Tag Archives: Susan Wengraf

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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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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Officials to relax rules for Berkeley ‘granny flats’

An accessory dwelling unit on Virginia Street. Photo: Karen Chapple
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Berkeley officials voted unanimously Tuesday night to streamline the process for homeowners who want to add secondary units — sometimes called in-law units or granny flats — to their properties.

Supporters of the draft plan say it is a sustainable approach to increasing density and will allow more local residents to age in place by cutting down on the bureaucratic hurdles tied to the construction of additions, while also making those projects cheaper.

The proposal, from Mayor Tom Bates, would allow homeowners who follow certain standards to build the units “by right,” meaning they would not need to apply for an administrative use permit prior to construction. Those permits can be costly and take a long time to make their way through the approval process. Building plans would still require review by city staff, but public hearings and neighborhood feedback would be off the table. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley preps new cellphone radiation safety law

Please destroy cell phones before entering: A front gate in Berkeley, Calif. Photo: Fragmentary Evidence
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The city of Berkeley is investigating whether to require retailers to hand out radiation-related safety sheets to customers who buy cellphones in town.

Last week, a Berkeley City Council majority — with seven in favor and two opposed — voted to have staff prepare language for the new cellphone law. But whether council ultimately will vote to adopt that law is unknown.

The cellphone ordinance — brought forward Nov. 18 by council members Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington — would require vendors to hand out an info sheet to consumers to remind them to study up on device-specific safety standards for radio-frequency (RF) energy emissions. In particular, customers could be advised not to hold or carry the phone close to the body while using the device, and directed to consult the manual to learn the “recommended separation distance” between the phone and one’s body. Anderson said he has been working on the law for several years. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley councilman says city mishandled legal fees in Measure S redistricting lawsuit; city disagrees

The BSDC map approved by Judge Grillo will be used in November, unless an appeal overturns the decision.
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Less than a week before Berkeley voters will decide whether to adopt new council district boundaries, a local official has criticized the city for how it handled legal fees for a lawsuit over the proposed council lines that are on the Nov. 4 ballot with Measure S.

It’s the latest rebuke in a prolonged public battle over district lines that began in earnest last year. City officials and staff have countered that proper procedure was, in fact, followed, and that nothing inappropriate occurred.

At Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting, local resident Stefan Elgstrand told officials he had been dismayed to learn about the payment by staff of $140,000 — which he said council did not approve — to lawyers who represented the city in a lawsuit related to redistricting earlier this year. Elgstrand, who was previously an intern for Councilman Kriss Worthington, authored a map last year that was rejected by council and has been among those leading the charge to have the adopted map thrown out. He’s also a lead organizer in the opposition campaign against Measure S. Since Elgstrand’s public comment Tuesday, Councilman Jesse Arreguín and his aide Anthony Sanchez have added their voices to the criticism, and publicly excoriated the city for how it handled the payment of the legal fees.

City officials have been working to adopt new district lines for several years, but the process has been contentious. Council adopted a new map in December, and said the boundaries had garnered widespread community approval and complied with all legal requirements. Critics of that map — including Elgstrand, Arreguín, Worthington, Phoebe Sorgen and Council 1 challenger Alejandro Soto-Vigil — then led a referendum drive to force council to rescind that map in favor of a compromise, or put the issue to the voters.

The referendum drive was successful, which suspended the use of the map council had adopted. The city then took to the courts to determine which lines should be used leading up to the November election. A judge ultimately ruled that the map council adopted should determine the districts up through Nov. 4.  … Continue reading »

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Police

Berkeley police rule cyclist responsible for fatal crash

Kurt Wehner. Photo via Facebook
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Authorities have found a 62-year-old Berkeley cyclist at fault for the crash with a vehicle that ultimately took his life about three weeks ago.

In response to repeated inquiries from Berkeleyside, police said Tuesday that Kurt Wehner rode through a stop sign and crashed into a 2008 Volkswagen in a North Berkeley intersection Sept. 21 shortly after 8 a.m. at Spruce and Eunice streets.

Wehner, a longtime Berkeley resident, died the following day at Highland Hospital.

Berkeley police investigators said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Wehner had been riding his mountain-style bike south on Spruce toward Eunice, where there was a posted stop sign for southbound traffic.

“Just prior the bicyclist was passing vehicles on the wrong side of the roadway at an unsafe speed in violation of the posted 25 mph speed limit,” police wrote.

The Volkswagen — driven by a 63-year-old Berkeley resident whose name has not been released — had stopped on Eunice facing east. The driver had proceeded into the intersection when, police say, Wehner crashed into the vehicle.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley to look at residential permit parking citywide

The city of Berkeley is looking at expanding its permit parking program to ease the crush in residential neighborhoods. Photo: Chris Makarsky
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The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to study whether permit parking might be needed in more residential neighborhoods throughout the city, and whether the cost to buy those permits should increase.

To be included, residents would have to opt in to the program by garnering the support of at least 51% of homes per block face. In addition, a parking survey would need to show that at least 75% of available street parking is occupied at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Council will set the boundaries but it is residents themselves who will determine which blocks will participate.

Parking in West Berkeley, particularly around Fourth Street and the city Corporation Yard on Allston Way, has been an area of concern for officials, as are blocks near Sacramento Street where many city staff reportedly park.

The city hopes to learn — via a new environmental study — where it might make the most sense to expand the permit parking program. Berkeley currently has 14 permit (RPP) zones in central Berkeley, most of which are near commercial areas. Via the staff report, “The existing RPP zones are bounded roughly on the north by Rose, Hopkins and Eunice Streets; on the east by UC Berkeley; on the south by Woolsey and part of 62nd Street; and on the west by Sacramento and Chestnut Streets.”

