Tag Archives: Laurie Capitelli

Berkeley police chief says Tasers would help his officers

Police Chief Michael Meehan
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Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night he believes his officers should be granted the option to carry Tasers, which are not currently allowed under city policy.

It was the first time Meehan has taken a stand on the issue in a high-profile public forum, though he said he had made similar comments in the past in smaller community meetings.

More than a dozen community members told council that Tasers should not be used in Berkeley, and shared stories from around the country about what they believed were inappropriate uses of the tool by law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions.

Tuesday evening, council received a report from researchers at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center who spent six months earlier this year looking into the issue on a pro bono basis. The researchers said, after reviewing more than 100 studies, that there are still too many unanswered questions about how Tasers are used, and that Berkeley should be cautious when considering whether to equip the local police force with them.

Berkeley is among about 2,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, out of an estimated 18,000, that do not carry the tool.

Meehan told council that he knows the issue is a controversial one, but made his position on Tasers, also known as electronic control weapons or ECWs, clear.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage related to Tasers.

“The combined body of evidence and decades-­long experience leads me to believe that the availability of ECWs is in the best interests of our employees, and our community,” he said. “I would not say this if I did not think it was in the best interests of both.” … Continue reading »

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Capitelli says he didn’t get commission from house sale for Meehan, but will donate fee he was paid

Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli said Monday that he never served as the real estate agent for Police Chief Michael Meehan’s home purchase and never split a nearly $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group.

When Meehan went looking to buy a home in Berkeley in 2010 — aided by a $500,000, 3% loan provided him by the city of Berkeley — he hired an agent from Red Oak Realty, a company in which Capitelli was once a partner with a 15% stake, but from which he had largely divested by 2009. That agent asked Capitelli some questions about whether Berkeley or a homeowner was liable for the upkeep of sewer lines and creek beds. After Meehan purchased a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, she paid Capitelli $5,925 for his advice, he said in a statement.

“I reiterate that I received no compensation whatsoever from Red Oak from the sale itself,” Capitelli said in the statement. “I have had no financial interest in the company for several years. I did not, as reported, split any commission on the sale. I did receive a $5,925 unsolicited payment for dealing with a variety of questions and issues forwarded to me by the agent, which arose during their search for a new home. To avoid any suggestion of impropriety I will nonetheless donate that fee to a local charity.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley councilman Laurie Capitelli profited from $500,000 housing loan given to police chief, paper says

Laurie Capitelli, Espresso Roma, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 10, 2012.
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Update, Oct. 5: Councilman Laurie Capitelli issued a statement Monday to clarify his role in the purchase of a home by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan in 2010 following a City Council vote the prior year to loan the chief money toward the purchase. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he never served as the real estate agent for the home purchase and did not split a $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he received an unsolicited payment after providing another agent advice about sewer lines and creeks, which he says he now plans to donate to charity. He initially kept the money because he said he was advised by Berkeley’s city attorney that there was no ethical conflict related to the vote and his role in the later transaction.

Original story, Oct. 3: Seven months after City Councilman Laurie Capitelli voted in November 2009 to loan incoming Police Chief Michael Meehan $500,000 in public funds to buy a house, he helped sell Meehan a home and garnered a $15,000 commission, according to a report by Thomas Peele for the Bay Area News Group.

Capitelli had not been hired as Meehan’s real estate agent when he voted with the rest of the City Council to provide the housing loan. Consequently, he does not feel he broke any ethical boundaries, he told the newspaper. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley leaders approve community benefits package; ZAB votes to certify Harold Way EIR

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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Proponents of downtown development in Berkeley won two victories Thursday night after city leaders and commissioners approved a proposal for community benefits related to tall buildings and, in a separate meeting, certified the environmental impact analysis related to the first tall building in the pipeline, at 2211 Harold Way.

The Berkeley City Council held a special meeting at 5 p.m. at Longfellow Middle School to tackle the thorny subject of what significant community benefits should be required of developers who wish to construct tall buildings downtown. Seven tall buildings were approved when local residents voted in favor of the city’s Downtown Area Plan, but the type of significant community benefits required of those projects was left vague to allow flexibility during the entitlements process.

In recent years, city zoning board commissioners have expressed frustration about that ambiguity, and asked for more direction from council. Earlier this year, council launched a series of discussions aimed to clarify the requirements. Thursday night, city officials voted in favor of a compromise proposal from council members Lori Droste and Darryl Moore that will help guide the process going forward.

