Tag Archives: City of Berkeley

How the California-wide drought is affecting Berkeley

High School students helped the Friends of Five Creeks remove invasive fennel from the mouth of Schoolhouse Creek in Berkeley in August. Photo: Friends of Five Creeks.
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The brown lawns are the least of it. The effects of the current California-wide drought go deeper than the roots of the grass and will continue several years after lawns turn green again.

Many of the impacts are very evident in Berkeley and the surrounding area. Trees are dying at a higher rate. The creeks are low and might be dry if it weren’t for leaky pipes. And if this winter brings heavy rains, damage to the stressed trees and creek banks could be significant.

One of the most obvious signs of the drought is the early fall color on many trees around town. Tony Wolcott, a master arborist, recently retired as Albany’s Urban Forester, said that the early leaf drop in the fall is a normal reaction to drought.

“It doesn’t mean the tree is dying,” Wolcott said. “It’s not a great thing, but it is a way of surviving,” he said.

But not all the trees will rebound. Wolcott said he’s noticed flowering cherries and flowering plums showing a lot of stress. So are the camphors, which line many streets in Berkeley.

“A lot of the camphors in town are old, but are dying more quickly because of the drought,” he said.  Even redwoods are looking stressed, dropping a lot of needles, he said. … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Is the city of Berkeley getting more efficient?

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Maybe the headline should be “man bites dog” but there’s a bit of good news on council’s Tuesday agenda: a vast improvement in timely approval of contracts. Our performance audit “Most Contracts Executed Timely but Contract Project Managers Could Use Better Tools and Guidance” tells the story.

The bigger story here, to me, is the many more substantial improvements I’ve seen in nearly 21 years of auditing city programs and performance. Whether I look at our 2004 audit of contracts, … Continue reading »

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Tilden Park exceeds goals in cutting its water usage

Irrigation was shut down to just part of the Meadows Lawn in Tilden Park, just south of the old pony rides site.
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Berkeley’s Tilden Park reports that it reduced water usage in May — the most recent bill available — by 40% compared to the same period in 2013.  The regional park in the Berkeley Hills has been watering its lawns less and less over the past several years, said Park Supervisor Sergio Huerta.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do, thanks to the creativity of staff,” said Huerta. Huerta was speaking for all of the park grounds except the golf course, which is on a separate water meter. The golf course reports that it has taken one-fifth of the greenways off irrigation — and it’s showing all along the edges.

Throughout the rest of Tilden Park, Huerta said, the lawns have been divided into four categories for watering: reduced, minimal, sporadic and zero. Lawns getting no water this year include the large picnic area called Padre on South Park Drive and the group campsites, Gillespie near the south end of the park, and Wildcat View near the north end. … Continue reading »

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City of Berkeley unveils new open data portal

This municipal water map is one of 40 data sets now available in the city of Berkeley's new open data portal. Image: City of Berkeley
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The city of Berkeley has officially launched a new website featuring 17 data sets related to everything from municipal water usage and employee salaries to crime heat maps, energy consumption, restaurant inspections, registered business licenses and much more.

The city unveiled the website, which began on a pilot basis in December, on Thursday. City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the most exciting thing about the project is what the public might do with the information now that it’s available.

“What can be done with open data is limited only by the imagination,” said Dee Ridley-Williams, the city’s new interim city manager, in a prepared statement. “We’re excited to see how the Berkeley community will utilize this new tool.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley to repave 11 miles of streets by October

For the complete map, click the image. Photo: Google Maps
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The city of Berkeley is set to repave 11 miles of about 40 streets this summer.

The extensive project is part of an uptick in roadwork that is moving at more than twice the normal rate, according to a statement released by the city last week. The work is funded in large part by Measure M.

The projects, which begin this month and are scheduled to be completed by October, focus on reducing flooding and stormwater runoff by using green building techniques. Pothole repairs and general street repairs were not included in Measure M and are not the focus of this summer’s paving projects, the city said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley launches public meetings on health inequalities

Age Adjusted Diabetes Hospitalization Rates by Zipcode in Berkeley. Graphic: Berkeley's 2013 Health Status Report
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Berkeley is gearing up for a series of town hall meetings about the state of public health in the city to allow community members to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the improvement of city-wide health priorities.

