The lowdown: Berkeley council on short-term rentals, the budget, money for art, library renaming, mental health

2020 Vision Symposium, Oct. 11, Longfellow Middle School, Berkeley, CA. Photo: Emilie Raguso
This week’s council meeting will take place at Longfellow Middle School in the auditorium. Photo: Emilie Raguso

A large crowd is expected at this week’s Berkeley City Council meeting, which will take place in the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, 1500 Derby St. (near California Street). The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession and update focused on Berkeley’s participation in the Resilient Cities program (see the staff report). At its regular 7 p.m. meeting, council plans to look at the potential regulation of short-term rentals, like Airbnb units; budget recommendations for social service programs devoted to youth and homelessness; the city’s proposed percent-for-art ordinance; and more. (As usual, despite the location change, the meeting will be broadcast live on television and online, according to the city.)

The action calendar

SHORT-TERM RENTALS City officials are grappling with how to respond to the increase in short-term rentals, such as those facilitated by sites such as Airbnb. Council is scheduled to consider a proposal by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilwoman Lori Droste that would legalize and tax some short-term rentals. The proposal, which is slated to go to the Planning and Housing Advisory commissions for review and discussion before becoming law, would allow people living in a home at least nine months of the year to rent out space as often as they like when they are home. (The law specifically relates to stays of 14 days or fewer; stays of 15 days or more would continue to be unregulated, according to the mayor’s office.) Alternatively, if the hosts are not present, there would be an annual cumulative 90-day cap for property rental.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín has submitted an amendment that fleshes out the requirements for people offering short-term rentals, asks the city to determine how many short-term units are operating in Berkeley, and also asks for penalties against people offering rent-controlled units on a short-term basis, along with the possibility of more enforcement efforts to crack down on those who violate the new rules. Councilwoman Linda Maio also submitted what’s described as a clarification, noting that the new rules would apply to rooms, not entire homes, along with some other tweaks to the language (see page 6).

Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel took an in-depth look at the Airbnb issue in a story published May 26. Some of the highlights:


  • The proposed law would require the property owner or tenant to inform immediate neighbors of the plan, provide a local contact in case there are complaints, acquire a business license, and be covered by $500,000 in liability insurance, among other conditions.
  • The new law would impose a transient occupancy tax on all rentals, to be collected by the host or the rental-platform company.
  • The proposal would also add a fee (yet to be determined) on top of the transient occupancy tax to cover the cost of the program. (The mayor’s office and Airbnb are in discussions related to the collection of both the tax and the fee.)

Read more Berkeley real estate news.

THE CITY BUDGET Several significant action items relate to the city budget, which is expected to be voted on by council by the end of the month. Under Item 35, council is set to comment on the proposed 2015-16 and 2016-17 budgets, as well as the budget manager’s report. City staff describe it as a “stability budget” — meaning revenues and expenditures are in line with each other. In recent years, to keep the budget balanced during difficult times, the city has deferred maintenance on much of its capital infrastructure, from its parks to its facilities. The city also cut back staffing, eliminating 184 full-time positions in the past five years. No planned permanent staff reductions are expected in the next two years, according to the report, “However, we need to continue to be mindful of the need to address deferred maintenance, as well as remain prepared to address the impacts of future cost increases in areas such as health and pension benefits.” See past Berkeleyside city budget coverage.

Council is also set to approve funding allocations for the next two years for community agencies that serve the city’s youth and the homeless. The staff recommendation suggests the continuation of the current funding levels, for most homelessness services programs, through December. Beginning in January, however, the city’s focus would be on launching a new one-stop shop for homelessness services called the Housing Crisis Resolution Center (HCRC). The city manager says the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, one of two organizations that applied for the contract, should be the operator for the HCRC. (In late April, the other group — Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency — questioned the ethics of the municipal contracting process, which led the city to clarify its practices related to those decisions.) Read the staff report regarding funding for homelessness services.

