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Parking debate overheats at meeting

By John Geluardi Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday October 19, 2000

Tempers flared Tuesday night when 20 off-duty Berkeley police officers attended the City Council meeting to complain about what they said is woeful lack of parking for police department employees. 

They were responding to an item the mayor had placed on the agenda recommending that the city explore creating new parking for city employees. 

The officers, all members of the Berkeley Police Association, the department’s union, wore blue baseball caps with BPA emblazoned on the front.  

At each City Council meeting 10 members of the public are chosen by lottery to address the council for three minutes. Three BPA members were chosen. 

One officer called the city’s transit-first policy a “Polly Anna” viewpoint, then singled out an individual who lives near the police station, who has frequently complains about police employees illegally parking near her home. 

“You need to tell Carrie Sprague to take her clipboard and go home,” Randy Files, president of the BPA said during his address to the council. 

BPA members said Sprague is known to write down the license numbers of cars violating Residential Parking Permit laws near her home. Many of the cars belong to on-duty police officers. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that for a police officer to single out a resident is inappropriate behavior. “It’s not good when the BPA muscles other people with intimidation just to get approval for something that will have serious long-term impact on the community and the environment,” he said. 

The officers said they sometimes have to walk six to eight blocks to get to work because of residential parking permit laws. The situation, they said, is especially dangerous for female employees walking to their cars after late-night shifts. 

“You give us hypocritical thanks and then you slap us in the face,” Files said, referring to the council’s praise of the police department’s handling of the looting that occurred on Telegraph Avenue early Sunday morning. 

The mayor, concerned about greater parking pressure when city employees move back into the newly retrofitted City Hall in late January, has recommended the City Council regard the matter as a priority and she wants the city manager to move expeditiously to solve the problem by determining how many new spaces would be reasonable and then trying to find them among existing parking spaces. 

Worthington said the city should take long-term impacts into consideration when deciding what to do on this issue. He said there’s a Transportation Demand Study due in several weeks and the city should wait to review it before overreacting.  

“This needs to be looked at in the whole context,” he said. “There are several dozen spaces that may solve the problem, for example the 40 spaces that Patrick Kennedy’s construction crew are using temporarily.” 

The BPA made their position on additional parking very clear at the meeting. Officer Andrew Greenwood demanded the board take immediate and decisive action about what he called an “absurd” situation. He went on to say the problem is being created by a small group of residents. “We are being pitted against a very small vocal group, maybe five people.” 

Files addressed the Council last. “You have to stop this Polly Anna viewpoint that your going to eliminate cars,” he said. “If you bury your head in the sand somebody’s going to get hurt and it will be on you.” 

Dean said the city has never had a policy of eliminating cars because there will always be a need for some people to drive.  

After Files addressed the council the BPA members left the chambers en masse. A heated verbal exchange in the hallway ensued between Sprague and several of the officers.  

After the heated argument, the BPA members, apparently taking a page from Berkeley demonstrators, marched down the stairs, chanting: “What do we want? Parking!” 

Sprague said she was shocked by the officers’ behavior. She said there’s an ongoing problem with parking in her neighborhood and it’s very difficult to get the police to enforce the existing Residential Parking Permit laws. She said parking is tough for everybody. “I come home late at night sometimes and I have to walk over a block and without a gun. (The police) have guns.” 

The mayor’s recommendation to explore building parking for city employees was removed from Tuesday’s consent calendar and will be discussed at next week’s meeting. In the meantime the City Manager’s Office is putting together a report that will attempt to determine what would be a reasonable solution to the parking problem for all city employees.  

Grace McGuire, assistant to the city manager, said there is no money in the budget for the construction of new parking facilities such as a garage and any new parking for city employees would mean taking parking from some other users. “The most likely spaces will be taken from public parking such as one of the three city-owned garages on Berkeley Way and Center and Oxford streets,” she said. 

Worthington argued that a number of organizations, including the Sierra Club, Urban Ecology and the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition opposed adding parking structures downtown. He added that he found the BPA’s chanting outside the council chambers amusing. “Usually it’s the liberals who use those tactics,” he said.