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Residents irked by ‘unfair process,’ confusion

By Jia-Rui Chong Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday March 20, 2002

At a meeting in which residents were unclear about what they could talk about, whether city officials could respond to their letters and how they could add items to the agenda, Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was all about fair process. 

Most of the audience showed up to discuss a senior housing project on Sacramento St, but many others wanted to discuss what they saw as unfair changes to the General Plan that would allow affordable housing to be built on the Santa Fe Right of Way. Still others came to protest that the issue of population density was not addressed in the General Plan. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque had to clarify several times the city policy on restrictions intended to prevent unfair lobbying by individuals or organizations and explain that such rules about fairness also restricted public comment on appeals hearings from the Zoning Adjustments Board to the written record. 

Residents’ confusion and complaints about the process were most clear in the case of the senior housing project. 

It was frustrating for Carl Golden who was not even talking substantively about the Sacramento St. project but just about the process of the ZAB discussion that did not begin until midnight on March 15.  

He had to keep referring to “the thing we can’t talk about” when he was complaining about the lateness of the ZAB meeting. He also pointed out that city staff had changed parts of the plan without supplying clearly exhibited new models. 

Planning Manager Mark Rhoades tried to explain the plans presented at the ZAB meeting and the environmental impact reports to the council amid hisses from the audience.  

He said that ZAB voted to go forward with a plan by the city to build a 4-story unit of affordable housing. 


The decision came after months of staff study and presentations to neighbors, according to Rhoades. He said his office was satisfied “this project would not have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood.” 

But councilmembers were not satisfied. 

“I think there are significant issues about the fairness of the process,” said Dona Spring.  

Pointing to the fat sheaf of written comments that were submitted on the item and the number of people who came to discuss it, Spring said, “People want to be heard. I think we should set this for a public hearing.” 

Other councilmembers murmured their agreement.  

But Councilmember Linda Maio was concerned that the proposal was time-sensitive. She wanted to know about deadlines for tax credits to fund the project. 

Rhoades and Housing Director Stephen Barton explained that, if the city wanted help in funding this project, it had to two chances. The first round of funding would be considered March 29 and the second in late June. 

“I don’t like that a project like this came with a caveat that we better not endanger public funding,” said Councilmember Polly Armstrong.  

Although Armstrong favored building the project, she said she did not want to be rushed because once the building was constructed, it would be there permanently.  

She also worried that councilmembers in general were not listening to constituents’ concerns and that such an imperative was missing from the vision of Berkeley described in the General Plan. 

Agreeing that it was not necessarily the fault of the staff that the timing for this project was unfavorable, the council voted 8-1 to give the public a better opportunity to talk to the city at a public hearing. 

Only Kriss Worthington voted no, though Maio had expressed reservations about how difficult it was to find subsidies in a recession.  

By agreeing to a public hearing, Worthington said, the council was giving the nod to long, disorganized nights. He suggested that the public hearing on the senior housing project be set for another night. 

The motion was approved 6-3. Some councilmembers dissented because they thought it would allow boards and commissions to be lazy about getting through agendas. 

At the end of this vote, though, they wanted to make sure there was no confusion about the process.  

Dean clearly enumerated the ways residents could contact the City Clerk to find out about the date of the hearing and directed them to the web site 

Dean then held up the ream of paper each of the councilmembers had in front of them.  

“I don’t want this again.”