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

Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley City Council, Jan. 27, 2015. Photo: Emilie Raguso

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.

The action calendar

CITY DENSITY BONUS Mayor Tom Bates and Councilman Laurie Capitelli have put forward a “city density bonus” proposal which they say could direct money into the city’s Housing Trust Fund by allowing developers to get the equivalent of the state-mandated bonus by paying a new fee rather than putting affordable units on site. Currently, the city levies a fee on most new market-rate rental residential projects, of $20,000 per unit, if no affordable housing is built on site. But developers who include 11% affordable (for very-low income) units are also allowed by state law to add 35% more units to the “base project,” which often translates into more height. That extra incentive has, to this point, meant that few developers have elected to pay into the city’s Housing Trust Fund, because doing so would mean fewer units overall along with a significantly higher fee to the city. The city has been working to build up its Housing Trust Fund — to help create more affordable projects in Berkeley — but the state density bonus has posed a challenge. The city has said it is important to bolster its own fund because, according to the new proposal, that money goes further, as it can be “leveraged multiple times with federal, state and other funding for affordable housing.” In addition, the city could build more units for people with lower incomes than the threshold often used by developers, and also add supportive services into the mix, according to its proponents. By the numbers, under the new proposal: “For rental projects, the City bonus fee would be $10,000 per [base] unit, in addition to the City’s affordable housing mitigation fee, which is currently $20,000 per unit for rental projects.” It’s been a contentious issue in the past, so the discussion is likely to be interesting. Read the proposal. Bates and Capitelli penned an op-ed on the subject as well, which was published Monday on Berkeleyside.

HOUSING ELEMENT The city is required by the state to adopt an eight-year housing plan, which council is set to approve Tuesday night. The plan outlines the city’s housing needs, identifies its capacity, analyzes its constraints to housing production, establishes goals to meet the needs, and describes programs to help it meet them. Under the plan, Berkeley must build nearly 3,000 units by 2022. According to a January 2015 report (page 12) attached to the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting, the city had approved just 4.6% of those units — a total of 137 — as of Jan. 1. (Update, May 5: A clarification about these numbers appears below the chart.)

Click the chart to see the report. Source: City of Berkeley
Click the chart to see the report. Source: City of Berkeley

Update, May 5: The staff report appears to have been missing some key information. Here’s some additional context from the housing element itself: “Since January 1, 2014 through present (September 1, 2014), the City has issued building permits for 137 dwelling units. Additionally, between January 1, 2014 and September 1, 2014, Berkeley has approved conditional use permits for an additional 165 housing units. There are another 1,103 dwelling units approved within the City over the past decade that have not yet been exercised (i.e. building permits have not been issued).”


On April 30, city spokesman Matthai Chakko also provided some further clarification: “Units proposed or simply in the planning process are not enough. The City accounts for the units that qualify for our regional allocation (RHNA) in the Housing Element based upon the issuance of a building permit. That said, the Housing Element has not been updated to account for all building permits issued. The Housing Element is a static document intended for State certification. The City reports yearly updates of permits to the State separately.”

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING Councilman Kriss Worthington has a proposal on the action calendar to let citizens help decide how the city spends its money. Worthington says seven U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Vallejo, have used the process as part of their budgeting. He says it’s a good model: “The participatory budgeting program will have a positive impact on the budgetary process in Berkeley by encouraging residents to become more involved in local politics, deepening democracy, empowering communities, making budgeting more effective, and ultimately improving the overall quality of community services and public infrastructures.” Read more about the city budget in general, and learn about Worthington’s proposal.

ONLINE COUNCIL COMMENTS Worthington also would like to allow the public to submit comments online for council items. If approved, his proposal would ask the city manager to create an online form people could fill out to make comments without needing to be present at council meetings. Shoreline, Washington, has a similar system in place. Read more.

SOLAR TASKFORCE Worthington has a proposal on the action calendar (carried over from the last meeting) suggesting that the city should set a goal of getting 50% of its energy from solar power by 2030. The city would establish a “solar taskforce” to plan how to make that happen. See the item.

