Sunshine and Alcohol Laws on Council Agenda

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 20, 2007

Berkeley’s draft Sunshine Ordinance still needs work, says League of Women Voters President Junky Gardner, calling for the City Council to delay adoption of the ordinance intended to allow citizens greater access to local government until citizens can meet and further refine the law.  

Councilmembers Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington, as well as representatives of SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Library Defense) and Copwatch agree that more work needs to be done on the ordinance. 

Tonight’s (Tuesday) council meetings begin with a workshop on the Sunshine Ordinance at 5 p.m., followed by a meeting of the Berkeley Housing Authority, and then the regular council meeting. The draft sunshine ordinance is slated for discussion and possible action again at the council meeting. 

Also on the council agenda are laws regulating punishment of persons who allow underage drinking on their properties and who sponsor rowdy parties, siting of medical marijuana dispensaries, prohibiting parking at night on Frontage Road and more. 


LWV says delay Sunshine Ordinance  

“Don’t rush into this,” Gardner told the Planet in a phone interview Monday, speaking of the adoption of the Sunshine Ordinance.  

The draft language is not comprehensible to the average citizen and should be clarified, she said, adding that the public needs more time to weigh in on the ordinance. 

The change in public comment format—the mayor allows people to speak before the council discusses each item on the agenda, rather than choosing 10 people by lottery—is positive, Gardner said. “The ordinance needs to codify the changes,” she said. 

The City Council approved an item submitted by Worthington in 2001 that outlined a number of concerns to be included in the ordinance. A number were ignored, Worthington said, calling the omissions “outrageous.”  

Worthington said these omissions include: 

• making police logs, records and other relevant information available and making investigative information available once the district attorney decides not to prosecute a case; 

• requiring disclosure of agreements settling litigation 10 days before a City Council meeting, unless disclosure would harm the city’s interest in other pending litigation; 

• establishing guidelines making all memos to the City Council or city departments considered public information available for public view; 

Spring said she is especially concerned with the council holding closed sessions on a threat of litigation. “This could be discussed in open session,” she said.  

Spring further said the ordinance should address task forces, such as those appointed by the mayor that “operate in secret.” They are not publicly noticed, but include city staff as well as selected members of the public. 

The mayor’s office did not respond before deadline to a call for comment. 

Jim Fisher of SuperBOLD said members of his organization have a number of modifications they would like to see in the draft. One would be to take out discretionary language, such as allowing public comment “to the extent feasible.” Restriction of public comment should not be because of time constraints, he said. “There can be more meetings.”  

Fisher said there is an “inherent conflict” in the draft ordinance, which has the city manager in charge of responding to complaints about violations to the ordinance. 

Jake Gelender of Copwatch, an organization whose members often observe police arrests to make sure they are done properly, said he’s had a hard time getting reports on arrests from the police.  

And other types of information have been difficult for the organization to access, he said. After police reports were issued on the Cary Kent case—the officer who stole drugs from the city’s evidence locker room—Copwatch asked the police department for a number of other documents.  

The request was never answered, Gelender said, underscoring that it was not rejected but simply ignored.  


Alcohol-related laws 

The City Council will address problems caused by alcohol by considering two ordinances: One is a law that would punish those responsible for—and those attending—loud or unruly gatherings and the other is a law that would punish persons responsible for gatherings at which alcohol is served to persons under 21 years of age. 

The “second-response” ordinance addresses the situation in which police are called to an unruly gathering more than once in a 120-day period. At the first complaint, the premises are posted with a warning, indicating that a complaint is on file. At the second complaint within a 120-day period, including a second complaint on the same day the first complaint was made, a fine is imposed. (When the event host is the reporting party, the fine will not be imposed.) 

At the second police intervention, a second 120-day period for fining the responsible party kicks in. The fine for the second police intervention is $750, the third intervention is $1,500, and subsequent responses will cost the scofflaws $2,500. 

The other alcohol-related law before the council tonight is known as a “social host” ordinance, which penalizes the host of a party where minors consume alcohol. The council will have to decide whether to adopt a measure that penalizes all hosts of such a party or whether it penalizes hosts who “reasonably” should know minors are consuming alcohol on the premises. 


Sustainable Berkeley to liaison with commissions 

The mayor has asked the council to recommend to the Community Environmental Advisory, Energy, Transportation, Planning and Zero Waste commissions that each of these commissions discuss what the city should do to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, as mandated by Measure G. 

He also asked that representatives of Sustainable Berkeley, a mostly city-funded grouping of representatives of UC Berkeley, nonprofit organizations, consultants and alternative health practitioners, “attend the commission meetings to discuss the process and ensure ideas and feedback are incorporated into the overall plan [to reduce greenhouse gases to be written by an employee of Sustainable Berkeley].”  

The new contract between the city and Sustainable Berkeley to write the plan to reduce greenhouse gases was to have come to the council today—increased from $100,000 to $225,000—but was taken off the calendar by the city manager’s office. 



The council will consider two appeals: one at 2701 Shattuck, appealing the construction of a 24-unit mixed-use project and allowing the demolition of an unsafe building at 651 Addison. 

The council will also consider: 

• Expanding zoning districts for the dispensing of medical marijuana. 

• Prohibiting nighttime parking for vehicles on Frontage Road, 1100 feet north of the Berkeley-Emeryville border. This is a spot where people who live in their vehicles often park at night. 

• Supporting efforts to maintain AB2034, which is funding for mental health services targeted for cuts by the governor. The city receives $955,000 in AB2034 funds. “Elimination of the AB2034 program discontinues intensive mental health services for 102 adults with severe mental illness and histories of homelessness,” the staff report says. 

• Request for authorization of $5,000 to $10,000 as a city expenditure to encourage UC to create a trash collection program when students leave town at the end of the school year.