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Amended Climate Action Plan Moves Forward; Final Vote June 2

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:51:00 PM

With considerably less rancor than two weeks ago, when it squabbled late into the night without taking a vote, the Berkeley City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved moving forward with its ambitious Climate Action Plan (CAP), designed to serve as a roadmap to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city.  

The 139-page plan is now scheduled to go through what may be an abbreviated environmental review process, culminating in a final council vote June 2. 

While Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Kriss Worthington engaged in a brief but spirited blowout over a Bates ruling that delayed a vote on a Worthington substitute motion, the City Council appeared determined to move the CAP forward, and deliberations were marked by councilmembers going out of their way to accommodate and incorporate suggestions and amendments introduced by fellow members.  

The CAP proposal moved forward by the council on Tuesday included virtually all of the suggested additions submitted in written form by various councilmembers, although some of them came only after lengthy deliberation during the meeting between councilmembers and members of the city staff team that developed and wrote the plan. 

It was consideration of those same suggestions that prevented the council from coming to a decision on the plan two weeks ago. The council originally debated the CAP proposal at its April 21 meeting but ended the meeting in the early morning hours without taking a vote, after a lengthy discussion and an inability to come to a decision on how to handle suggested amendments. 

Following the meeting, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said that, while he supported the plan and its greenhouse gas reduction goals, “there’s just not enough people in Berkeley to have a significant effect on global warming, even if all of the reduction goals in the CAP are reached, even if we all went around in sackcloth and ashes.”  

Wozniak said that his hope was that the discussions and actions eventually surrounding the implementation of the CAP would spur “innovative ideas” on greenhhouse gas reduction in the city that could be passed on and adopted by other communities.  

“This is a community full of pretty smart people,” Wozniak said. “I think our greatest value in this process is developing ideas that can affect the larger Bay Area and the nation.” 

Forty Berkeley citizens made public comments on the CAP, fewer than commented at the April 21 meeting, when speakers lined up all the way down the center aisle of the council chambers to the back door. The April 21 meeting had been dominated by Berkeley homeowners worried by a San Francisco Chronicle article predicting that building renovations “mandated” in the CAP would cost homeowners thousands of dollars. Mayor Tom Bates and several councilmembers and city staff members insisted there were no intentional mandated renovations in the plan, and Councilmember Maio introduced amendments taking out any references in the plan that might hint at requirements. That appeared to satisfy most residents, or at least mute the protests, and only two homeowners spoke on Tuesday night specifically protesting possible costs for renovations. 

Most speakers spoke in favor of passage, with Linda Swift, co-chair of the Climate Change Team of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville, saying, “I don’t think anybody [at this meeting] would say that the plan is perfect. And we could discuss this plan forever if we want to. And we’re very good at that. But the need is very urgent. We need to get going on it. Let the plan be a guide.” 

Others, such as Planning Commission member Patti Dacey, were supportive of the CAP’s goals but felt that the CAP needed more work before adoption. “I think much in this plan is excellent, but there are some really bad things in it,” Dacey said, noting as one example that “there is no way that keeping in the items promoting increased density around selected transit lines and certain transit nodes won’t require a full public hearing under [the California Environmental Quality Act].” 

Several audience members at Tuesday’s meeting had signs clipped to their chests calling for a full environmental impact review under CEQA on the CAP. 

While a full CEQA hearing on the CAP is still possible, city staff has embarked upon an alternative course. Planning and Development Director Dan Marks told the Daily Planet that his office began moving forward with a “negative declaration” process under CEQA immediately following the April 21 council meeting (available online at  

Under that process, the city declares that there will be no negative environmental effects from passage of the CAP. Under CEQA, the “negative declaration” must be issued and published at least 20 days prior to final council action on the CAP. Marks said he moved forward with the “negative declaration” even though the council did not vote to move forward with the CAP on April 21 because at that time he was still working under the timetable of a final council decision on the CAP on May 19. With the moving of the CAP decision back to June 2, Marks said he will re-evaluate the issued negative declaration in light of the council amendments at Tuesday’s meetings. If the amendments have substantially changed the CAP, Marks said that he can issue a new negative declaration and have the declaration posted for 20 days, in time to meet the June 2 deadline for final council approval. 

Marks said that, if he feels the council amendments are substantial enough to require a full environmental impact report, that process could take something in the neighborhood of six months before final passage of the plan could be considered by the council. 

The genesis of the CAP was City of Berkeley Measure G, passed by Berkeley voters in November 2006 by an 81–19 margin, that set the 2050 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction goal. The CAP was then developed by city officials to provide detailed plans through the year 2020, to set the city on the path toward that 2050 goal. While the CAP sets recommendations for action in three specific areas—sustainable transportation and land use, energy use in buildings, and waste reduction and recycling—it does not mandate any action, which must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the council.  

In other action Tuesday night, the council: 

• Approved on a 7-1-1 vote a Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approval of construction of a five-story mixed-used building proposed by Ali Kashani and his partner Mark Rhoades for the corner of Ashby and San Pablo Avenues (Maio, Moore, Anderson, Capitelli, Wengraf, Wozniak, Bates yes, Arreguín no, Worthington abstain), rejecting an appeal by residents Stephen Wollmer and Toni Mester. The council earlier rejected, on a 2-4-3 vote, a motion by Worthington to have a public hearing on the appeal (Arreguín, Worthington yes, Bates, Maio, Capitelli, and Wozniak no, Moore, Anderson, Wengraf abstain). During the council deliberation, Worthington read into the record what he said may have been improper e-mail communications between the developers and city staff members, including acting City Attorney Zach Cowan, but gave no other details. 

• Set a May 19 date for consideration of a ZAB decision to allow the early opening of the West Berkeley Bowl at 920 Heinz Ave. without full completion of the traffic mitigations called for in the project’s environmental impact review. No appeal of the ZAB decision had been received by the city by Tuesday night’s meeting, but City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that any appeals received in the next few days would be part of the May 19 council consideration. 

• Deferred, without explanation, consideration of a proposed sweatshop free ordinance by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, Darryl Moore, and Jesse Arreguín. The item is now rescheduled for the June 2 council meeting. The proposed ordinance would ban any city contracts or purchases with businesses that “maintain or participate in sweatshop working conditions.” This is the second time the ordinance has been postponed. 

• Postponed until May 19 consideration of city co-sponsorship of the 22nd annual Juneteenth Festival, scheduled to be held on June 13. Festival sponsors say there have been some problems with the city’s permit for the event but gave no details, and Councilmember Max Anderson has been negotiating between city staff and event sponsors. Anderson said on Tuesday that he thought an agreement “can be worked out.” 

• Approved the appointment of Deanna Despain as city clerk, effective May 17. Despain has been serving as acting city clerk since the retirement of Pamyla Means in June of last year.