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Emissions, Commissions, Behavior, War on Council Agenda

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 13, 2007

At tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting, city staff will ask the community concerned with Pacific Steel Casting emissions to wait until a health risk assessment based on known emissions is published in mid-April to ask for further studies and hearings. 

Also on the agenda is a discussion of enforcement against disruptive street behavior, limits on serving on key city commissions, open selection of library trustees and advisory measures against using military force in Iran, against raids involving undocumented workers and supporting a lawsuit in Germany against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 


Pacific Steel Castings’ emissions 

Steven Ingraham of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs says the community does not want to wait for the health risk study, as staff has suggested. Once the study is released, it will take months more before the Bay Area Air Quality Management District takes action, he said, supporting the city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission’s recommendations: 

• testing the neighborhood for lead and other compounds; 

• convening a public hearing to show the impacts of PSC emissions on the “quality of life, health, enjoyment of property, and potential long-term health risks” for the community; and 

• enforcing existing zoning and storm water codes and developing new codes to reduce or eliminate harmful emissions. 

In operation since 1934, Pacific Steel is a foundry with three plants near Second and Camellia streets in northwest Berkeley. The plant, with some 600 union workers, makes custom-made steel castings for such items as bridge components, water system valves and medical treatment equipment.  

“We should look at the health risk assessment first,” said Nabil Al-Hadithy, the city’s toxics manager, contending that future testing would be as problematic as in the past. 

A prior sampling was “not done following appropriate methodology,” Al-Hadithy said. The results may have included, for example, lead from house paint and not from the foundry. 

Similarly Al-Hadithy said a council workshop should be convened only after the health risk assessment is out.  

As for code enforcement, Al-Hadithy said that some issues could be taken care of in-house, but that others—drafting new laws—would have to be contracted out at significant cost. 

But Ingraham says once the health risk assessment is released the community may have to wait until the air district weighs in on it.  

“I’m looking to the city for more proactive role,” he said, adding that despite new emissions controls, people living within a mile or so of the plant continue to smell the “burnt pot-handle” smell, which indicates that emissions continue to leave the plant. 


Timing of BAAQMD presentation questioned 

Also of concern is the appearance on tonight’s agenda of a presentation by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on a recent study “regarding diesel particulate impacts and port expansion.”  

“It looks like we’re being managed,” said Ingraham, explaining that he thought the BAAQMD, which oversees PSC’s emission controls, would address the PSC issue and take advantage of their time to address the council and counter some neighborhood concerns.  


Commission restrictions 

If the council approves the limits proposed for persons serving on the Zoning Adjustments Board, the Planning Commission, the Housing Advisory Commission and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, no individual will be allowed to serve on more than one of these key commissions and no person will be permitted to serve on any of these commissions for more than eight cumulative years. Term limits would be rescinded for other commissions, except the Youth Commission, where terms would be limited to four consecutive years.  

Additionally, in a paragraph included in the ordinance draft but not mentioned in the staff report, no commissioner would be allowed to serve both on a commission and on the Rent Stabilization Board, the Board of Library Trustees, the School Board or the Berkeley Housing Authority.  


Sitting on sidewalks addressed 

A proposal by Mayor Tom Bates, which, if approved, will go to various commissions before coming back to the City Council for final approval, will address disruptive street behavior, including sitting on the sidewalk. The proposal is called “Public Commons for Everyone Initiative.” 


Peace and Justice says no war in Iran, supports Truth Act, more 

As the world situation becomes increasingly volatile, the Peace and Justice Commission has come forward with a number of resolutions: 

• Opposing U.S. military intervention or use of force in Iran. 

• Supporting Rep. Barbara Lee’s Haiti Truth Act, which calls for an investigation into the removal of Haiti’s democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Feb. 29, 2004. While Aristide says the U.S. military forcibly removed him, the Bush government says he asked for their help to leave. 

• Supporting the prosecution in Germany of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Director of Intelligence George Tenet, the former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general and others “for war crimes and torture perpetrated against Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib … and in Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.”  

The city manager, however, is recommending against this resolution, saying the city does not have the resources to evaluate whether the complaint is justified or whether the city would suffer a fiscal or legal consequence. 


Library trustee selection 

The council will be asked to recommend two of their members to join a committee that consists of two members of the Board of Library Trustees, to devise a process of trustee selection that is “more open and transparent.” Currently the trustees self-select new members when one member leaves, with the approval of the City Council. 


Condemning immigrant raids 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli is calling on the city to condemn the current Homeland Security raids in which people without proper identification are sent to their home countries, sometimes picked up and jailed leaving their young children to fend for themselves. 


Supporting open citizen police review hearings 

The council will be asked to support AB1648, which would allow civilian review boards that operate outside of a police department to hold public hearings on complaints about police misconduct. Berkeley has not held police complaint hearings since mid-September, following a California Supreme Court decision that is interpreted by many, as eliminating open complaint procedures. 


Robberies up 

The police chief will give a report that shows that since July Berkeley has followed the nation-wide trend with the number of robberies increasing. While robberies, defined as taking of property by force or threat of force, were up, property crimes decreased during the same period. 

Tonight’s series of meetings begins at 5 p.m. with a workshop to discuss the 2008-2009 citywide work plan. At 6:30 p.m. the Redevelopment Agency will meet to look at adding $400,000 to the Oxford Plaza Apartment project. 

The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. All meetings are at Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way and available via Cable TV Channel 33, KPFB-FM 89.3 and via the internet.