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Street Behavior, Solar Contract Top Council Agenda

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 27, 2007

If the Berkeley City Council gives its approval tonight (Tuesday), the city will award a $50,000 sole source contract to the nonprofit corporation Build It Green to prepare the groundwork for a pilot solar project. 

The council first meets at 6 p.m. in closed session with police union representatives, then meets in open session as the Joint Powers Financing Authority at 6:30 p.m. to address the lease of the property at 711 Harrison St. to Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency.  

At the regular 7 p.m. meeting, councilmembers will consider: new laws prohibiting smoking and lying down in commercial areas; $2 million to fund the Ed Roberts Campus; asking the Planning Commission to investigate giving permit priority to those who want to build “green”; and approving the Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District budget.  

Public hearings include fee increases for ambulance services and establishing stricter building codes. A report on mistakes made in dredging at Aquatic Park could be taken up by council or simply left for council review on the “information” calendar. 


Smart Solar 

The Department of Energy has given Berkeley a $200,000 grant—which the city and other entities must match—to put together a pilot project intended to get a dozen Berkeley homes and businesses to use solar energy. The idea is for the city to assemble contractors, equipment, financing and expertise in the field of solar energy and offer installation cheaper and with more confidence than average homeowners or business owners could do independently. 

Based on the resources and information compiled during the pilot, the project is expected to take off on its own after a couple of years, bringing some 200 new solar energy systems on line in Alameda County annually. 

At tonight’s meeting, the council will consider the project’s initial $50,000 contract—$30,000 from the grant and $20,000 from the city’s general fund—for a sole source contract to Build It Green (BIG) to “convene potential suppliers, contractors, service vendors and permitting agencies….” 

If approved, BIG would also advise the city on products, services and financial instruments and develop technical specifications, procurement strategies and policies.  

BIG is a nonprofit organization located at 1434 University Ave. that merged in 2005 with the Green Resource Center, founded by the city and others in 1999. 

Generally, the city is required have contracts bid competitively. But according to Energy Officer Neal De Snoo, only BIG is qualified to do the job. 

Build It Green “is a natural for this. It is uniquely qualified for this. It’s basically what they do—assemble stakeholders in energy and green building. No other agency does that,” De Snoo told the Planet on Monday. 

According to the contract, the recipient will, among other duties, plan a kick-off event. The contract identifies some of those asked to participate:  

• Sustainable Berkeley, an organization that includes the university (the Haas School of Business and UC Berkeley Capital Projects), “green” consultants and health-care businesses, the Community Energy Services Corporation (Sustainable Berkeley’s fiscal agent), the Ecology Center and other nonprofits, and commercial realtors with environmental credentials.  

• UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, in the university’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and Energy and Resources Group.  

• UC Berkeley's Haas Business School (also represented through Sustainable Berkeley). 

• PG&E, represented through East Bay Energy Watch (comprised of Berkeley, Oakland and various nonprofits), managed by the Berkeley-based for-profit corporation QuEST, Quantum Energy Services & Technologies, Inc. 

• The California Energy Commission. 

• The Department of Energy’s technical assistance staff. 

Asked if the kick-off will be open to others than named participants, De Snoo said, “It will probably be public.” 

This item appears on the council consent calendar and could be approved without discussion. 


Laws to curb inappropriate behavior 

Mayor Tom Bates’ Public Commons for Everyone Initiative (PCEI) is back before the council, where it has been discussed several times.  

This time, the council will be asked to approve three new laws—two adding restrictions to lying on the sidewalk and one further restricting smoking. Councilmembers will also address, in concept, a 25-cent hike in parking meter fees to eventually pay for services aimed at people whose behavior is considered inappropriate in shopping areas. 

The no-lying ordinance expands laws prohibiting lying on the street to all commercial areas. It requires a second reading, then kicks in a month from that time. 

A resolution, according to the city clerk’s web page, expresses council policy or direction to the city manager and generally takes effect upon adoption. It may be changed by a subsequent resolution. Also on the council’s agenda is a new resolution, replacing a prior one, which allows police to cite people lying on the sidewalk with one rather than the present two warnings and drops the need for the citation to be complaint-driven. Enforcement is to be “a low priority” between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. 

The second ordinance proposes a ban on smoking on specific streets in commercial districts, in parks and near child care and senior centers. 

The initiative is supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Berkeley Association, who say the inappropriate behavior hurts business, but is opposed by advocates for the homeless and mentally ill who say persons with inappropriate behavior need help rather than punishment. 

Charged with soliciting input, PCEI Consultant Lauren Lempert held a Sept. 29 town hall meeting. Most attendees opposed the punitive aspects of the initiative. 

She took the concept to a number of commissions. Three wrote reports for the council. 

The Homeless Commission recommended increased social services, but concludes: “the commission cannot support the enforcement aspects of the initiative without the opportunity to review them in the context of a fully developed plan that includes new housing and social services opportunities.” 

The Peace and Justice Commission report says sufficient laws exist to address problematic behavior. “The Commission believes that approval of the PCEI would have detrimental impacts by further disenfranchising homeless and mentally ill individuals,” the report says. 

And the Community Health Commission report expressed approval of the recommendations to increase public bathroom facilities and other services, but requested the initiative to also address the over-concentration of liquor stores in south and west Berkeley. 

“The commission is concerned about the excessive penalties for behaviors associated with being homeless, to enforce PCEI without first identifying and developing needed resources to assist homeless persons,” the CHC report says. 

The council will be asked to approve, in concept, proposals for services, and funds to be allocated from the $1 million in new meter revenue. Services may include: 

• Bathrooms: $142,000: expand hours of existing bathrooms, add porta-potties, provide stipends for businesses allowing non-customer bathroom use; 

• Housing and support services for 10 to 15 people: $350,000. 

• Centralized intake services to direct homeless persons to available shelter beds: $60,000. 

• Job training and education for youth 18-25: $100,000. 

• Help for homeless persons to access disability, Medi-Cal and food stamp benefits: $78,000. 

• Public seating, trash receptacles: $60,000. 

• Host program: $200,000: hires individuals to be “eyes and ears” on Telegraph Avenue and downtown, “assisting community members and merchants in dealing with low-level offenses,” and assisting tourists. 

• Signs for no-smoking ordinance: $10,000. 


Ed Roberts Campus 

Two million dollars is proposed for the Ed Roberts Campus, the nonprofit office/fitness/childcare complex for disabled people slated for part of the east Ashby BART station parking lot; $1.5 million is to be taken from California Department of Transportation funds, originally intended for a sound wall between Aquatic Park and the freeway. Another $500,000 is to be taken from the city’s capital budget. The funding is to match other monies, completing $9 million needed to break ground on the $45 million ERC, proposed 12 years ago.  

The transfer of funds faces opposition from Aquatic Park advocates, who say that money should be reserved for its originally intended purpose.