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Green Corridor Goes to Council

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday January 15, 2008

The corridor that stretches from Oakland to Richmond could become a vibrant, green version of Silicon Valley, attracting venture capital and federal dollars to support green industry and green jobs. 

The mayors of Richmond, Emeryville, Oakland and Berkeley got together with the chancellor of UC Berkeley and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and unveiled that vision for the East Bay Green Corridor at a press conference in December. 

At tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Bates is asking the council to sign on formally to become part of the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership and to authorize the partnership to request federal funds for “green collar” job development. 

Still, at least one councilmember is asking what the East Bay Green Corridor Partnership is, whether the group will meet in public and how its decisions will be made. 

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Other items to be discussed include putting the warm pool and access to medical marijuana on the November ballot, making it easier to retrofit soft story buildings, and fees for alcohol outlet inspection programs. 

There was to have been a 5 p.m. workshop on the Department of Food and Agriculture’s plan to conduct aerial spraying over Berkeley and surrounding areas to eradicate a recent infestation of the Light Brown Apple Moth. However, the department asked for a postponement to allow them time to further review data and to formulate recommendations for action.  

“We have been assured that no aerial spraying will be scheduled until local review and community engagement processes have been completed,” Deputy City Manger Lisa Caronna wrote the council.  


Green corridor 

The mayor surprised even the city’s Energy and Sustainable Development Division head on Dec. 3 by announcing in a joint press conference the formation of the East Bay Green Corridor project comprised of the mayors of four East Bay cities and the heads of the Berkeley labs and the university. 

The Green Corridor principles, signed before the TV cameras last month by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Director Steven Chu, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Emeryville Mayor Nora Davis and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, promised, in part, to “create conditions that support new and emerging green industry.” 

The principles state: “As new green technologies emerge and become commercialized, our jurisdictions will cooperate to create conditions that spark new companies, incubate their growth and give them the opportunities to expand in the region ... 

“Research now being conducted at the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will yield new processes, products and services that will help drive local environmental entrepreneurship. Efficient lighting technology, solar energy and biofuels are just a few of the areas where cutting edge research is making vast strides.” 

While he supports cooperating with nearby cities to create green jobs, Councilmember Kriss Worthington says he wants more details on the proposal and the partnership. 

“This proposal doesn’t say very much,” Worthington told the Planet on Monday. “It’s an implied blank check.”  

No one knows how decisions will be made, Worthington said, or what the various members see as “green” jobs or technology. 

“Does a majority vote decide what the policy is?” he asked. The statement “is silent on jurisdictional issues.” 

Worthington said his concerns could be addressed if the Green Corridor group holds publicly noticed open meetings. “They should voluntarily make it subject to sunshine [open meeting] laws,” Worthington said. 

Peter Scheer, an attorney and executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said he thought that the question of whether the East Bay Corridor Partnership is covered by the Brown Act’s open meeting and noticing requirements would have to be decided by the courts. 

Given that that each of the four mayors is part of jurisdictions covered by the Brown Act, “They should act as if they were covered by the Brown Act,” Scheer said. “That would add to the legitimacy of anything they may do.” 

Councilmember Darryl Moore told the Planet he is less concerned with how the group does its work; he’s looking at the results. 

“I’m comfortable that the mayors can get together to form a green corridor—Hopefully, the mayor will come back with more details,” he said, adding, “this is just a place holder. It allows us to apply for federal funds.” 

Moore said he hoped the funds create green jobs, especially for unemployed African Americans, Latinos and Asians in the Berkeley area.  

“I don’t want the concept to bypass minority communities,” he said, noting that former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown recently held a green business fair in Hunters Point. 

Councilmember Max Anderson said he thinks the Green Corridor will be able to “create well-paying jobs” for people trained locally. 

For that to happen, corridor participants will have to decide on an already existing entity—such as the Private Industry Council (PIC)—to carry out the job training. Anderson said he would like to see benchmarks for putting the training and job creation into place. The council should get progress reports, he said. 

Councilmember Linda Maio told the Planet that in her experience with the earlier East Bay Safety Corridor—when the East Bay cities got together to address public safety issues under then Mayor Loni Hancock and then-Assemblymember Tom Bates— the advantage for the grouping of the cities was access to federal funds.  

“We can look more like San Francisco,” a city and a county, Maio said. 

She also pointed out that this partnership may be able to facilitate the Oakland-Berkeley-Emeryville Community Choice Aggregation project the city is exploring, which would have the three cities take control of power distribution, now in the hands of Pacific Gas and Electric. 

Maio said she thinks the Green Corridor meetings should be announced publicly and that the public should be permitted to attend.  

Economic Development Division Director Michael Caplan will have a key role meeting with other similar managers in the partnership. He said he expected green business spin-offs from the labs and universities. While he said he would expect jobs would be created for people with doctorates from the university, there would also be lab tech and solar installation jobs for those without university degrees. 

Once the area becomes known as a center for green business, it will attract venture capital, he said. 

The mayor’s office did not return a call for comment.  


Warm pool on ballot? 

While the Commission on Disabilities wants the City Council to place an item on the Nov. 4 ballot which would ask voters to tax themselves to build a therapeutic warm pool for seniors and disabled people, the city manager apparently wants the council to wait and refer the question to city staff.  

The city manager’s proposal was not available Monday. 

The need for a new warm pool arises out of the likelihood that the Berkeley High warm pool will be demolished. In 2000, voters approved a bond to refurbish the warm pool. The money was never collected because of the school district’s decision to demolish the pool.  

The school district is making a site now used as a parking lot, on the east side of Milvia Street, available for construction of a new warm pool. The price tag for construction is estimated at $15 million, costing property owners about $5.59 per $100,000 of assessed value over 30 years.  


Cannabis access for ill back on ballot 

The council is being asked to formally place the Patients Access to Medical Cannabis Act back on the ballot. 

The measure, a citizens initiative on the 2004 ballot, was narrowly defeated. A recount was ordered and it was found that some of the electronic voting machine records had not been retained by the county. As a result of a court case won by Americans for Safe Access, a judge ordered that the measure be resubmitted to Berkeley voters. 

The Patients Access to Medical Cannabis Act includes provisions that lift existing limits on the amount of medical marijuana a qualified patient or primary caregiver can possess or cultivate and allows cannabis dispensaries to be established with a use permit, eliminating the requirement for a public hearing. 


Soft-story retrofits 

In order to encourage owners of soft-story and brick buildings to seismically retrofit their properties, city staff is recommending some changes to the Soft-Story and the Unreinforced Masonry ordinances. 

Soft-story and brick buildings are vulnerable to collapse during earthquakes.  

The changes would allow owners of these properties to perform seismic upgrades with limited planning department review, even when the upgrades cause encroachment into yards, exceed height restrictions, exceed allowable lot coverage and remove or reduce parking. 


Taxi Script audit 

The council will be asked to approve the auditor’s recommendation that the city manager report back by March on the implementation of corrective measures for the city’s Taxi Script Fund. 

The fund provides eligible seniors and disabled people with script providing free rides in commercial taxicabs or vans. Auditor Anne-Marie Hogan found a number of problems with the fund, including that it was not properly monitored or reconciled, the written procedures were not updated to reflect current practices, the procedure of counting cash under dual custody control was not followed and that whiteout was used to alter the log to record cash-in and cash-out from the safe.