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City Council Approves Ashby BART Application By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 16, 2005

Budget Changes, Insurance Hikes Also OK’d  


City councilmembers tweaked the budget Tuesday, approved a grant application to plan a transit village at the Ashby BART station and handed off a controversial issue to the planning commission. 

Councilmember Dona Spring abstained when her colleagues voted to endorse a grant application to plan a “transit village” for the site of the western parking lot of the Ashby BART Station. 

Project Director Ed Church partially allayed some concerns of neighbors who worried because the grant application and accompanying paperwork specified a project with a minimum of 300 dwelling units. 

“We learned the development area is much smaller that we thought,” he said, “which means that the number will be reduced. Three hundred is probably more the maximum than the minimum.” 

Church said that the planning process grant would fund the proposal which developers would bid on. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that while he strongly supported new housing, the proposal raised some red flags. 

“If it’s done in the wrong way, it could be a disaster,” he said. With as many as 1,000 occupants, the project would also bring many more cars into the neighborhood, he said. 

Spring said she withheld her vote because she believed that instead of genuinely affordable workforce housing, the eventual building that would be constructed at the site will belong to a for-profit developer interested in charging market-rate rents—a concern shared by Worthington. 

Spring praised her council colleague Max Anderson, who is sponsoring the project, and added that the council has a five-vote majority that she believes will vote for any major for-profit development that adds new housing to the city. 

The item was originally included in the consent calendar but was pulled by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, a move Anderson endorsed because the proposal “deserves some clarification because of erroneous statements” made during the public comment period.  

Anderson said that the project area map—mandated by transit village planning statues and encompassing a large area within a quarter-mile and more radius of the parking lot—does not mean that the city has jurisdiction over the included privately owned land, nor that the city could use eminent domain powers within the area. 

The council also approved a grant application for a second project at Ashby BART, the Ed Roberts Campus which is to be built on part of the station’s eastern lot. That grant application seeks $3 million from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency Transportation for Livable Communities Capital Program. 


Budget changes 

The council approved $878,564 in new expenditures from the $1.08 million in additional revenues the city expects to receive, mostly from property-based taxes and fees. 

Spring proposed that instead of funding four new employees for the city’s Permit Services Center with surplus funds generated by that office, the city should divert half of the estimated $500,000 to fund social service programs which were cut or sharply reduced when the current budget was passed. 

“I could do that, but I might go to jail tomorrow,” said City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who said that extra revenues generated by fee-for-service programs were legally obligated to fund the programs that generated them. 

Spring said she wanted to give additional money to a variety of programs, including Habitot, the children’s museum which may be forced to leave the city because of a lack of funds, and an acupuncture program for rehabilitation clinic clients and the homeless. 

Mayor Tom Bates said that Tuesday’s action was an initial step. “We will be better able to determine” the ability to fund other programs in February, he said. 

Anderson said he supported Spring in principle, and asked that the council receive a report before the February meeting outlining the programs which had been cut so that funding could be reconsidered. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said that funding the Permit Service Center was critical, in part because it assists homeowners and small business people. But he also said shortened approval processes that would result from more staffing could generate still more revenue. 

“Sometimes I think we want to pick our developers, but if someone wants to build a $5 million building and we can shorten (the process) by a year, that means an additional $200,000 in property taxes, much of it for the city,” he said. 

Worthington agreed that the Permit Service Center fees belonged there because delays and problems with the permit process is a major source of community complaints. 

When it came time to vote on the proposed budget changes, the measure carried 6-1-1-1, with Spring voting no, Anderson abstaining and colleague Betty Olds temporarily absent. 


By-right additions  

Though a majority of councilmembers seemed ready to vote for an urgency ordinance that would end by-right additions above the ground floor, councilmembers instead decided Tuesday to hand the matter off to the Planning Commission. 

Currently, a homeowner can add a one-time addition to a home consisting of up to 500 square feet without needing a use permit from city government. 

Recent complaints to councilmembers about view- and sunlight-blocking second floor additions led the council to consider a measure that would end the by-right additions for second floors and higher and require an administrative use permit, which would notify neighbors in advance and allow appeals of staff-approved additions. 

An urgency ordinance, however, required eight council votes—which Planning Director Dan Marks said didn’t seem likely—so the council referred the issue to the Planning Commission with instructions to come back with an acceptable ordinance. 


Other items 

In other action, the council: 

• Approved a $2 increase in fees for birth and death certificates to raised an estimated $38,886 a year for the Domestic Violence Prevention fund. 

• Barred flower stands from setting up sidewalk vending carts within 300 feet of existing indoor flower shops. 

• Approved a 14.63 percent rate increase for the city’s Kaiser Foundation HMO health plan and a 12.9 percent rate increase for Health Net HMO. 

• Approved condominium tract maps for a 32-unit residential and commercial project at 1809 Shattuck Ave. and a similar 67-unit project at 1797 Shattuck. 

• Adopted on first reading an ordinance by the Citizens Humane Commission for the care of dogs kept outdoors.  

• Tabled without discussion a resolution by Spring that would have the council direct the city manager to advertise city events in locally produced newspapers.›