The discussions are envisioned as a collaboration between Berkeley’s Public Health Division and the community in a “shared effort” to realign public health resources to communities with the greatest needs.

Berkeley released a Health Status Report in 2013 that outlined issues of health inequities between different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups in the city, prompting a report to the Berkeley City Council recommending that the health division prioritize work to diminish these disparities. It was the city’s first health status update since 2007.

“One of the challenges that we give to ourselves is how can we be sure that even though we’re small, we’re doing the very best that we can to address the health issues in Berkeley that are of top concern to the community, and to us,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Berkeley’s director of public health.  … Continue reading »

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City, already cutting, digs deeper to slash its water use

A rousing game of capture the flag occupies city of Berkeley campers until their parents pick them up. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Don’t expect lush green parks in Berkeley this summer, unless the watering is a surprise from the skies.

Already slashing its water use 26% last year, the city is taking steps to cut even more, it announced last week. Many of the cutbacks are required by Berkeley’s water supplier, the East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD), and/or by the state. They include:

  • No watering of street medians
  • Minimizing vehicle watering
  • Landscape watering, such as in parks and city grounds, twice a week before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. (already in effect last year)

“The City is also . . . exploring the use of reclaimed water for irrigation and street cleaning, and researching options for converting certain landscapes to more drought-tolerant ground cover,” the city said in a recent press release.

Read more on how the drought is affecting Berkeley.

Worth noting: The city’s only water fountain at the Marin Circle uses recycled water, which means it can be kept on as it meets a new state requirement calling for a shutdown of all fresh water fountains. … 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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Zoning Board says cannabis collective a public nuisance

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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Berkeley’s Zoning Adjustments Board voted unanimously Nov. 6 to declare the Forty Acres Medical Marijuana Growers’ Collective a public nuisance – the latest step in Berkeley’s three-year odyssey to shut the place down.

ZAB officials listened to two and a half hours of testimony at the hearing, including impassioned pleas from neighbors who said the area near 1820-1828 San Pablo Ave., right above The Albatross pub, had become a no-go zone.

The smell of marijuana in the area is so strong that numerous families don’t let their children play outside, according to testimony of several neighbors. Cars routinely block driveways – and the drivers become aggressive when asked to move. Groups of people openly smoke cannabis on the sidewalks. Sometimes the partying goes on until the wee hours of the morning. Those that can’t make it home sometimes sleep in door-wells or on the sidewalk, according to neighbors. … Continue reading »

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Report: Berkeley spends $12.2M annually on children

A rousing game of capture the flag occupies city of Berkeley campers until their parents pick them up. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
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Last Thursday afternoon, 40-some kids sprinted around Willard Park, capturing flags and thwacking tether balls. That’s the typical scene at the park most summer afternoons, where the campers at Berkeley Day Camp’s extended care program keep busy until their parents come pick them up.

Recreation services like the popular day camp claimed a good chunk of the $12.2 million that the city spent on children last year, according to a brand new report that details — for the first time ever, according to the city — the funding spent on children’s programs and services in 2013. … 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 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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Report suggests new Berkeley anti-discrimination policies

Attendees at a December 2013 NAACP Town Hall meeting discussed race issues in Berkeley
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Berkeley city staff are reviewing a report by Oakland-based firm Mason Tillman Associates that recommends changes in city policies in response to allegations of racism in employment practices.

The report, which was sent to Berkeley City Council members by the city manager in May, was commissioned by the city in September 2013 after an August 2013 report by the Berkeley NAACP.

Read our past coverage of the city’s ongoing dialogue with the Berkeley NAACP.

The Berkeley NAACP report cited “many” complaints, dating from the 1980s through 2013, by Berkeley city employees of color alleging “unfair hiring and promotional practices, favoritism, cronyism and unfair treatment of African Americans.” The NAACP recommended 21 policy changes to fight the problem, including the institution of a city oversight body to monitor discrimination and 16 hours per year of mandatory cultural competency training for all city employees.  … Continue reading »

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