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Nexus Evictions, LPO Revisions, Fee Hikes on Council Agenda

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 20, 2006

As the Berkeley City Council heads down the final stretch toward its mid-July summer recess, it will face a packed agenda that will include a discussion of possible eviction of the artists from the Nexus Workshop.  

Citing a law that says if West Berkeley artist workspace is taken out of use, it must be replaced, the Civic Arts Commission is asking the City Council to step in and help delay the eviction of some 25 artists from the 2700 block of 8th Street that has served artists since 1973.  

The Berkeley Humane Society owns the property and wants to sell it. It threatened to evict the tenants June 1, but has not yet done so. 

“It’s private property,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore, who represents the area. The best the city can do is help the artists negotiate with the landlords, he said. 

“They have the right of first refusal [to purchase the property] but they don’t seem to have the resources,” he said.  

“Nexus is ... theoretically ... protected by the arts and crafts ordinance and the protective zoning that requires comparable replacement space for arts and crafts uses elsewhere in West Berkeley if those uses are removed from their existing location,” artist Bob Brokl wrote in a letter published June 9 in the Daily Planet. 

However, a staff report written by Thomas Myers, acting manager of economic development, also says the city cannot intervene. In response to the Civic Arts Commission request, Myers recommends “the council take no action regarding private disputes between a landlord and tenants.” 

The staff report concludes that it “cannot force the Berkeley Humane Society to sell the property to Nexus or any other buyer as that is the right of the owner.” 


Landmarks ordinance 

The council will also be asked to approve new “compromise” revisions to the 30-year-old Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. Copies of the draft ordinance—which staff is still reviewing—were issued around 5:30 p.m. Friday by Mayor Tom Bates’ office to those who requested the ordinance. To receive an ordinance by e-mail, call Bates’ office at 981-7100. 

When reached by the Daily Planet Sunday evening, Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Lesley Emmington had yet to study the draft revision. Emmington supports the November ballot measure that would preserve the ordinance almost as it is now written with minor updates. 

The present ordinance “embraces the diversity of the neighborhoods,” Emmington said, explaining that she fears changes will make it easier to remodel or demolish historic buildings without first having gone through a thorough public process.  

Bates’ draft ordinance tightens timelines for review of structures believed to have historic significance, something which Emmington fears might hurt citizen participation in the review process. 

If the council gives its approval to the draft ordinance, it will go back to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for more discussion and to the State Historic Preservation Office for review. Bates’ report says the ordinance will come back to the council in July for approval. 


Fee Hikes? 

The council will hold a public hearing and then vote on hiking residential sewer fees 3 percent for residential uses, 1 percent for commercial and 3.5 percent for public agencies. 

The council will also hold a public hearing and then vote on a fee increase of 8 percent for trash pickup services. 


On the Ballot? 

The City Council will vote on whether to put four proposed measures on the November ballot. (It costs the city about $10,000 for each measure it places on the ballot). The measures would: 

• increase to the parcel tax to fund the warm pool for the disabled and elderly at Berkeley High on the November ballot or fund it another way, according to the proposal by Councilmember Dona Spring. 

• allow 17-year-olds in Berkeley vote for school board members. This measure supported by the Youth Commission would be a survey, rather than a mandate, given that state law prohibits people under 18 from voting. 

• amend the Berkeley Waterfront Plan so that public and commercial recreation sports facilities can be built, thus permitting construction of the Gilman Street Playing Fields at the foot of Gilman Street within the 16 acres belonging to the East Bay Regional Parks District without going through a public hearing process. 

• ask the council to “support aggressive efforts to reduce climate changing green house gas emissions.” 


State Bill on Sweeping Citations 

From time to time the council takes positions on bills before the state legislature. Because it will increase the costs of the city’s street sweeper program, the city manager is asking the council to oppose SB 1404, which says that if an individual whose street has not been swept receives a parking citation, that person can contest it. 

“The city of Berkeley already mandates that parking enforcement officers stay at maximum one block ahead of street sweepers to ensure that if the street is not swept, no citations are issued,” a city manager’s report says. 


Other items 

The council will also hear an appeal of a May 11 Zoning Adjustments Board decision granting a permit for a carbon adsorption system to reduce odors at Pacific Steel Casting’s Plant No. 3 near Camellia and Second streets in West Berkeley. 

The installation of the filtration system is one of a number of requirements the Bay Area Air Quality Management District imposed on PSC to reduce air quality problems. L.A. Wood is appealing ZAB’s approval, alleging that the ZAB meeting was not held according to open meeting requirements and that the BAAQMD does not have the experience to choose a filtration system for this plant. 

The council will also discuss the back yard and side yard parking ordinance.