The Berkeley City Council split the baby on three contentious issues this week, passing a new housing inspection fee over the objections of landlords, putting off for a week a decision on the Sprint Wireless roof antennae on Shattuck Avenue, and dropping for good its plans to discuss a second resolution concerning American deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rental Housing Safety Program Fees
The council approved the city manager’s recommendation to reaffirm Berkeley’s flat $17 per residential rental unit yearly inspection fee along with the $8.50 per room hotel and boarding house inspection fee, while passing slight increases for fees to reinspect rental units that have failed to correct housing code violations. City staff has said that the flat inspection fees, charged to all Berkeley residential landlords, are intended to make the inspection program self-sustaining.
The Council’s Housing Advisory Commission earlier voted unanimously to recommend the fee schedule to Council.
The Berkeley Property Owners Association (BPOA) has opposed flat inspection fees whenever they came before the council during the past two years, and they did so again Tuesday night. BPOA President Michael Wilson said the fees are illegally structured and completely unjustified, and contended that the Rental Housing Safety Program itself is “destined to result in litigation.” After the council vote, Wilson said his organization would now consider filing a lawsuit against the Rental Housing Safety Program.
Councilmembers Olds and Worthington voted against the fee resolution.
Sprint Wireless Antennae
The council heard testimony from residents opposed to, and Sprint representatives in favor of, the phone company’s plans to place three cellular telephone antennae on the roof of a building at Shattuck Avenue and Cedar Street. Written argument for sides took up nearly half of the thick Council agenda background packet this week. The public hearing, which was postponed once last June, will be reopened again Oct. 21 to allow the submission of an evaluation by CSI Telecommunications of San Francisco, an independent engineering firm.
Middle East Death Resolution
The council sidestepped a second straight week of foreign policy squabbling when Councilmembers Hawley and Olds withdrew their resolution calling for a federal inquiry into the deaths of all Americans in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the last three years.
A deeply divided Council—in front of an equally divided audience—last week killed the Hawley-Olds measure on a 4-4 vote while passing on a 5-4 vote the Peace and Justice Commission-recommended measure supporting an investigation into the death of American peace worker Rachel Corrie, who was run over by a bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier while she was blocking the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The Hawley-Olds measure would have expanded that inquiry to include Americans killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.
After the meeting, Hawley said the expanded resolution was pulled “because we didn’t have the votes, and because we really need to get away from these foreign policy debates and get back to matters that really have some effect on the citizens of Berkeley.”
There was question as to how the defeated Hawley-Olds measure got back on the council agenda in the first place. Council rules allow for reconsideration of a defeated measure, but the council must vote on a motion to reconsider. There was considerable confusion at the end of the vote on the Hawley-Olds measure, but a videotape of the Sept. 9 Council meeting appears to show Mayor Bates placing the matter over to the Sept. 16 agenda “without objection” over the objections of a number of Council members.
In other action, Council adopted close to a million dollars in one-time savings and close to a half-million in recurring cuts to make up for a $1.43 million shortfall in the Fiscal Year 2004 budget caused by shortfalls in expected state revenues.
On first reading, Council passed two ordinances that will temporarily legalize 12 bed and breakfast establishments currently operating in residential neighborhoods contrary to Berkeley’s zoning laws. No complaints against the establishments had been received from local residents, and their illegal status was only discovered by staff researching revenues from the transient occupancy tax.
The new ordinance allows the bed and breakfast establishments to continue operation, but only by the present owners. Council gave Planning Commission staff six months to come up with recommendations for amendments to the zoning ordinance that would allow the inns to apply for permanent licenses, which could then be sold to new owners.
The council passed a resolution by Councilmember Dona Spring to host events honoring the 25th anniversary of Kent Nagano as conductor of the Berkeley Symphony. The measure permits the hanging of street banners in connection with the anniversary, required after an embarrassed Council discovered earlier this week that its strict banner ordinance wouldn’t have allowed the Nagano banners. Staff is currently looking into similar ordinances in other California cities, and Council may consider amending its banner ordinance later this term.
Council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 14, with both a 5 p.m. public working session on budget and ballot measure issues and a 7 p.m. regular session.