The worksession

COMMUNITY AGENCY FUNDING In this week’s worksession, at 5:30 p.m., council will receive a report from Jane Micallef of the city’s Health, Housing & Community Services Department on community agency funding for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Micallef’s report outlines city spending on service organizations and grants. The report is broken down by category: homelessness, youth services, anti-poverty services and housing. According to the staff report, 61 agencies applied for more than $10.7 million in funding for 120 programs. The city manager has recommended a 3% increase in funding for those two years, for a total of about $7.7 million. From the report: “All currently funded community agency and City projects” in the housing category will “continue to receive their current allocations,” but the city manager has recommended that $45,000 for Youth Spirit Artworks be shifted to the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The city has declined to fund four new anti-poverty proposals, and is recommending a 10% across-the-board reduction in that category — in addition to some other cuts — “to stay within the funding available.” The city is also working to create a new one-stop shop for homelessness servicesRead the report.

Consent calendar and information items

WATER REDUCTIONS There are two items on the agenda related to California’s ongoing water problem: a proposal from Councilman Jesse Arreguín to reduce municipal water usage by 25% of 2013 levels, and an information report on existing municipal water restrictions. The city reduced water use by 26% from April through June 2014 compared to the same period in 2012 and 2013, primarily due to work on its irrigation systems. According to Arreguín, “water consumption is expected to increase when those systems are back online,” so he is asking the city to commit to the 25% reduction, in line with a recent executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown to reduce water usage by 25% of 2013 levels. The city already pledged to reduce water use by 10%. Thus far, it has shortened watering times, fixed leaks and done some one-time improvements to achieve the current reductions. Municipal water usage accounts for just 2% of the city’s water consumption, according to officials. To put it another way, of the more than 4 billion gallons of water used in Berkeley each year, the city uses 83 million gallons.

RAILROAD QUIET ZONE IN WEST BERKELEY Council members Darryl Moore and Linda Maio have put forward an item to use county Measure BB money to create “a railroad quiet zone for West Berkeley.” A feasibility study was completed in 2008 to look at what it would take to make that potential a reality, and officials say the county now has the money to do it. Read the report.

INDIANA BOYCOTT Council members Moore and Lori Droste are urging the city to “Impose a moratorium on any publicly funded all non-essential travel to Indiana and, if not repealed, urging the City Manager to refrain from entering into new contracts and consider discontinuing existing contracts with businesses headquartered in Indiana.” The reason? Indiana’s approach to religious freedom. Earlier this month, Mayor Tom Bates put out the following statement about Indiana’s approach to religious freedom and its implications for discrimination: “I hope my fellow citizens will join the growing boycott of Indiana as long as its intolerant Religious Freedom Restoration Act remains in effect. I find it abhorrent that a state would enact legislation allowing businesses and individuals to claim religion as an excuse to discriminate against people who are gay. Such a law promotes intolerance and permits a person’s rights to be violated on the basis of sexual orientation. I ask that people not travel to Indiana or do business with companies that are headquartered there as long as this injustice continues.” Read the council report.

See what else the Berkeley City Council has been up to in recent Berkeleyside coverage.

Meeting details

Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.
Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.

The Berkeley City Council meets Tuesday nights at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Special sessions generally take place at 5:30 p.m. and regular meetings begin at 7 p.m. Council agendas are available online here. Watch the meetings online here.

Berkeleyside often covers council meetings live on Twitter. Others sometimes do the same and the discussion can get spirited. Follow council coverage on Twitter via hashtag #berkmtg. Follow along in real-time here, and tag your tweets with #berkmtg to join in.

You do not need a Twitter account to follow along. Just click here.

Council-related Twitter handles:
@MayorTomBates
@LindaMaio (District 1)
Darryl Moore @BerkCouncil (District 2)
@JesseArreguin (District 4)
Laurie Capitelli @berkcap (District 5)
Kriss Worthington @k__worthington (District 7)
Lori Droste @loridroste (District 8)

Learn more about the Berkeley City Council and how to connect with local representatives via the city website.

Related:
Council on community benefits, sewer fee increase, vaccines, parking permit expansion (04.07.15)
Council on accessory units, parks budget, limits on frats and mini-dorms, more (03.23.15)
Council on homelessness, sewer fee hike, limiting vaccine exemptions, crude oil, more (03.17.15)

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