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Council to Examine Gaia Bonus

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday April 18, 2006

Cultural uses at the Gaia Building, sewer fees, and adopting the barn owl as the city’s official bird are just a few of the issues the City Council will address tonight (Tuesday) after its month-long spring break. 

The council will meet in special session at 5 p.m. to hear a report on health issues in Berkeley, then will meet at 6:20 p.m. as the Housing Authority—along with two community representatives—to look at the agency’s progress in remedying problems with its Housing Authority. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. 

During the public comment, library workers plan to present a petition stating the library staff’s “no confidence” in the library director. 


Gaia Building cultural use 

Councilmember Betty Olds put the thorny issue of “cultural uses” at the Gaia Building on the agenda because she said she wanted to give the council an opportunity to thoroughly understand the questions involved. Olds has asked for reports from the planning staff and city attorney to clarify the controversy. 

Further complicating the question, Gaia owner Patrick Ken-nedy has threatened a lawsuit against the city, according to a letter from his attorney, included in the council packet.  

When Kennedy planned the building at 2116 Allston Way, the city gave him permission to build two stories above the height otherwise permitted because he promised to dedicate the ground floor and mezzanine space to cultural uses. Former school board member, singer and entrepreneur Anna de Leon opened a jazz club on the ground floor.  

Kennedy leased other space to a management company, which rents out the space for cultural and other events. These events have included boisterous parties and concerts, which de Leon says interferes with the operation of her club. “That will destroy me,” de Leon told the Daily Planet. 

The city is questioning whether Kennedy’s use of the “cultural” space for private parties and receptions is appropriate. The Zoning Adjustment Board will discuss uses of the cultural space on April 27 and the planning department told Kennedy he is not to use the cultural space until after the ZAB meets. But Kennedy says cultural uses were already defined in writing by a previous planning director and he’s ready to take the city to court over the issue. 

“Given the extreme emergency situation that these city actions have caused, we will seek immediate judicial relief if this matter is not addressed and resolved on April 18th 2006,” Kennedy’s attorney Michael Patrick Durkee of Allen Matkins Leek Gamble & Mallory LLP of San Francisco, wrote to the mayor and council on April 5. 


Sewer fees 

Another issue that may prove controversial is the introduction of fees for inspection of sewer laterals and a mandate for their repair. Many sewers on private property are old and need repair and they overwhelm the treatment facilities, due to water entering cracks and through illegal downspout connections. 

The private laterals are the sewers that run from the structure to near the property line. The city is proposing that when a property is sold or when $100,000 of work is planned (or $50,000 that involves two or more plumbing fixtures), the homeowner must obtain a sanitary sewer lateral certificate. 

The fee for the certificate is $150, which pays to spot check the sewer and review a video of the private lateral—a private plumber will produce the video. If the lateral is judged defective, the homeowner will be required to repair it.  


Reducing stolen vehicles 

Pointing to the fact that 1,300 vehicles were stolen in Berkeley in 2003, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak is proposing an anti-theft plan and he’s asking the council to look at. The city would essentially help vehicle owners buy Geographic Positioning System devices for their cars. 

“Typically, cars equipped with such systems are recovered within 24 hours of their being stolen,” Wozniak says in his report.  


Barn owl honor, sweat free ordinance and more 

Councilmembers Olds and Dona Spring are asking the council to look at adopting the barn owl as the official city bird, which they call: “a graceful glostly bird that nests in palm trees and can locate rodents by sound and catch them in the dark of night.”  

The city may be purchasing a variety of goods made by child labor or people earning less than acceptable wages or working in unacceptable conditions. And so the Peace and Justice Commission and the Labor Commission are asking the City Council to develop a “Sweatfree Berkeley Ordinance. 

Other jurisdictions have adopted them including San Francisco. 

Computers donated by Homeland Security are not spying on people in Berkeley, an informational staff report says. They are intended to share geographical data with those responding to earthquakes or other regional emergencies. 

“No information is shared between City of Berkeley and Homeland Security at any level in connection with these computers, other than data that are available to them as members of the public,” the report notes.