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Council Unravels After Seven Hours of Deliberation

By Judith Scherr
Friday May 25, 2007

The City Council meeting ended in a complete meltdown just before midnight Tuesday with Councilmember Betty Olds walking out of the meeting followed by Councilmembers Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington. 

The exhausted council was in the midst of addressing nine complex elements of the proposal put forward by Mayor Tom Bates as part of an evolving set of laws and services intended to curb the impact of inappropriate street behavior on others. 

“We’re kind of unraveling,” quipped Councilmember Linda Maio, just after three councilmembers walked out with the others voting to adjourn the meeting.  

That left a proposal for a Sunshine Ordinance process—an expansion of city government transparency—unheard by the council. Exclusion of the item mattered little as the city attorney hadn’t had time to prepare the materials. 

Councilmembers had been meeting since 5 p.m., at which time they addressed a 200-page report by the city’s Health Department showing that, while overall life expectancy in Berkeley has grown, a dramatic divide in health between affluent whites living in the hills area and low-income African Americans living in the flats persists. (The Planet will report on the workshop Tuesday.)  

The council addressed Housing Authority problems (see page one) at 6 p.m. and at the regular council meeting designated Berkeley a City of Refuge, remanded the question of antennas on Shattuck Avenue back to the zoning board, and set a public hearing to address the proposed development at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and University Avenue. 


Sitting and Lying 

The mayor’s plan to remove people exhibiting inappropriate behaviors from the city’s shopping areas through new laws, such as those against “prolonged sitting,” enforcement of laws already on the books, such as the prohibition of tying dogs to parking meters, and provision of services for the homeless or drug dependent came to the council again on Tuesday in the form of nine proposals expanding on the ideas he’d presented earlier.  

One significant change from the loosely crafted measure Bates is calling the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative signaled a willingness to slow the process down: He’s now advocating a Nov. 20 date at which time the council would be presented with his definitive proposals. Bates also expressed a willingness to meet with the Homeless, Mental Health and Human Welfare commissions, whose members have expressed concern that indigent and unstable people will be criminalized for poverty and mental illness. 

Elizabeth Gil, who is homeless and has been on the Section 8 low-income housing waiting list since 1999, spoke to council of the criminalization of the mentally ill. “Will they die in jail like the ‘naked guy’?” she asked, referring to Andrew Martinez, a mentally ill man who committed suicide in jail. 

Chamber of Commerce Chair Roland Peterson, a strong supporter of the initiative, spoke to the council pointing out that “voters” on the Kitchen Democracy website—an east-hills-oriented URLfunded in part through Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s office account—were overwhelmingly in support of the initiative, 203 to 18. Many of those few who voted in opposition voted “no” because the measure wasn’t strong enough, Peterson told the council. 

Bates, who emailed some constituents asking them to vote on the Kitchen Democracy site, also pointed to it as an indicator of support, while saying at the same time that it isn’t an absolute measure. 

Councilmember Max Anderson, however, called Kitchen Democracy “selective e-mails from affluent people in Berkeley” and asked how many homeless people have access to computers. 

Commenting on the proposal in the initiative to provide placards indicating the location of restrooms and writing laws to cite people for public urination, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said: “It seems disingenuous to provide signage to rest rooms that are locked.”  

Capitelli added, “We can’t pass a law that criminalizes urination and defecation if there’s no bathrooms.”  

Part of the initiative the mayor is proposing includes services; mostly, he’s spoken about diversionary programs such as the drug rehabilitation program run by Options Recovery Services.  

Councilmember Linda Maio asked how one would use such services for a mentally ill person who defecates in public. “Where would you direct that person?” she asked. 

Maio also clearly laid out her position on Bates’ proposal to ask law enforcement to cite individuals for “prolonged sitting.”  

“I won’t vote to criminalize sitting on the sidewalk for someone with no place to go,” she said. 

The meeting unraveled once the council tried to address the mayor’s specific proposals, which will likely be back on the council’s June 12 agenda. 


City of Refuge 

With some two dozen supporters in attendance, the council unanimously passed both a resolution authored by Mayor Tom Bates and the concept of an ordinance—the city attorney is charged with putting the ordinance into the proper legal format—to make Berkeley a City of Refuge.  

Both the resolution and the ordinance, which will embed the action in the city code, says, “No department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the city of Berkeley shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or to gather or disseminate information status of individuals in the city of Berkeley unless such assistance is required by federal or state statute, regulation or court decision.” 

The ordinance will charge a commission with overseeing its implementation. 

“Enact the strongest ordinance possible,” said Sr. Maureen Duignan, executive director of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, addressing the council. “Be the shelter for the refugees.” 


Support for open police complaint  


The council unanimously approved a resolution to support SB 1019, State Sen. Gloria Ramirez’ legislation that would allow police oversight agencies to hold hearings in public. “Our democracy is at stake,” Jake Gelender of Copwatch told the council, noting that police are entrusted to carry guns. “This is not the time to step back,” he said. 


Fair labor practices at Trader Joe’s 

The council voted unanimously to add the proposed Trader Joe’s at University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the list of Berkeley businesses asked to show a “strong commitment to fair labor practices.”  

“Trader Joe’s is a vehemently anti-collective bargaining company,” David Rush of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 told the council. 


The council also: 

• Remanded the question of telecommunications antennas atop 2721 Shattuck Ave. to the zoning board because new information was received on the question. The remand was opposed by Councilmembers Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak. 

• Set a July 9 public hearing for a neighborhood appeal on the 148-unit housing/Trader Joe’s development proposed for 1885 University Ave.