified — many of whom said they live in Berkeley or nearby Albany — agreed with her position, and urged council to do more research before voting to support the new law.

But a small group of medical students from UCSF told council they should support the bill. And one school nurse said the new proposed requirements are critical in the interest of public health: “It has to be done because a lot of our parents are not doing what’s right.” … Continue reading »

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Technology

Drones, and racing them, a big attraction in Berkeley park

Drone racers pose during their latest race on Mar. 29. Photo: Scot Refsland.
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While kites floated silently on the seaside breeze at Berkeley’s César Chávez Park last Saturday, a lone black drone buzzed and somersaulted 30 feet in the air, until it came crashing down back to earth.

Several yards away, underneath a pitched canopy, Tom Jacobsen took off his goggles and slowly walked into the field of tall grass in the middle of which his crashed drone had landed. He showed no signs of concern over what may have happened to his hand-built drone, which cost him more than $600 and numerous hours to build.

“Trust me, we fly them so it can crash into the ground,” Jacobsen said as he searched for his drone. … Continue reading »

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Government

The lowdown: Berkeley council on community benefits, sewer fee increase, vaccines, parking permit expansion

A small group of people opposing a state bill to end many California's vaccine exemptions turned out at a recent council meeting in March. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting looks to be a doozy, with numerous significant items on the agenda. The April 7 council session begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession on priorities for the Planning Commission, and the city’s transportation division. At the regular meeting, at 7 p.m., council is set to support a state bill to “end all vaccination loopholes” in California, consider a steep increase in municipal sewer fees, discuss the city’s approach to community benefits in the context of development projects, and decide whether to establish a “solar taskforce” to help the city increase its solar energy capacity. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley to spend millions to fix up James Kenney Park

James Kenney is set for major improvements. Photo: City of Berkeley
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James Kenney Park in West Berkeley is slated for major repairs in the coming fiscal years, which will likely require closure of parts of its community center for 6-8 months, according to city staff.

Staff provided an update regarding municipal park projects to the Berkeley City Council at a March 24 worksession.

That update included some news about Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp, which was destroyed by fire in 2013, as well as an overview of park facility plans over the next two fiscal years, from July 2015 through June 2017. (An update on the camp was published separately on Berkeleyside.)

Read more about Berkeley parks.

The city plans to spend most of its capital money for parks through fiscal year 2016-17 on pressing needs at James Kenney Park, at 1720 Eighth St. between Virginia and Delaware streets. The city plans to spend more than $3.7 million to address building repairs and seismic issues at the community center, as well as updates to the picnic and play areas. Staff intends to use $2.3 million from the parks tax and general fund on the repairs, as well as nearly $730,000 from a FEMA grant for seismic improvements, and $750,000 in Measure WW funds to pay for other aspects of the projects. … Continue reading »

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Government

Berkeley may double Public Works budget, as $16 million repair backlog looms

1947 Center St. Photo: City of Berkeley
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Later this year, the Berkeley City Council will consider whether to more than double the public works department budget to help address a maintenance backlog of nearly $16.4 million.

The department is responsible for more than 50 buildings, many of which need significant improvements, according to information presented in late March at a council worksession.

The department currently has an annual capital budget of $900,000, and has been putting off maintenance needs because there hasn’t been a plan in place about how to proceed, or money to do the repairs.

Of the current budget, $500,000 goes toward urgent building needs, $100,000 to ADA upgrades and $300,000 to deferred maintenance projects. And chipping away at the $16.4 million maintenance backlog $300,000 at a time has not been working, staff said.

On March 24, council received a proposed five-year plan from the department about how to get going on the work. Under the proposal, the department’s annual budget would increase to $2 million. That money would come, if approved by council in the next few months, from projected increases in real estate transfer taxes the city expects to collect this year, officials said.

“During the past 25 years, the City has deferred maintenance on many City facilities, decreasing the value of these assets, and diminishing the utility of the buildings for City programs,” according to the staff report.  … Continue reading »

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