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Bates Suggests Ordinance To Curtail Newspaper Theft

Tuesday July 15, 2003

City Council will weigh an emergency loan for eight Berkeley child care programs Tuesday night, vote on changes in the city’s rental housing safety program and consider taking the first steps toward an ordinance prohibiting the “unauthorized removal” of free newspapers. 

The push for an ordinance has its roots in Mayor Tom Bates’ theft of about 1,000 copies of the Daily Californian, UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, the day before the Nov. 5 mayoral election. The publication had endorsed Bates’ opponent, then-mayor Shirley Dean. 

Bates admitted to stealing the papers in December, apologized, plead guilty to petty theft and paid a $100 fine. The mayor also pledged to speak about the incident in the Berkeley schools and said he would push for a local ordinance outlawing the practice. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque has raised doubts about the validity of a Berkeley law on the issue. 

“I had explained to the mayor that if he had been prosecuted under the state theft statute, that would suggest it was already a crime under state law and generally it is illegal for local government to write a criminal statute that duplicates state law,” Albuquerque said. 

The city attorney referred Bates to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office which told the mayor it would not make a determination until after the passage of an ordinance. 

Bates had indicated that he will ask City Council Tuesday to provide City Manager Weldon Rucker with a copy of a San Francisco ordinance stating, in part, that the “unauthorized removal” of free newspapers infringes on “the public’s right to express and exchange diverse ideas and opinions.” The San Francisco ordinance would serve as a guide in the development of a similar Berkeley measure. 

The mayor’s office, in an emergency measure inserted Friday, is also calling for Rucker to work with eight local child care programs that face delays in state funding for low-income children as a result of the budget stalemate in Sacramento. 

Julie Sinai, senior aide to Bates, said the city is considering emergency bridge loans or advances on municipal grants to the programs — six of which are actual child care centers and two of which provide vouchers for low-income kids. Sinai said the delays will affect funding for 288 Berkeley children. 

“The anxiety level of my staff, the parents, the’s a total disruption,” said Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, executive director of Bay Area Hispanic Institute for Advancement, or BAHIA, which operates two of the affected child care centers, serving 135 children. She said the impact of the delay has been powerful. “If the city comes through with this loan for us, that would certainly be our saving grace.” 

Leyva-Cutler said the institute would normally receive a quarterly payment of $151,000 from the state in early July, part of a $474,000 annual payment. Without the funding in place, the center is refinancing one of its buildings, drawing on parent donations of food and even staging a car wash to raise cash. 

“It would simply be unconscionable to allow hundreds of children to suddenly lose their child care,” said Bates, in a statement. “Parents would have to miss work, employees would be laid off, and children would be left home alone.” 

City Council will also consider a pair of changes to its rental housing safety program. The program, approved in August 2001 after a rash of devastating house fires, has three basic components — educating tenants and owners on safety issues, annual certification by owners that their units meet safety requirements, and periodic city inspections of apartments. 

Last week, the city’s housing staff presented the council with a change in the certification provision. Property owners who find no safety violations, under the new policy, would no longer have to certify the safety of their units to the city. Council, which voted 7-2 to accept a “first reading” of the new measure last week, will vote on final approval Tuesday. 

Zoning Adjustments Board member Andy Katz, who helped create the rental housing safety program in 2001, said the change would eliminate an important safeguard for tenants. 

“Before, landlords were affirming under penalty of perjury that the unit was safe to live in,” he said. 

But Berkeley housing director Steve Barton said the requirement has created reams of paper work that keeps the program’s small staff from conducting the more important work of inspections. 

City Council will also consider reducing the fees that property owners must pay to subsidize the program. Landlords reacted strongly to a new fee structure put in place in May that shifted the financial burden for the program from the city to property owners. 

Council is also expected to approve a $50,000 study of the monetary value of the police, fire, sewer and other services it provides for UC Berkeley. Under a 15-year agreement that expires in 2005, the university pays the city about $500,000 annually for those services, a figure that Rucker’s chief of staff Arrietta Chakos has labeled “woefully inadequate.”  

The study, to be conducted by Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. in Berkeley, would provide the city with data to use in negotiations on a new 15-year deal to expire in 2020.