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Council Declines to Save Drayage Amid Late-Night Confusion By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 24, 2005

The clock appeared to run out on the City Council last night. But the weary lawmakers, none of whom will ever be confused with night owls, refused to adjourn until most of their business was settled. 

Under council rules the session should have ended at 11:50 p.m. when no councilmember asked for the meeting to be extended. But at 11:51 p.m. Mayor Tom Bates insisted that the meeting continue and, thanks to some questionable time keeping by the city clerk, he got his wish. 

With new life the council all but sealed the fate of 11 tenants refusing to leave their homes at an illegal West Berkeley warehouse. Councilmembers narrowly defeated a proposal requesting the city to hold a pubic hearing before issuing permits to demolish the living units. 

Berkeley issued the demolition permits Thursday, giving landlord Lawrence White a green light to proceed with 60-day eviction notices. As a gesture to the tenants, the council voted to consider giving them a portion of the $145,000 in fines the city has charged the building owner. 

Then, after midnight, the council by a bare majority voted to reduce sewer fees for UC Berkeley as called for under a recent agreement that settled a city lawsuit against the university.  

The only casualty of the late hour was a proposal from Mayor Bates and Councilmember Kriss Worthington to require that future settlement agreements, like the one with UC, be available for public scrutiny before the council acts on them. 

Despite the mayor’s push for a vote, councilmembers at 12:14 a.m. requested more time to consider the proposal, which will return on their agenda next week. 

The late night debates were the product of a nearly three-hour public hearing. With the council set to approve a budget next week, Tuesday’s meeting was the last chance for community agencies and interest groups to protest scheduled cuts as the city works to close an $8.9 million deficit. 

When the hearing ended, Mayor Bates pledged to retool his budget proposal for allocating the roughly $700,000 the city now has available to fund programs slated for cuts. A final vote is scheduled for next week. 

Bates’ current plan calls for spending $267,974 in July and the remainder of the money in December on the condition that tax revenues from property transfers remain strong.  

The Berkeley Animal Shelter seemed to make the most persuasive case among councilmembers for receiving some of the extra revenue. Threatened with the loss of an animal control officer or the shelter’s volunteer coordinator, a parade of shelter supporters defended the need for both positions and at times disagreed over which job was more vital. 

“This is like which child do you kill,” said Judy Brock, who runs a Berkeley animal rescue group. “It’s amazing to see all these animal lovers here infighting.” 

The council appeared unwilling to slash either position. Joining Councilmembers Dona Spring and Betty Olds, the two lawmakers who have traditionally championed animal welfare issues, Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Worthington said they would also vote against any cuts to the shelter. 

Other community organizations pleaded for reduced cuts. RISE, a 30-year-old teen mentor and academic support program for local high school students is facing a $20,000 cut, which could cost them a staff member, said Adriana Betti, the group’s executive director. 

Yolanda Gibson told the council that her daughter’s SAT score jumped 260 points after attending a RISE test prep course. “She’s going to a four-year college this fall and we owe it all to RISE,” she said. 

Several acupuncturists also urged the council not to cut a program that provides free acupuncture and social services to substance abusers. 

“The treatment is designed to reduce dependence for drugs,” said Jane Weinapple, an acupuncturist with the program now it its tenth year.  

“If you’ve never had it you should try it,” Langston Hazard, a client, told the council.  

The city is threatening to cut the program $57,000— approximately 21 percent. The cut would force the organization to lay off a case worker and possibly close its doors two days the week, said Executive Director Hope McDonald. 

Several library workers and residents urged the council not to approve a 4.8 percent increase to the library tax next week unless the library reverses course on using controversial radio devices to track books. 

Also members of Berkeley BudgetWatch and Friends of the Fire Department criticized the proposed budget and called on council to use extra money to restore fire department services. 

After the public hearing, the Drayage took center stage as the clock ticked away.  

Although City Manager Phil Kamlarz told the council that it lacked the authority to force a public hearing on the permits, and that he would issue them this week no matter what their vote was, the council nevertheless debated the issue. 

Drayage owner Lawrence White needs the permits to have “good cause” to evict the tenants from the building. He is facing daily fines of $2,500 for not evacuating the building after a snap fire inspection turned up over 200 code violations. The residents meanwhile had insisted that city zoning law entitles them to a public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board before they are evicted from their homes.  

The hearing would also have given them more time and leverage to pressure White to sell the building to the Northern California Land Trust, which has pledged to give the tenants the right to reoccupy their homes after they are brought up to code. 

But as the council wound down its debate, it neglected to keep track of the time.  

Council meetings are set to adjourn at 11 p.m. unless councilmembers agree to extend it. The council had voted to extend to 11:50 p.m., but right as the vote was about to take place, the clock struck 11:51. 

“Motion to extend the meeting,” Mayor Bates said. 

“The meeting ended at 11:50,” Councilmember Worthington replied. 

“We just made it by my watch,” said Bates, calling for the meeting to be extended until midnight. 

“I do not vote yes when the meeting already ended,” Worthington said. 

City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque intervened, “Unfortunately, I think the meeting is adjourned by operation of law.” 

“We’ve got to stay,” Bates replied. “If anyone wants to sue us over this they can.” 

City Clerk Sara Cox, whose watch was apparently running a minute slower than the two clocks in the chambers, entered the fray. “It was 11:50,” she said.  

“If the city clerk says it’s 11:50, I defer to the clerk,” Albuquerque said. 

Now free to vote on the Drayage, the council voted 5-4 (Bates, Capitelli, Olds, Wozniak no) to reject the city manager’s position that the permits did not require a public hearing.  

But the council also failed to muster a majority to ask the city to require a hearing, opening the door for the city to issue a demolition permit (Spring, Anderson and Moore supported the proposal, while Worthington and Maio abstained).  

The council then switched gears to sewer fees. The approval seemed to be a foregone conclusion since the council voted 6-3 last month to accept a deal with UC that reduced the city’s claim to sewer fees from the university from $2.1 million to $200,000. 

But Councilmember Olds questioned why they city had to lower the fees, Councilmember Max Anderson, who had voted to approve the full settlement agreement, now withdrew his support for the fee reduction, and Councilmember Spring demanded legal rationale for charging UC less money. 

“Come on,” Bates said. “We voted 6-3 to do this. You may not all agree, but we did.” A call of the roll produced only four votes in favor of lowering the fees. All eyes turned to Councilmember Moore, who had passed on his first opportunity to vote. 

“Sure, I’ll vote yes,” he said. The fee decrease for UC Berkeley passed 5-3-1 (Olds, Spring Worthington, no Anderson, abstain). 

Finally Bates came to a proposal that he believed would guarantee that future lawsuit settlements, unlike the recent settlement with UC, would go before the public for review and comment before the council voted. 

When councilmembers called for holding over the proposal for next week’s meeting, Bates initially declined. “I’d like to get rid of it please,” he said. 

“But I’m not sure I’ll vote for it,” said Councilmember Capitelli, prompting Bates to back down on a quick vote. 

“Well I may have to find votes elsewhere,” Bates replied. “The meeting is adjourned.”›