Councilman Arreguín has also put forward his own brief proposal, for the 2016-17 fiscal year, for how homelessness services should be funded in Berkeley. The proposal is based on recommendations from the city’s Homeless Task Force, and includes “$127,671 in General Fund revenues to restore cuts to existing homeless services” and $490,000 from the General Fund for new homeless programs. He writes that, “As we are transitioning out of the recession and more revenue becomes available to the city, we should not only invest in physical infrastructure but in human needs, and maintain and possibly expand the important continuum of services Berkeley provides to the homeless.” Read his proposal.

City staff noted, in a separate report, that “In the area of services for children and youth, the City received 34 applications from 25 different agencies requesting a total of $2,938,429. Total funding available for services for children and youth was $1,538,223.” See the breakdown for those agencies.

Speaking of municipal funding, the city will soon issue new bonds at lower interest rates, from three tax measures, with the goal of saving taxpayers money beginning in tax year 2015-16. Read all about it.

PERCENT-FOR-ART PROPOSAL Councilmen Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguín are urging council to adopt a resolution from the city’s Civic Arts Commission that would “require all new developments of multi-family residential buildings of 20 or more units and commercial or industrial buildings of 25,000 square feet floor area or more to dedicate 1% of project constructions costs to publicly accessible art on-site and to in-lieu fees for public art.” Council referred the item to the arts commission in March. See the proposal and arts commission resolution.


DANA, ELLSWORTH STREETS COULD BECOME TWO-WAY Councilman Worthington is asking the city manager to consider moving ahead with proposals to convert Dana and Ellsworth streets, from Dwight Way to Bancroft Way, into two-way routes for cyclists and automobiles. According to the proposal, which is based on a consultant’s study, “The street conversion could either: a) Incorporate a northbound bike lane while southbound riders would travel in a shared lane; or b) Incorporate bike lanes in both directions with the removal of on-street parking.” Worthington estimates that the changes to one street would cost $300,000, and both would cost up to $1 million, adding, “We suggest requesting regional and University of California funds.” See the proposal.

SUPPORT FOR ALTERNATIVES TO MENTAL HEALTH BILL AB 1421? Council will consider whether to sign on to support county-level alternatives to Assembly Bill 1421, which considers “the needs of persons with serious mental illness not currently engaged in mental health treatment.” There are two separate recommendations on the table, one from the city manager, and one from the city’s Mental Health Commission. The city manager’s item does not take a position regarding whether or not council should sign on in support, but does note that council could decline to do so. According to the city manager’s item, AB 1421 “provides court-ordered intensive outpatient services for individuals with a recent history of recurrent psychiatric emergency room visits and hospitalizations who are significantly deteriorating and unwilling or unable to engage in voluntary services to support their recovery.”

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors took issue with that approach and engaged in a stakeholder-driven process to come up with alternatives to the bill described as “more compassionate options for accomplishing the goals of AB1421.” See those alternatives, beginning on page 5, of the Mental Health Commission recommendation. The commission says council should support the county alternatives.

A local umbrella group for crime-prevention efforts, the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee (BSNC), has written a letter to council urging it not to support the county effort, other than to promote better data-sharing. BSNC notes that council voted previously to encourage Alameda County to move ahead with AB 1421, also known as Laura’s Law, adding, “We urge you not to back away from that approach with alternatives that seem to simply offer only keeping the status quo.” Read a recent Berkeleyside report about the some of the impacts of mental illness in Berkeley.

LIBRARY BOARD TRUSTEES Council is also set to discuss whether to reappoint Julie Holcomb and Jim Novosel to the library board, and the board has previously, and unanimously, asked council to do just that. Read the agenda item. Speaking of the library, council plans as part of the consent calendar to vote in favor of renaming the South Branch library in honor of Tarea Hall Pittman. See past Berkeleyside coverage of the library renaming campaign.

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 usually meets Tuesday nights at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. This week’s meeting, however, will take place in the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, 1500 Derby St.


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. See council coverage on Twitter marked with #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:
Berkeley council on community benefits, short-term rentals, fee schedule, the budget (05.28.15)
Council on the city budget, nicotine sales restrictions, sewage fee increase, more (05.12.15)
Council on density bonus, housing plans, public budgeting, solar taskforce, water cutbacks (04.28.15)
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)

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