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City Council Meeting Ends Without Vote on Climate Action Plan

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 07:09:00 PM

A tired and decidedly testy Berkeley City Council worked into the early morning hours of Earth Day Wednesday morning before abandoning efforts to move forward with the city’s proposed Climate Action Plan (CAP). 

Following the meeting, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates refused to characterize the delay as a setback, calling it a “blip” and predicting that the council will soon approve the plan. 

Consideration of the CAP will now go back to the Council Agenda Committee April 27, with the likelihood that the committee will schedule the item for consideration at the council’s May 5 meeting. 

The council is considering an ambitious, 139-page plan that would set guidelines for greenhouse gas emission reductions in the city over the next 10 years. Tuesday night’s council deliberation was supposed to be the first step in sending the plan through the environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and back to the council for final consideration and possible approval on May 19. But on Tuesday night, the council simply ran out of time. 

With a packed agenda that included a lengthy public hearing on proposed city grants to community organizations, as well as a long line of citizens to speak on the CAP itself, the council did not begin its own deliberations on CAP until 11:30 p.m. The council twice voted to extend the meeting past the mandatory 11 p.m. adjournment time, once to midnight, and again to 12:15. 

Mayor Bates tried to rush the council to move the CAP forward and approve the environmental review process, accusing Councilmember Jesse Arreguín of filibustering to prevent immediate passage, and conducting a heated exchange with Councilmember Susan Wengraf when she attempted to have the council consider her concerns about some of the CAP provisions. The last moments of the meeting devolved into confusion, with two motions being voted on simultaneously—one to sever certain sections of the CAP at Arreguín’s request, the other to extend the meeting past 12:15—while several councilmembers talked at the same time, and some stood up in disgust and began gathering their things and putting on their coats in preparation to leave. One councilmember, Max Anderson, simply walked off the council dais and left the meeting several minutes before it eventually ended. 

Arreguín, Wengraf, and Councilmember Kriss Worthington all indicated that, while they were in favor of eventual approval of the CAP, they had provisions they wanted to be included in the CAP before it was submitted for review under CEQA, while Bates said he felt there would have been time enough to put in those provisions after the environmental review process was finished, when the CAP will be brought back to the council. 

Meanwhile, a second issue that had expected to draw fire at Tuesday’s council went through with hardly a whisper. 

By unanimous vote, the council approved a process that could end up in a 20 percent increase in the city’s refuse collection fees, raising collection rates for the average 32-gallon can by $4.52 per month to $27.10. 

Approval of the collection fee increase will be conducted under the “majority protest” provision under California Proposition 218, in which ballots will be sent out to all individuals and businesses owning property where refuse is collected in Berkeley. Property owners can either send back their votes by mail or bring them in, in person, through the July 7 date upon which the council will hold a public hearing on the increase. A majority of the total number of such property owners in the city—not just a majority who actually send back ballots—must vote “no” on the increase in order for the proposed increase to be defeated. 

To the concerns expressed by Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Worthington that the fee increase not overburden low-income residents, city staff members said that they will be proposing a low-income waste fee subsidy program to come out of the city’s general fund. Staff said that program will operate much like an existing subsidy program set up for disabled and elderly residents, in which more than 700 city property owners participate. 

City staff members said that the waste fee proposed increase ballots will be ready to be mailed out to city property owners by the second week in May. 

No public speakers spoke to the proposed fee increase when it came before the City Council Tuesday night.