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Council Takes on Landmarks Law, Instant Runoff Voting By JUDITH SCHERR

Tuesday March 07, 2006

The City Council will begin its session tonight (Tuesday) at 5 p.m. with a workshop looking at what it might mean for Berkeley to join other cities to replace PG&E with a locally owned energy supplier. 

After a rally for Instant Runoff Voting outside City Hall scheduled for 6:30 p.m., the council will hold its action meeting at 7 p.m., addressing a new landmarks law, instant runoff voting, sewers and more. 

Although preservationists say Mayor Tom Bates’ latest iteration of his proposal to change the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance—under review for several years—continues to present problems, the mayor is pushing forward. 

While the mayor’s new version would retain the controversial “structure of merit” category for historic buildings, he also calls for buildings in the category to meet the same criteria of structural “integrity” required of other landmarks. 

The mayor’s proposal still includes the creation of a city historic preservation officer, a position he said he would be withdrawing after the council’s earlier workshop on the ordinance on Feb. 14. 

Of the two competing ordinances—one prepared by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the other by the Planning Commission—the mayor’s proposal hews more closely to the Planning Commission version, which is strongly backed by developers, who claim the existing law delays their projects. 

Whatever emerges from the council meeting will go to the staff for drafting, and the proposal will then be circulated back to the commissions for comments, followed by a public hearing on the ordinance July 11. 



When Berkeley voters approved Instant Runoff Voting two years ago, details of its implementation were not spelled out. Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has placed a resolution on the council agenda calling for “full preference voting.” 

That is, voters rank their preference for every candidate running. In the San Francisco elections which used instant runoff voting, voters were able to rank only their first three choices. Wozniak argues that limiting the vote to ranking the first three candidates deprives some voters of having their votes counted.  

Jesse Townley and other IRV activists have called for a pro-IRV rally on the steps of City Hall a half-hour before the council meeting. 

Townley said Wozniak’s resolution would delay IRV in Berkeley. 

“While the rhetoric of Councilmember Wozniak’s alternate proposal sounds positive, it actually alters what the voters passed and what the (Alameda County) Registrar and the vendor (are) planning to provide,” Townley wrote to Councilmember Dona Spring. 



A public hearing will address costs to property owners of inspecting the city’s sewer laterals. These are the smaller sewers that connect private property to the city sewer that runs down the middle of the streets. 

Repair of the laterals is necessary to prevent storm runoff from getting into the city’s sanitary sewer system, resulting in higher treatment costs and claims for damages due to sewer blockages and overflow, according to a staff report. 

If the city adopts the proposed resolution, laterals will be inspected when homes are sold or remodeled. Certificates for the inspections will cost $185; repairs are estimated at $3,000 to $4,500. 


Lab groundwater 

The Lawrence Berkeley Labs and the city agree that contaminated groundwater and soil at the labs must be cleaned up. At issue, however, is the degree to which cleanup must be carried out. 

City staff say the groundwater can be cleaned up to drinking water standards, but scientists at the lab argue that it is not technically feasible. If the council approves an item on the consent calendar, where councilmembers vote on questions without discussion, the city manager will write letters to the lab, the president of the University of California, which operates the lab for the Department of Energy, the Department of Energy and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to ask for clarification regarding the groundwater cleanup. 


Energy choice 

Before the council meeting, the city will hold a 5 p.m. workshop on “Community Choice Aggregation.” 

Four years ago, the state Legislature passed a bill permitting cities and counties to get together to provide electricity to constituents; the possible risks and benefits will be discussed at the workshop.  

Advocates say that community choice opens the door for better use of renewable resources such as solar and wind energy, but others say aggregation can be costly. Councilmembers will vote at the meeting whether to devote further resources to the study of local Community Choice Aggregation.