Read more about parking and transportation issues in Berkeley.Continue reading »

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Council weighs in on new downtown Berkeley plaza plans

For the first time last week, the Berkeley City Council weighed in on improvements planned for the downtown Berkeley plaza and BART station. (Click the image for details.) Image: BART
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Berkeley’s main downtown plaza is set for some major changes in the next few years, and the Berkeley City Council had a chance to share ideas about the project last week.

The project is driven in large part by BART, which intends to renovate its station entrances, improve travel through the plaza, at Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, repave the area and make it easier to for visitors to navigate the area.

BART announced plans for the plaza late last year, and held public meetings in February and April to collect public feedback.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley will again consider 4th cannabis dispensary

Berkeley City Council will tonight consider two proposals regarding new operating guidelines for dispensaries and the creation of a ranking system to select new dispensaries. Photo: Flores y Plantas
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Five days after the House of Representatives passed groundbreaking legislation calling on the federal government to stop targeting legitimate medical cannabis dispensaries, the Berkeley City Council is set to discuss whether to allow a fourth dispensary to open.

But the council, which delayed a decision two times already, may delay it a third time when it meets tonight if Mayor Tom Bates has his way. The political climate is still too uncertain to guarantee that a new dispensary can open successfully, according to Bates.

“He is not in favor of it going forward at this time because of the continuing uncertainty at the federal level,” said Charles Burress, Bates’ spokesman. “It’s better to wait for further clarification. He hopes that eventually we can add a fourth one, but right now is not the time to do it.” … Continue reading »

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East Bay at high risk of wildfires: Preventive measures key

Angel Island wildfire. Photo: Chris Wage
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Allen Benitez, Chief of Protective Services at Berkeley Lab admits he’s nervous.

“With the drought this summer, there is an extraordinarily high risk of fire in the hills,” he said.

The Lab’s location in the Berkeley foothills, surrounded by trees and vegetation, makes the task of keeping that risk as low as possible daunting. The fact that there are 5,000 to 7,000 people on the campus at any one time, and that an evacuation would entail moving all of them off a fenced property through just one gate, puts the lab — as Benitez terms it — in “a tough spot.”

Benitez will be one of several fire experts speaking at a Fire Forum for the community on Monday June 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Berkeley’s Northbrae Church. He will be joined by, among others, Berkeley Fire Department Chief Gil Dong; Robert Chew, Cal Fire’s assistant chief of East Bay operations; Sal Genito, associate director of Grounds and Environmental Services at UC Berkeley; and Brad Gallup from the East Bay Regional Parks District. … Continue reading »

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Officials agree to study Tasers for Berkeley police

Advocates for and against Tasers showed up Tuesday night to speak to the Berkeley City Council. Glenn Turner, in front, says she would rather see an investment in mental health resources. Behind her is an officer whose hand was broken during a recent physical fight with a suspect who refused to stop when the officer asked him to. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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A Berkeley City Council majority voted Tuesday night to look closely at whether local police should one day be trained and equipped to use Tasers.

About a dozen people asked city officials not to allow police to have the weapon, while approximately the same number — most of whom were Berkeley Police officers — said they were in favor of the city studying the issue.

Many officers pleaded with the city to move forward on the proposal from three council members to study the possibility of Tasers in Berkeley. Officers have said data show that departments with Tasers have seen fewer “use of force” complaints, fewer injuries to officers and suspects, and reduced costs associated with on-the-job injuries.

Community members against Tasers said police have enough weapons, that Berkeley doesn’t have enough crime to justify adding another one, and that there are too many risks associated with Taser shocks. They cited the possibility of pre-existing medical conditions that could increase health risks, as well as concerns about the disproportionate use of Tasers on minorities, the poor and people in mental health crisis. … Continue reading »

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FCPC looks into alleged violations by Yes on S supporters

Members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission review material before their Oct. 25 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
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The Fair Campaign Practices Commission has decided to investigate whether any campaign laws were broken when the Yes on Measure S campaign paid people from $50 to $100 in cash to pass out campaign material on election day.

The commission also wants staff to look into whether the Yes on S campaign paid for an extra printing of endorsement fliers put out by the Berkeley Democratic Club without declaring its participation.

The decision to investigate came as the commission considered another complaint on Sept. 19 filed by Patricia Wall, executive director of the Homeless Action Center, and Bob Offer-Westort, the coordinator of the No on Measure S campaign. Measure S, which was defeated in November 2012, would have made it illegal to sit on sidewalks in commercial districts for much of the day. … Continue reading »

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Crime

Council highlights gangs, staffing during crime report

Pedestrian robberies in Berkeley from January to June 2013 mapped by location. Source: Berkeley Police Department
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The Berkeley Police Department’s mid-year crime report drew compliments from city officials regarding the city’s approach to crime fighting, as well as requests for more information in the future about case closure rates, crime concentrations and response times across a range of offenses.

Police Chief Michael Meehan presented the report along with two police captains, Erik Upson and Andy Greenwood, Tuesday night in a special session before the city council. They said serious crime reports for the first six months of the year remained nearly flat compared to the same period last year.

Berkeley did experience a 24% jump in robberies overall, which included a 35% increase in pedestrian robberies. But police said the region has seen a 26% percent in overall robberies, and that Berkeley is not immune to those trends. Police also noted a 49% increase in robbery-related arrests in 2013. … Continue reading »

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