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Disaster Council prepares priorities to present city

By Jia-Rui Chong, Daily Planet staff
Friday March 29, 2002

Unreinforced masonry, disaster support for businesses, preparedness for schools and terrorism are the four priorities to be presented to the City Council in April in the final draft of a report hammered out by the Disaster Council Wednesday night. 

The report was originally designed as an action item for the City Council and included specific monetary figures for different programs. But the decision to change it to an informational item – because members wanted to expedite its progress through the typically crowded City Council agenda and because they thought it was too late in the budget process to get money – created some disagreement about how specific the Disaster Council should be in its requests. 

Eventually, they decided that the last section, Financial impact, would not carry the $20,000 to $40,000 figure they had initially proposed, but simply ask that the city earmark enough money for all the programs each year. 

Margit Roos-Collins wanted to put in figures for each of the council’s proposals and also draw attention to the fact that certain programs, such as sheltering, had worked extremely creatively with no city funding.  

She said she thought that putting in concrete numbers would make it more likely that the City Council would grant their request. 

But member Eileen Hughes pointed out finding appropriate figures for sections currently without would require a lot of legwork and the deadline for submitting their report to the City Clerk for the April 23 packet was fast approaching. 

“We can’t do that in three days,” said Hughes. 

She also pointed out that they had intended to issue a report in the fall, in time for budget considerations, but the events of Sept. 11 made that impossible. 

Other members of the Disaster Council thought that specific figures were unnecessary because they did not want to get into a numbers game with the city. 

“The city of Berkeley will eat you alive if you start playing the budget game,” said member Fred Leif. 

“The fundamental issue is, is this a significant priority for City Council? If it is, it follows that the money will flow with the priority,” he said. 

Other members agreed they wanted a policy document, not a budget document. 

“If this works properly, council will approve this, then it goes to the head of the Office of Emergency Services to decide on a minimum to hope for next year, which should be enough to fund most of the projects,” said member Karl Roos. 

The other main topic of discussion for the Disaster Council Wednesday night was disaster preparedness in schools.  

Martha Jones said that she still thinks that Berkeley schoolchildren are not well prepared for disasters. Jones said she had coordinated with the Red Cross to provide curriculum and training for kindergarten through eighth grade in a program like its partnership with schools in San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Alameda. 

“I went and got funding for all of that, but it’s been dragging on a long time. I talked to the Red Cross and they’re still eager to do it, but I think my funding has vanished,” said Jones. 

Jones said that she did not write this program into the current report because she did not think the money that was budgeted for last year would be available this year, given the recession. 

Other Disaster Councilmembers agreed that they should bring the issue to the attention of the Berkeley Unified School District, but were cautious about doing so because advising the BUSD on how to spend its money might be outside their jurisdiction. The BUSD is financially and administratively separate from the city. 

“We advise City Council. Our relationship with the School District is only as individuals. But we can voice concerns as concerns from the public about how kids in Berkeley are not properly planned for in the School District,” said Leif. 

They also agreed to send a copy of their final report with a cover letter to the superintendent and Board of Education after April 23. 

Chairperson Russell Kilday-Hicks will incorporate these editing suggestions, as well as inserting an item about providing food and shelter for disaster workers, into a final document with Dory Ehrlich, the city’s Community Emergency Response Training Coordinator. 

The priorities report does not mention anthrax, though Latino groups in the Bay Area received what they thought was anthrax in the mail two weeks ago. 

But the Disaster Council was interested in learning more about bioterrorism and hoped to get a speaker on the topic in May or June. 

Also on Wednesday night’s agenda was Ehrlich’s staff update. She informed the Disaster Council that the Hill Fire Station project was proceeding smoothly, with the Environmental Impact Report certified. Approval for the use permit, staffing, purchase of property from East Bay Municipal Utility District, and design of the facility should come before the City Council in late May or early June. 

She also updated the Disaster Council on the continuing search for an Emergency Services Manager. The city’s top two choices have already rejected its offers. 

The city is also applying for a grant from FEMA’s large pool of money for terrorism in order to train firefighters and buy equipment for search and rescue in collapsed buildings, said Ehrlich.