Landmarks Preservation Commission Suffers City Attorney Gag Order
Monday night at the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing in Berkeley, we prepared to give comments on the adequacy of the Final EIR for the 1301 Oxford site.
However, the meeting adjourned early because City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, advised the LPC that four of the commissioners should be barred from serving on the comission in regards to the 1301 Oxford issue, since they were also Board members or officials of the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, which wrote a letter to the city asking that certain information be included in the EIR for the project.
Apparently the City of Berkeley is fearful that it can be sued by Temple Beth El if there is an appearance of unfairness in the process.
The upshot of this is that LPC cannot make a recommendation to Zoning Adjustments Board pertaining to the adequacy of the EIR.
Many of us feel this is a really outrageous and dangerous decision on the part of the City attorney. We are asking people who feel this way too, to please contact mayor Dean and to express their view!!!
Here are some major problems with the City Attorney's “opinion”:
• The LPC expressed its view that the Draft EIR was “inadequate” during its public hearing - specifically dedicated to this issue - on Aug, 8 a full month before the BAHA letter was written.
Thus, the BAHA members in question had officially, legally, and publicly expressed their opinions about the Draft EIR, in their capacities as LPC Commissioners, before the BAHA critique of the Draft EIR was written.
The City Attorney's “opinion” would paradoxically require Commissioners not to hold, or express, an opinion about an issue on which they have already publicly ruled.
LPC has no voting powers on the certification of the Final EIR.
Therefore the fact that LPC members who are also associated with BAHA wrote a letter critiquing the Draft document is simply irrelevant as a legal issue, or as a conflict of interest issue.
• BAHA's letter did not “take a position” on the project itself (as the City Attorney's memo claims), but simply critiqued the adequacy of the Draft EIR.
• Even if BAHA had taken a position on the project itself (which it did not), the notion that this constitutes a conflict of interest with LPC decisions is either absurd or dangerous.
If applied widely, the City Attorney's “opinion” would exclude from service the very people who are often the most qualified to serve on voting City bodies, or, alternatively, require that these people not associate or participate in organizations that contribute to their intellectual and professional growth.
It is interesting to note that the city did not seem fearful of lawsuit by the East Bay Chinese Alliance Church when LPC and ZAB considered their permit application for a new school in 1992.
Additonally, we are asking the public to come to the Zoning Adjustments Board hearing THURSDAY, NOV. 9th at 7 pm in the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of Old City Hall 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
People should come early to fill out public comment card to speak on the adequacy of the EIR for 1301 Oxford (or on anything for that matter...)
Berkeley’s built affordable housing; much still to do
In the last month there have been several Letters to the Editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet regarding the need for affordable and accessible housing in Berkeley.
As Interim Housing Director for the City of Berkeley, I would like to inform the community of the City’s continued commitment to affordable and disabled accessible housing and describe some of the City’s efforts towards that end.
Ten years ago, the City developed a Housing Trust Fund (HTF) to bring resources to fund affordable housing projects.
Through the years, in addition to the use of federal monies through the CDBG and HOME Partnership programs, the City has contributed millions in general funds to promote development of affordable housing.
About 425 affordable units and 69 transitional housing beds have been created for the City’s low income population, to house those with special needs, and to provide housing for those who are homeless or at risk-of-homelessness.
With the City’s assistance, non-profit housing developers have been responsible for creating the vast majority of those units, although the City has also funded one for-profit developer who has also added to the number of affordable units in the City.
The vast majority of newly constructed units assisted are wheelchair accessible as are many of the existing units that received HTF monies for acquisition and rehabilitation.
In addition to the Housing Advisory Commission review, HTF proposals are reviewed by the Commission on Disability to help obtain a higher level of accessibility than required by State Law.
The City also uses the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program to increase affordable/accessible housing.
For example, in the last 25 years, CDBG monies have funded the Center for Independent Living’s wheelchairs ramp and interior accessibility program.
Other programs receiving CDBG funds include Christmas in April Program, the Minor Home Repair Program, and the City’s Seniors and Disabled Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program.
These programs offer grants or low interest, deferred loans for necessary repairs to homes owned by low income seniors or disabled persons.
As is apparent to all, Berkeley and the Bay Area are in the middle of a dire housing crisis.
It will take the cooperative effort of the City and its residents to help overcome that crisis. At present, the need is far greater than the resources available and only a small number of people can be assisted unless major new funding is forthcoming.
You may contact the City’s Housing Department at 644-6001 to obtain more information about housing programs and other activities the City is undertaking to develop/preserve affordable housing and to assist residents with their housing needs.
City of Berkeley
Interim Housing Director