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City Council Considers Public Commons Services

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 12, 2008

While most eyes on tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting will be on the council item that would rescind the Jan. 29 directive to staff to write the Marines and tell them they are unwelcome in Berkeley, the council has a full plate of other tasks before it. 

Beginning at 5 p.m., while the council chambers fill with protesters for the 7 p.m. meeting, there will be a workshop on proposed new taxes—police, fire, infrastructure, warm pool and more. 

At the regular council meeting, beginning at 7 p.m., the council will consider categorizing odors from the Pacific Steel plant as a nuisance, approving the staff’s going out to bid for services related to the Public Commons Initiative, reviewing an appeal on a zoning board decision to demolish buildings at 1050 Parker St., discussing the police chief’s report on crime, approving a condominium conversion ordinance and considering the purchase of radio-frequency measurement equipment to monitor radiation related to cell phone antennas. 

They will be asked to approve several advisory public policy issues, including opposition to building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and requesting that Canada provide refuge to military personnel who oppose the war. February will also be declared freedom-to-marry month, which aims at creating marriage opportunities for gays and lesbians. 


1050 Parker 

The West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies are appealing the Zoning Adjustment Board’s ruling that allows the new owners of 1050 Parker St., San Rafael-based Wareham Properties Group, to demolish the buildings and, at the same time, changes the permitted use of the property. 

Rick Auerbach of WBAIC says restricting the property to industrial uses—distribution, production and repair—goes to the heart of the protections provided by the West Berkeley Plan.  

City staff says the property was previously used for warehousing, which was ancillary to other uses and therefore the West Berkeley Plan protections do not apply.  

Auerbach says he has found proof that manufacturing took place on the site in recent years, which, he contends, means that the protected uses in the future will take precedence. 


Public Commons Initiative Services 

The public could miss the importance of the item vaguely titled, “Formal bid solicitation and Request for Proposal scheduled for possible issuance in the next 30 days,” which asks the City Council to allow staff to solicit bids to implement Public Commons for Everyone Initiative services. 

The PCEI is an initiative that calls on police to cite people for lying on the sidewalk, smoking and other quality-of-life infractions and to initiate services helping people whose behavior as exhibited in shopping areas is deemed inappropriate. 

Among the services for which they are seeking bids are a centralized homeless intake system ($60,000), a transition-aged youth program ($100,000), training to clean public bathrooms ($70,000), permanent housing with services ($100,000), and the Berkeley Host Program ($200,000). 

The housing program, aimed at finding permanent homes for 10 to 15 of the city’s hardest-to-serve residents, will be funded at the $350,000 originally outlined in the Nov. 27 PCEI report, according to Jim Hynes of the city manager’s office. Some of the money goes to city staff, who will administer the program and provide some of the services; the bulk of the funds will go to rental assistance. 

The program will house individuals in rental units scattered around the city. Landlords will be paid market rates and clients will contribute one-third of their income, to the extent that they have income. 

Part of the PCEI program—not listed as part of this council item because the Homeless Action Center has been designated the service provider—is to provide advocacy for persons who are likely to qualify for Social Security disability payments, mediCal or food stamps, but have not signed up for the programs 

The Berkeley Host program is intended to be eyes and ears on the street, aimed to “regulate specific objectionable behaviors” according to a Nov. 27 staff report. City staff has envisioned two teams, one on Telegraph Avenue and one downtown, that would work with business associations and police “helping to maintain compliance with laws by providing information and educational outreach, and assisting community members and merchants in dealing with low-level offenses.”  

Toilets, including port-a-potties don’t appear on the RFP list because, according to Hynes, the city has had a hard time finding a place acceptable to nearby businesses where they can place the toilets. As for the merchants opening their restrooms to the general public in exchange for $400-$500 per month, “No takers,” Hynes told the Planet. To date no new public bathrooms have opened up to the general public, though hours have been extended at Civic Center and at the Telegraph Avenue/Channing Way parking lot.