Mayor Tom Bates praised the city’s role in protecting the environment and the economic growth in many of Berkeley’s shopping districts, but spent most of his State of the City address Tuesday evening setting the stage for the future:
Berkeley will become a town where “green” building is a must, he said, a place where research and development corporations can locate more easily on properties now restricted to manufacturing; where people with inappropriate street behavior are offered services, but whose actions are also restricted by police; where innovative businesses such as those researching nanotechnology and stem-cells are welcomed; where the university is condemned when necessary, but honored for its good works, such as its innovative approach to the public-private partnership proposed for UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories with BP (formerly British Petroleum).
With every seat in the council chambers filled for the annual speech—which will be repeated with modifications for the Chamber of Commerce on March 1—and, despite a makeshift sound system rushed in at the last minute to substitute for the regular system, which wasn’t working, the speech began with only a 10-minute delay.
Cheers for Brower Center
The mostly silent audience broke into cheers when the mayor raised the issue of the Brower Center/Oxford Plaza project, a two-pronged development proposed for the city-owned parking lot at 2200 Oxford St., slated to include office space for environmental organizations and large apartments for low-income families.
“There are a few people out there right now spreading misinformation in an effort to kill this project,” he said. “I urge you not to sign the referendum.”
Bates, a former 20-year assemblymember, underscored the need for regional planning in economic development, crime fighting and ending chronic homelessness. “No city can do it alone,” he said.
Praise for BP-University Liaison
While he promised to be tough on the university when necessary—the city is trying to stop UC Berkeley from building a sports training facility on an earthquake fissure next to Memorial Stadium—he promised the city would continue to work in partnership with the university on other projects and praised the UC Berkeley-LBNL-BP deal to research biofuels announced two weeks ago. (While many faculty members support the partnership, some have told the Daily Planet they fear its potential to interfere with academic freedom and the possibility that it would open the door to university support for genetically-altered plants such as corn and grasses for use as biofuels.)
“We are poised to be an international center for the development of new environmental technologies,” he said. “That opportunity grew with the award of a $500 million biofuels research center to UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab two weeks ago.” [The University of Illinois is expected to get a fifth of that sum.]
West Berkeley Zoning May Change
Bates further pointed to Berkeley’s role in inviting stem cell and nanoscience research to the city: “We need to make it easier for these new businesses to open and expand in Berkeley,” he said.
In fact the mayor was advocating a radical change in West Berkeley zoning. “Right now, a company doing research in new alternative energies or fuels could not locate in much of West Berkeley without major delays because our current zoning does not permit them,” he said. “As the economy shifts, we have to adjust the rules.”
That proposal is likely to be met with scrutiny by some West Oakland businesses, said Mary Lou Van Deventer of West Berkeley’s Urban Ore. Speaking to the Planet after the speech, Deventer pointed out that the area had been set aside for manufacturing and the good jobs that accompany it.
Jesse Arreguin, zoning board commissioner, shared Deventer’s concerns. The mayor’s plan could “increase gentrification and drive up rents,” he said.
Outsiders Fuel Arts Growth
Bates told the audience that he sees the arts as an economic boon, bringing outside money into the city. “The vast majority of people attending Berkeley arts events come from out of town, which also makes it clear that we must think regionally how we grow,” he said, proposing that a portion of the city’s 12-percent hotel tax be earmarked to support arts organizations.
To support small businesses, Bates promised a shop-local campaign and his advocacy for a change in zoning laws to make it easier for a business of one type to be replaced by one of another type. This change is in the process of being adopted in the Telegraph Avenue area.
Looking out for young people, Bates noted that last year the city had filled just 120 slots for summer employment out of 400 applicants. There need to be 400 jobs available, he said.
Homeless Need Services and Police Intervention
Addressing chronic homelessness—there are some 530 people who have been homeless for more than a year in Berkeley—Bates promised: “Funding for homeless services will not be cut.”
He also said he would address the disturbance created by people exhibiting inappropriate behavior on city streets. Bates called for more mental health programs and praised the countywide detox center slated to open next summer in San Leandro.
“We need to set community standards for street behavior and provide our mental health and social service, and police with the tools they need to improve the climate on our commercial streets,” he said.
Bates aide Julie Sinai said details are not available on the plan, as the mayor continues to confer with the city attorney on the question. (During the mayoral race, Bates said he would support anti-sleeping and lying ordinances.)
Plans Will Attack Greenhouse Gases
Bates is probably best known for his consistent stance on environmental protection. In his speech, he called climate change the city’s “greatest challenge” and, although Measure G, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions measure passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, was advisory, he said he is “going to act like it was legally binding.”
Berkeley emissions come from transportation at 45 percent, commercial buildings at 29 percent and residences at 26 percent, Bates said, noting that the city will contract with a nonprofit corporation, Sustainable Berkeley, to write a local plan to diminish greenhouse gasses. The city council will vote Feb. 27 on whether to give $100,000 to Sustainable Berkeley for that effort.
The plan is likely to include expanding car-sharing programs, “green” requirements for new construction, residential efficiency requirements and city funds devoted to solar energy, he said.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington noted with regret that last year the mayor spoke about passing a city sunshine ordinance, but did not mention it in this year’s State of the City address. Sunshine ordinances extend the state’s open meeting laws. A draft sunshine ordinance will be discussed at the council’s Feb. 27 meeting.
“I’m counting on his strong support for a strong sunshine ordinance,” Worthington said.