To the Editor:
The Daily Planet recently did an article on the bond ballot measure to retrofit old City Hall. I was quoted in the article as saying that the number of seats in the council chambers would be reduced to 80 seats from the current 110 seats and Councilmember Miriam Hawley was quoted saying that seating in the chambers would not be reduced.
Apparently Ms. Hawley failed to read the consultants’ report which said that seating in the council chambers would be reduced to at least 80 seats.
If the dais is made wheelchair accessible, another 10 seats could be lost and if all four aisles are made accessible to people in wheelchairs needing to pass each other coming and going, at least 10 to 15 more chairs would have to be removed, which will reduce seating to less than 60. If more than four wheelchair users want to sit in the room then more chairs have to be removed.
For many years, the disabled have struggled with the cramped, unsafe corridor and council chambers, trying to make do. It is regrettable (with the notable exception of Councilmember Kriss Worthington) that council members would not spend even one minute trying to understand what “fully accessible” would actually mean to the council chambers.
Yet, they are asking the community to invest over $21 million (after just spending at least $45 million to retrofit 2180 Milvia City Hall) and still not have a fully accessible and large enough public meeting space. The most important asset of the building is the public meeting space it provides. (The relocation of 45 employees to another retrofitted building can be dealt with in a much less expensive way.)
There is a proposed separate room for overflow attendees. They will be relegated to watching the public proceedings on a TV screen, the same as if they had just stayed home and watched it there. Separate but not equal. This proposal does not encourage public participation, it discourages it. People come to the council meeting to be part of the live-action, to see all the council members interacting with each other and have interactions with other members of the public. The new proposal will also cost extra staff time to monitor the overcrowding of the council chambers and to shuffle people between two rooms, resulting in conflicts and temper flares. Over flow crowds will still have to be locked out of the building.
This community values public participation. We deserve better than what we’re going to get with this expensive proposal. The bond and interest will incur a $47 million debt–almost a million dollars per employee. Let's prepare a more cost effective plan to preserve this beautiful old building and return during a healthier economy with a plan increasing democratic participation by providing a larger meeting space with full disabled access. Let's do it the right way at the right time, not the wrong way–right now.
Berkeley City Councilmember