Council Re-Examines Mayor’s Public Commons Initiative

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday May 22, 2007

Mayor Tom Bates has added to and clarified some elements in his Public Commons for Everyone Initiative proposal, which the City Council will be asked to address tonight (Tuesday).  

The meeting will be preceded by a workshop on the status of the city’s health, information on which will not be released until the 5 p.m. workshop. Earlier, such reports showed a dramatic discrepancy between health and longevity of Caucasians living in the Berkeley hills and African Americans living in the flatlands. The Berkeley Housing Authority meeting is at 6 p.m. The City Council meets at 7 p.m. 

The mayor’s proposal, which may be off its original fast track, is aimed at removing people with inappropriate behavior from shopping areas. 

In his new proposal, the mayor has accepted a recommendation from the Homeless Commission to organize a joint meeting among the Mental Health, Homeless and Human Welfare commissions. Many of these commissioners have said the measure criminalizes homelessness. 

The mayor and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak have been asking the community for its support; a number of positive responses were received. 

“I had some young students visiting from Germany recently,” Marna Owen wrote the mayor in support of the measure. “They were afraid to cross the street at University and Shattuck due to the number of loitering homeless people. Please, it’s time to make our city more livable and friendly.”  

To formulate new laws on “sidewalk obstruction,” develop diversion programs, look at community policing and “significant public discussion” on the question, the mayor is asking the city to hire a new six-month staff person. 

Because the mayor is asking for existing laws to be more strictly enforced, for the addition of new laws such as no smoking in commercial areas, and for community policing, Bates is asking for new policy development by the Police Review Commission. 

To pay for additional police and services, he has proposed funding the initiative by increasing parking meter rates and installing new meters.  

In addition to making Berkeley a City of Refuge (see related story), the council will hold a public hearing on the budget and discuss: 

• The Telegraph Avenue and North Shattuck Avenue business improvement districts’ annual reports. 

• A Sweatshop-Free Ordinance, that would prohibit the city from buying goods made under sweatshop conditions. 

• Setting a public hearing for an appeal of the new Trader Joe’s/housing development at 1885 University Ave. The council also will look at approving “fair labor practices” at the new Trader Joe’s on University Avenue. 

• The sunshine ordinance process. 

• Requests to refer the following items to the budget process: $3,000 for a Berkeley Boosters intern, $8,000 for the Dorothy Day breakfast program, $10,000 for the Malcolm X Arts Collaborative, $15,000 for Services for West Berkeley disabled children and $1 million for police.