The long-delayed saga of the North Berkeley Sprint cellphone facility comes to a definite close at tonight’s (Tuesday, Feb. 17) regular 7 p.m. city council meeting—that is, unless the council rules against Sprint and the cellphone company sues the city. In addition, the city council will take on several long-range zoning and development issues tonight.
Meanwhile, on Thursday night, Feb. 19, the public will get its chance to comment on the proposed 18-mile Berkeley-to-San Leandro rapid-bus line when the Transportation Commission holds a 7 p.m. public hearing on the issue at the North Berkeley Senior Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Hearst Avenue. AC Transit has proposed an ambitious plan to carve out bus-only lanes in the middle of several blocks along Telegraph and Shattuck avenues, including the UC and downtown Berkeley areas, to accommodate rapid buses and light-rail-like bus stops.
And on Monday night, Feb. 23, the Parks and Recreation Commission will hear public comment on a revised city recreation fee schedule. The public hearing will be held at 7:15 p.m., also at the North Berkeley Senior Center.
On the cellphone issue before the city council, Sprint first requested back in 2002 a city permit to build a three-rooftop-antennae and accompanying basement-equipment facility in a mixed-commercial use building at 1600 Shattuck Ave. on the corner of Cedar Street in order to eliminate what the company calls “dead spots” in its North Berkeley cellular coverage. The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approved the permit in early 2003, but it has been held up in the city council since that time by an appeal by neighbors concerned about the possible adverse health effects of radiation from the proposed antennae. Much of the year’s delay since then has come while the council awaited a report from an independent wireless communications expert. Following a public hearing last month on the issue, Sprint officials twice informed a representative of the city attorney’s office that the company would sue if the facility is not approved.
If the city council fails to vote on the matter by tonight’s meeting, ZAB’s approval of the facility automatically goes into effect.
The council gets its first crack tonight at beginning the implementation of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Permitting and Development. Mayor Tom Bates set up the 14-member task force a year ago with the mandate to “investigate options for improving and rationalizing the permitting process” in the City of Berkeley. Bates called that process “cumbersome, unclear, lengthy and often unfair to all those involved.” After 18 meetings over an eight month period, the task force last December issued a list of recommended changes to the city’s planning process. Director of Planning and Development Dan Marks has issued a shorter list of the task force recommendations which Marks believes should be worked on this year, ranging from changes in public notification of development projects to more detailed alterations to the city’s design application and review procedures.
The council will take its first step toward fine-tuning the city’s zoning for the University Avenue area to bring it into compliance with the University Avenue Strategic Plan. While the plan calls for updated setback and height requirements for building in the University Avenue area, developers are still able to apply for permits under the requirements of the existing zoning code. City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque and Planning Director Marks had initially been asked by the city council to prepare a city ordinance to implement a temporary, 45-day halt on all new University Avenue permits while the zoning code was being revised. But last week Albuquerque and Marks recommended holding off on such an “urgency moratorium” because, as stated in Marks’ written report, “while the city can adopt a 45-day moratorium, [under state law] extension of that moratorium beyond 45 days would require findings that are almost impossible to make.” Marks added that because there are no pending “incomplete” development applications, “there is no urgency in adopting a moratorium at this time.”
Also in connection with the University Avenue area, the city council will look at possible revision of the methods by which city staff calculates density while granting new building permits. Such a recalculation can have a significant impact both on which permits are adopted and on the effects on neighborhoods in such areas as traffic and parking by new developments going up.
At its 5 p.m. continuing budget-balancing working session, the council will concentrate on issues of new sources of raising revenue. On the agenda will be a report on the status of “escaped taxes and assessments,” an issue which generated considerable controversy last year when it was discovered that several large, new developments in the city had not been assessed their share of Berkeley taxes. The city council will also hear word on “options for increased revenues from exempt and nonprofit agencies and institutions.” This is an area that may also provoke controversy, as it involves seeking money from both the powerful (and generally tax-exempt) University of California as well as from the city’s many popular, small foundations and nonprofit service organizations.