The City Council Tuesday opted to postpone a vote to reduce traffic lanes on lower Marin Avenue until after residents get a second chance to chime in.
The push to delay the vote until after a public hearing on Jan. 18 came from North Berkeley Councilmembers Betty Olds, Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio, who were inundated with dozens of e-mails from opponents to the plan.
If adopted, the city would re-stripe four blocks of Marin Avenue—one of North Berkeley’s most heavily traveled east-west traffic corridors—removing two automobile lanes and replacing them with two bike lanes and a center turning lane. The plan, which would go into effect for a one-year trial period, would reduce average speeds from 31 mph to 26 mph and improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, according to a report from transportation consultants Fehr & Pierce.
In addition to delaying the vote, the council requested that city staff include before and after traffic counts on potentially impacted streets so the city could evaluate the project.
The council must make a final decision on the plan by the first week of February in order for the city to be competitive for a grant application, said Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier. The re-striping project will cost $30,000, he said.
Besides concerns that the plan would lengthen rush hour commute times and push traffic on to side streets, opponents have argued that they weren’t aware of the proposal when it went to a public hearing before the Transportation Commission in October.
“No one on the south side of Sonoma Avenue received a notice,” said Deborah Moore, who added that cars already speed down Sonoma.
No such opposition emerged in Albany, which last month approved the redesign for its share of Marin Avenue from Stannage Avenue to Tulare Avenue—the main access road for two city elementary schools.
Berkeley’s participation in the plan would push the redesign four blocks east to The Alameda and avoid creating a merge at Tulare, which several members of the council feared could cause as much congestion as reducing lanes.
“If we don’t do this we’re going to stack up cars anyway,” said Mayor Tom Bates.
Also Tuesday, the council gave the final go-ahead for Jeremy’s, a popular College Avenue clothing store, to expand its shop into a storefront occupied by a neighboring real estate business. Several Elmwood area merchants and residents fought the expansion sought by Jeremy Kidson, who owns both the clothing store and the building at 2963 College Ave., citing that the shopping district’s quota for apparel retailers was full.
The matter was appealed to the council, after the Zoning Adjustment Board last August voted 5-3 for Kidson, finding that the expansion did not add an additional clothing retailer and thus didn’t violate the quota system.
The quota rules, which were designed to preserve retail diversity serving local residents, have been haphazardly enforced since they were implemented 23 years ago. Kidson, in fact, was allowed to violate the rules when he first opened his store in 1990.
Speaking on behalf of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, Dean Metzger asked the council to delay a vote and set a new public hearing on the appeal.
“Neighborhood groups want to have input on what is going on with the quota system,” he said.
Metzger was backed by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the lone dissenter, who warned that by refusing to grant the public hearing, the council would perpetuate the perception that the city didn’t fairly enforce its laws.
Instead, the council, not wanting to hamstring a successful store on College Avenue, chose to deny the appeal and ask the Planning Commission to review the city’s quota regulations for commercial districts.
By a unanimous vote, the council approved changes to the city’s taxi scrip program, which offers taxi vouchers for elderly and disabled residents. To reduce staff overhead, which now consumes 36 percent of the $453,000 budget, the city will no longer sell taxi scrip or other paratransit tickets. The move is expected to save $36,000 in reduced staff time.
Under the new plan, the city will distribute free scrip to eligible customers, who are over 70 and earn under 30 percent of the Bay Area’s Average Median Income (AMI). Current customers who earn under 50 percent of AMI will be grandfathered into the program.
In an amendment proposed by Councilmember Dona Spring, the city will also distribute fee vouchers for the county-run East Bay Paratransit vans. Berkeley had been selling subsidized tickets along with the taxi scrip.
The council also voted unanimously to expand the city’s Voluntary Time Off Program. Non-essential city services will be closed Friday, Jan. 14, Thursday, Feb. 10, Friday Mar. 25, Monday, Mar. 28, Friday, May 27.
Voluntary time off (VTO) is designed to save money for the city which faces a $7.5 million budget shortfall and cut down on forced vacation payouts, which last year cost the city approximately $500,000.
The first VTO day, Nov. 12, resulted in the use of $118,000 in vacation leave and a direct cash savings of $22,000 from workers who took the day off without pay, according to City Manager Phil Kamlarz.
The next VTO days are Dec. 27 through 31.