That proposal will now go to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board for additional discussion. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley council approves short-term rental proposal

Photo by Melati Citrawireja
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The Berkeley City Council took a step forward Tuesday night in its effort to regulate short-term rentals in the city, voting almost unanimously on a compromise proposal that will seek to legalize, with restrictions, the contentious issue.

The proposal, which now will be vetted and shaped by the Planning and Housing Advisory commissions before it returns to council, would legalize short-term rentals in Berkeley for up to 14 days, impose a tax on them and include regulations to minimize their impact on neighbors.

The new measure, which was put together by Mayor Tom Bates, Councilwoman Lori Droste and Councilman Jesse Arreguín, includes new clarifying language and host accountability provisions. The word “property” would be changed to “unit,” for example, to describe a hosting space, and hosting platforms could be required to list the business license of the host in online listings.

The measure also includes a  provision for a one-time notification from the host to neighbors who live near the unit to be rented, which could include “primary-contact information, secondary-contact information, and links to the Berkeley Community Noise and Smoke-Free Multi-unit Housing ordinances.”

“This is not something that’s perfect, but it’s our first effort,” Bates told the small crowd that held out until after 10 p.m. at the June 23 council meeting to discuss the issue. “This is the beginning of the process — it’s not the end.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s new soda tax panel begins its work

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A new Berkeley “panel of experts” charged with allocating money collected from the city’s recently implemented soda tax convened for the first time Tuesday night, electing Jennifer Brown and Xavier Morales as chair and vice chair, respectively.

Brown, a parent and soda tax activist, and Morales, executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, will lead the nine-person panel, officially titled the “Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts,” in bi-monthly or monthly meetings that will establish the direction of funding from Berkeley’s new sugar-sweetened beverage tax, which was approved by voters in November.

“This moment right now is probably the biggest moment we’ve ever been in,” panel member and health activist Joy Moore said to her peers.

A small group of community members were present at the meeting, at the North Berkeley Senior Center, including Berkeley City Council members Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio, and Berkeley School Board Member Josh Daniels.

“We’re all in a fishbowl built out of a magnifying glass,” Capitelli told the panel of activists, health professionals and parents, referring to the national attention the soda tax has garnered and the strong community interest in the work about to be done. … Continue reading »

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Soda tax raises $116,000 of revenue in first month

Councilman Laurie Capitelli speaking at a press conference held in Berkeley Monday to report on how the soda tax was working. Photo: Melati Indah Citrawireja
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Berkeley’s soda tax has generated $116,000 in revenue in the first month of its operation, according to Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who announced the figure at a press conference May 18 in front of Old City Hall.

The money was sourced from 36 different sugar-sweetened beverage distributors, and is on target to raise $1.2 million in its first year, according to Capitelli.

Proceeds from the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which was passed overwhelmingly by Berkeley voters with 75% approval in November, go into Berkeley’s General Fund. They will be allocated by a newly appointed panel of experts, operating with input from the community. The panel will hold its first meeting tomorrow, Tuesday May 19, at 6 p.m.

Read more on Berkeley’s historic soda tax.

“We’re well on our way to a smooth implementation,” Capitelli said at the press conference. “We wanted to get it right.”  … Continue reading »

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Library to reconsider proposal to rename South Branch

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman
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The Board of Library Trustees (BOLT) will hold a special session Thursday May 7 at 6:30 p.m. to make a final decision on a community proposal to rename the South Branch library after a local activist.

At its April 22 meeting, BOLT considered the petition to rename the branch at 1901 Russell Street after the late Tarea Hall Pittman, a black civil-rights leader and radio host who lived nearby. The five members heard impassioned speeches from community members and ultimately voted 3-2 against a motion to suspend the library naming policy, which would have allowed them to vote on the proposal.

Two of the trustees who voted against the motion, Julie Holcomb and Jim Novosel, were up for reappointment at the April 28 council meeting.

At that meeting, Councilman Laurie Capitelli pushed the item to the June meeting to allow for further discussions about the name change.

“I realize that there are a lot of people here tonight to support Ms. Pittman and I think probably a lot of frustration in the audience coming from last Wednesday’s meeting,” he said. “I think people of goodwill are reaching out to one another. I think we’re going to find a path forward.” … 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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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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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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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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