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Capacity Crowd Fills Chambers as Council Considers Owls, Sewers, Gaia

Friday April 21, 2006

Issues on Tuesday night’s City Council calendar brought an overcapacity crowd—and a handful of police officers to enforce fire rules and keep anyone without a seat out of the council chambers. 

Berkeleyans had come to hear discussions on items as diverse as sewer fees, closing Derby Street, funding a wheelchair ramp at a student co-op and adopting the barn owl as the city bird. 

More than 100 had signed up to speak, placing speaker cards into a lottery, hoping they’d be chosen to address the council. Only 10 were picked, in accordance with council rules that limit public comment to 30 minutes. 


Library staff grievance 

On behalf of library workers, Service Employees International Union Local 535 brought a letter expressing a vote of no confidence in the library director. 

“It is an unacceptable irony that the management of the Berkeley Public Library would ignore the American Library Association policy on workplace speech and seek to silence and harass workers in an organization whose mission is to foster the free flow of ideas and information in our community,” said library worker and union representative Andrea Segall, reading the union statement to the council. 

The tenure of the library director was not before the council, however, as the Library Board of Trustees oversees the library director and staff. 


Sweat-free law 

Russell Kilday-Hicks, vice chair of the labor commission, spoke in support of a resolution asking the council to write a “sweat-free” ordinance that would prohibit the city from purchasing goods made in sweatshops, made by children or made by prison labor. 

“It’s time to step up to our beliefs,” he said.  

While his name was not drawn, former state Sen. Tom Hayden was spotted in the council chambers and invited to speak. A leader in the coalition promoting anti-sweatshop legislation around the country, Hayden pointed to the students in their baseball uniforms who had come to lobby the council for a regulation-size baseball field. Hayden told the young people that the apparel was likely made “by people their own age in sweat shops in Bangladesh” or elsewhere. 

The council passed the anti-sweatshop resolution on the consent calendar, unanimously and without discussion. Staff will write the ordinance, which the council will be asked to approve at a later date. 


Gaia Building, barn owls, sewers and parking 

An item looking into cultural uses at Patrick Kennedy’s Gaia Building, for which the developer was allowed to build two extra stories, will be discussed next week in closed session because Kennedy has threatened a lawsuit on the issue. 

No one opposed Councilmember Betty Olds when she endorsed the tyto alba, otherwise known as a barn owl, as Berkeley’s official bird. 

“A mother who can get 13 rats a night to feed her babies—how can anyone have anything against it?” she asked. 

Olds also had something to say on the sewers issue. The proposed ordinance was very misunderstood, she said, adding, “I don’t know why people are so upset about that—to me, it’s more important than a lot of other things.”  

At issue was a $150 sewer certificate fee, to be obtained by homeowners at the time a house is sold or $100,000 of work is done. The homeowner hires a plumber to video the private sewer lateral—the part of the sewer connecting a home and extending to the public sewer lateral near the property line. 

Then the homeowner takes the video to the Public Works Department where the film is inspected to make sure the sewer is intact; sometimes an inspector will examine the sewer on site. If there are problems, which is likely when a sewer lateral is 20 years old or more, the homeowner must have it repaired or replaced. The ordinance was passed with all councilmembers voting approval except Councilmember Kriss Worthington who opposed the fee. 

Permit parking keeps all-day parkers out of neighborhoods that request the permits. New permit parking areas approved by the council on Tuesday night were Hearst Avenue between Acton and Short streets on the north side of the street and Wheeler Avenue between Ashby Avenue and Prince Street. 


Block grants 

More than a dozen people came to a public hearing scheduled to examine the $4 million in federal money dedicated to low-income persons, known as Community Development Block Grants. 

The long list of funded projects included foster care, home rehabilitation, disabled services and more. But most of the people who spoke were at the meeting because the list did not include full funding for a $45,000 ramp needed to make the Hillegass-Parker House, part of the University Students’ Cooperative Association, accessible for disabled people. Staff said they thought they could find funding for the ramp and also for a roof for the James Kinney recreation center, which was also left off the list of fully-funded projects. The council will be asked to approve the CDBG expenditures next week.