Tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting will look at holding public hearings on landmarking Iceland, an ice skating rink at Milvia and Derby streets, and allowing a commercial development at College and Ashby avenues.
The Iceland owner is appealing the Landmark Preservation Commission’s decision to designate the ice rink as a landmark, arguing that the building does not meet landmark criteria.
The Elmwood Merchants and Elmwood Neighborhood associations are appealing the Zoning Adjustments Board’s support for the proposed commercial development, saying plans for a large bar-restaurant are out-of-scale with the small retail area.
Also on the agenda for tonight’s meeting are modifications of the city’s laws regulating condominium conversion, hearings on city fee increases, using permeable pavement for city projects and more. The regular 7 p.m. meeting will be preceded by a closed-door session in which the council will be asked to confirm the city manager’s appointment of Acting Finance Director Robert Hicks to the permanent finance director position and to meeting with staff negotiating police and fire contracts.
The public can comment before the executive session.
The landmarks commission voted in April to designate the 1939 facility as a landmark, saying it is the oldest and largest ice skating rink in Northern California and pointing to its “representation of interesting aspects of the social and cultural history of Berkeley,” such as being larger than an Olympic-sized rink and having served as the site for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1947, as well as being used by various skating clubs including the 76-year-old St. Moritz Club and the University Figure Skating Club.
The designation specifies elements of the structure to be preserved, including the exterior wall surfaces and the two ticket offices.
Oakland land-use attorney Rena Rickles, representing Richard Zamboni, president of East Bay Iceland Inc., wrote in the letter appealing the landmarks designation that the decision was made in order “to force a specific use inside a private building.”
Rickles further wrote: “The landmarks designation process should not be lightly manipulated as it was here to serve other ends. On public policy and legal grounds the Notice of Decision designating Iceland as a Landmark should be vacated and overturned.”
Granting new use permits for a remodelled building at the corner of Ashby at College, popularly called “Wright’s Garage” after the business which was the previous tenant, is opposed by neighbors and merchants who say the project, especially a proposed restaurant-bar, will attract traffic to the area, which cannot be accommodated by currently available parking.
The proposal, approved by the zoning board in March, is appearing on the council agenda for one month, giving proponents time to defend their project and opponents the opportunity to convince the council to hold a public hearing on the development. Advocates of the appeal hope a formal hearing will lead to the council to overturn the zoning board’s approvals or, alternatively, to send the project back to the zoning board for further consideration.
The discussion around the project took a new twist after the June 26 council meeting. The developer’s attorney, Harry Pollack of Pollack & Davis, LLP, wrote City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque on June 29, asking her to prevent Councilmember Dona Spring from voting on the issue.
Pollack quoted Spring saying at the June 26 meeting “with strong emotion in her voice” that “’this project stinks to high heaven.’” Given that she has strong feelings on the question, Pollack reasoned, she would not be able to keep an open mind and vote rationally on the project.
He compared Spring’s comments to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s statements posted on a hills-based web site, Kitchen Democracy, giving his reasons for supporting the project and encouraging people to weigh in on the web site with their support. Because of those statements, Wozniak has been advised by the city attorney’s office to recuse himself from council discussions on the question and from the vote.
Albuquerque, however, in a July 5 response to the Pollack letter, said that when the item came on to the council agenda it became appropriate for Spring and others to voice their opinions.
“Councilmember Wozniak’s comments were made on a Kitchen Democracy web site, not at a council meeting, before he had an opportunity to consider the record of any proceedings,” she wrote. “Had he made it clear that his position was a preliminary one and that he would await a review of all the evidence before making a final decision, even that comment would have not resulted in his recusal.”
Albuquerque contrasted Wozniak’s comments to Spring’s, saying Spring’s statements, unlike Wozniak’s, were “made in the context of the council’s decision on the Wright’s Garage appeal.”
Condo conversion law cleanup
The purpose of the condominium conversion law is to ensure that when an apartment is converted to a condo, the city gets funds from the developer to replenish its low-income housing stock.
The law limits the number of conversions to 100 but while there are more than 100 applicants on the list to be converted, the conversion process has hit a bottleneck.
Tonight the council will find two condo conversion items on its consent calendar—items on this part of the agenda are approved without discussion unless a councilmember pulls the issue for discussion on the action calendar. These items will address some, but not all, of the issues holding up conversion, according to Jesse Arreguin, a Housing Advisory Commission member, chair of the Rent Stabilization Board and aide to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
A proposal by planning staff would amend the section of the condo conversion law that states that the affordable housing mitigation fee for a unit that is being converted to a condo will be capped at 12.5 percent, whether the unit is vacant or occupied, as long as the owner agrees to specified limits on rent increases for all current tenants within that building at the time of conversion.
A second and separate proposal, put forward by Worthington, clarifies the language of the condo ordinance, saying that conversion will be prohibited for 10 years for no-fault evictions (such as owner move-ins—already covered by the law—or Ellis Act evictions in which the landlord goes out of the rental business).
Worthington’s proposal says enacting it “increases protections for tenants and creates a disincentive for evictions in order to convert a building to condominiums.”
Arreguin said the clarifications will help implementation of the law, but another impediment is yet to be addressed by council. That is the difficulties owners face with building inspectors “who come in at the last minute,” requiring owners to make unexpected improvements in their properties.
Planning, housing and city attorney staff have been meeting to help design a better process, he said.
A council workshop on condominium conversion that was to be held this month will instead be held in the fall.
Other items the council will address include:
• A $254,500 one-year contract with the YWCA to subsidize low-cost city staff memberships, which is part of the city employee benefit package.
• Setting a public hearing for July 31, in which members of the Elmwood Business Improvement Area can weigh in on continuing the BIA.
• Encouraging use of permeable surfaces on city projects.
• Allocating $1.4 million to purchase fuel for city vehicles for a year.
• Cconsidering a draft ordinance to establish operating standards for alcohol outlets and inspection fees for enforcement.
The council will hold a series of public hearings on increases for:
• Rental Housing Safety Program fees.
• Planning department fees.
• Adoption fees for rabbits, poultry, small rodents, birds and exotic animals.
• Marina fees.
• Parks and recreation facility and program fees.
• Refuse fees.
The council meeting is at 7 p.m. in the Maudelle Shirek Building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, televised on cable Channel 33, broadcast on KPFB 89.3 and streamed at www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/citycouncil/agendaindex.htm.