Council Questions Chamber Membership, UC Settlement

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday December 12, 2006

Councilmember Dona Spring doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bills for membership in organizations that take part in local electoral politics. A resolution on tonight’s (Tuesday) agenda targets by name both the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber’s Political Action Committee.  

“It’s important that public money not go to fund organizations that are political, electoral organizations,” Spring said in a phone interview Monday. Taxpayer money should not fund groups that “try to influence who has power in your own town,” she added. 

The council will also be looking at the intent of the city-university settlement agreement, the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District, cultural uses at the Gaia Building and more. The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Way. 


City memberships questioned 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz said Monday his office is looking at the city’s organizational affiliations in addition to the Berkeley Chamber, such as the League of Women Voters and the California and National League of Cities, to determine whether they would fall under Spring’s resolution.  

For the November election, the local Chamber of Commerce endorsed incumbents Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak and unsuccessful challengers Raudel Wilson, who ran against Spring, and George Beier, who ran against District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The Chamber also endorsed against Measure J.  

The Chamber Political Action Committee spent about $100,000 to influence the local election: it supported the defeat of Measure J, supported Mayor Tom Bates and shored up unsuccessful attempts to unseat Spring and Worthington. Spring pointed out that while the PAC is nominally separate from the Chamber, to which the city belongs, the PAC uses the same address, the same office equipment and shares the Chamber’s mailing list for fundraising activities. 

Spring noted that the city would certainly not join organizations such as the Berkeley Democratic Club or Berkeley Citizens Action, both of which work for candidates and measures the groups endorse. 

Because the League of Women Voters sometimes does take positions on local ballot measures, membership in the organization might not be appropriate, Spring said. Berkeley, on the other hand, can influence the League of Cities with its vote. And the League of Cities does not support local candidates or issues, she said. 

On Nov. 14 the Richmond City Council voted to drop its membership in the Richmond Chamber of Commerce “to avoid potential civil or criminal penalties for using public resources to pay for memberships in organizations that participate in local political activities,” according to Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt. 


Settling the settlement agreement 

A resolution introduced by City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque counters an interpretation of the UC Settlement Agreement—the July 2005 agreement between the city and UC Berkeley in which the city withdrew its lawsuit against the university’s Long Range Development Plan—that postulates that the city has given away its decision-making power downtown by signing on to the agreement. 

“…it has been suggested that the settlement agreement improperly delegates the city’s home rule authority to the university and grants the university a ‘veto’ over the city’s planning process with respect to the downtown,” Albuquerque writes. 

A lawsuit filed by four Berkeley residents—Carl Friberg, Jim Sharp, Dean Metzger and Anne Wagley (Daily Planet calendar editor)—contends that the city has lost control over downtown development.  

“The settlement says that the downtown area plan must be approved by both the regents and the city,” said Stephan Volker, attorney for the plaintiffs. “And the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) must be approved by both the city and the regents.” 

That means that the city will not be able to move ahead with downtown plans until the Regents approve the plans, Volker said.  


Solano Ave. BID 

By last week’s council meeting, 80 business people who pay collectively $14,305 to the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District had protested the existence of the three-year-old district. To automatically disband the district, the protesters’ assessments must reach more than 50 percent of the total $35,000 assessment.  

The council will continue a public hearing on the BID tonight. Business people in the district can submit their letters of protest or protest orally up until the closure of tonight’s public hearing. 

In other council business, the council will be asked:  

• to loan an additional $2.5 million for the Oxford Plaza project, 

• to decide what the appropriate cultural uses are for the Gaia Building on Allston Way.  

Developer Patrick Kennedy was allowed to build the project two stories higher than it could have been otherwise in exchange for a promise of cultural opportunities,  

but the council has yet to determine what the uses are and how much time they  

must be provided at the site. In closed  

session on Monday, the council was to discuss a lawsuit threatened by Kennedy. 

• to approve the second reading of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance 

• to approve a resolution by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli asking the city manager to report on the city’s efforts to communicate its position on UC Berkeley’s planned development at and around Memorial Stadium. 

• to approve the appropriation of $100,000 per month for six months for the fire department to provide full staffing at all the firehouses at all times. 

• to hear an appeal of a zoning board decision to allow a duplex at 2224 Roosevelt Ave. to be converted to a single-family home and a new one-bedroom unit to be constructed on the property. 

• To approve a hike in parking fees at the new “pay-and-display” meters to $1 per hour effective March 5.  


Section 8 Rents May Rise  

The Berkeley Housing Authority will meet at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, before the 7 p.m. City Council meeting. 

Among the questions the BHA will discuss is a possible rent hike for the city’s Section 8 renters—low income people whose rent is federally subsidized. They may have to pay out of pocket beginning in March if they wish to keep their units in Berkeley, according to a report written by Tia Ingram, Berkeley Housing Authority manager.  

Generally, section 8 renters pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and landlords get market rates for the units they rent to people in the program. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in establishing what they call “fair market rents” for the area, does not take Berkeley’s high rents into consideration.  

If the government allocation is not adjusted, about 750 tenants will be affected, with people living in studios paying an increase of up to $35, tenants in one-bedroom units paying $45 more, tenants in two-bedroom units paying an additional $97 and tenants in three-bedroom units paying $187 more. Many Section 8 renters are disabled or elderly and live on fixed incomes. 

The Housing Authority is working with HUD to get Berkeley’s higher rents recognized and subsidized, but to date that hasn’t happened.