At its meeting Tuesday the Berkeley City Council repealed the ordinance that prohibits the city from drug testing employees, approved a $369,000 budget, adding back some social services that had been cut and heard from both citizens and the developer’s representative on the question of a proposed commercial development at College and Ashby avenues.
The council voted 5-1-2 to rescind the ordinance that prohibits most city employees from being tested for drugs and alcohol. (Federal law allows employees working with heavy machinery to be tested.) While the ordinance that is repealed covers all city employees (except those exempted under federal law), it is aimed at police and firefighters, whose four-year contracts are in negotiation.
Drug testing would take place only if the unions allow it.
Human Resource Director David Hodg-kins assured the council that testing would be “under limited circumstances.” It would occur after accidents, use of force and when there was “reasonable suspicion” that an employee was using drugs.
“We hire officers from the human race,” Chief Doug Hambleton told the council. “Officers have frailties like everyone else.”
Both Councilmember Max Anderson, who expressed concern around “constitutional issues of privacy,” and Councilmember Darryl Moore abstained on the vote, saying the issue should have been vetted through the city’s Personnel Commission, where it could have a full hearing. And Councilmember Kriss Worthington voted in opposition, saying the discussion should start with the unions, rather than first repealing the law, then going to the unions.
Jake Gelender from Copwatch asked councilmembers to wait to address the issue until they saw recommendations from a Police Review Commission subcommittee looking at writing new policies as a result of the theft of drugs from the police evidence vault by former police Sgt. Cary Kent, found guilty of three felonies last year.
Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, who voted with the majority, reminded fellow councilmembers that if they didn’t repeal the law now, they would not be able to negotiate drug testing with police for four years. “We shouldn’t be sticking our head in the sand,” he said.
In other council actions:
• The council voted 8-1, with Councilmember Kriss Worthington in opposition, to approve the city’s $369 million budget, in which the mayor had restored a number of social services, following recommendations from the council last week.
Among the services that did not get the city funding requested were Russell Street House, which houses mentally ill/formerly homeless persons; Sweatfree Berkeley, which wanted funds to support an ordinance in preparation—approved in concept by the council—that will determine which city purchases came from companies where sweatshops produce the goods; and the Telegraph Avenue World Music Festival.
While Options for Recovery received $100,000 from the city for a counseling program, a second $100,000 was made a priority for funds available in February.
• The council voted 8-0-1, with Councilmember Laurie Capitelli abstaining, to hold a public hearing on a home proposed to be built at 161 Panoramic Way, approved by the zoning board, but opposed by neighbors.
• Worthington pulled his resolution formalizing rules to maximize comments from the public, when Mayor Tom Bates said he was going to formalize the rules with which he’s been experimenting. Bates said he would have the rules prepared for the July 17 council meeting, the last meeting before the council’s summer break.
• The developer’s representative and one neighbor came to the council to speak in favor of the proposal to develop retail space at Ashby and College avenues and several dozen neighbors came to oppose it. The council vote on whether to remand the development to the zoning board failed: 4-2-1. Five votes were needed to remand the project. Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak, who wrote in favor of the project on the Kitchen Democracy website, recused himself from the vote as did Laurie Capitelli who has an interest in a nearby business. Councilmembers Betty Olds and Mayor Tom Bates voted in opposition and Councilmember Darryl Moore abstained.
Neighbors honed in on the issue of whether it was appropriate for the zoning board to use the website Kitchen Democracy to help them make the determination that the neighbors favored the project. Neighbors and merchants are particularly concerned with the size of a proposed restaurant that could seat 200, a proposed bar as part of the restaurant and the lack of parking.
Stuart Beattie of the Elmwood Neighborhood Association told the council the neighbors would picket the business. “The neighborhood association is determined that the bar will fail,” Beattie said.
But neighbor Tom Spivey said the new business “would bring vibrancy to the neighborhood.”
The Council will hear the matter again on July 7.