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City Council Holds Rare Thursday Meeting

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday July 23, 2009 - 09:38:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council holds a rare Thursday meeting today, with a light “mopping up” agenda planned before the summer break. 

The council will meet at 5 p.m. at the Maudelle Shirek Building on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in downtown Berkeley. 

Included on the agenda are three time-sensitive public hearings on actions taken by the Zoning Adjustments Board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

Also on the agenda are several items carried over from the marathon July 14 council meeting, including one that would begin the process of naming the I-80 pedestrian-bicycle bridge for the late Councilmember Dona Spring, adjustments to the city’s regulation of massage therapy establishments, and a somewhat controversial proposal to simply the granting of permits to property owners for minor encroachments on public space. 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who holds the council district seat formerly occupied by Spring, introduced the resolution to name the pedestrian-bicycle bridge in her honor. At the July 14 meeting, Mayor Tom Bates said that he would support the resolution, but added that a companion item should be added to name the new Berkeley Animal Shelter for retired Councilmember Betty Olds. Spring and Olds, who were frequently at odds on the council, united in support for animal rights causes, including the construction of the new shelter. 

The council will not meet again until Sept. 22. At that time, they are expected to take up the probable hits to Berkeley’s 2009-10 budget caused by the pending passage of this year’s state budget bill. That could mean some cutbacks in city services, as well as increased fees to Berkeley residents to make up for a possible state reduction in moneys passed back to the City of Berkeley. 

Meanwhile, two councilmembers have moved forward with plans to try to ease some of the burdens of actions taken this winter and spring to balance the 2009-10 budget. At the July 14 meeting, the council approved a resolution by Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Darryl Moore to reduce the late fee penalties for city parking violations, as well as to extend the time limit before those late fees go into effect. Earlier this year, in an effort to counter actions taken by the state, the council twice increased the city’s parking fine fee rate. Several weeks ago, Wozniak said that he felt the penalty rates and time limits were an unfair burden on Berkeley drivers. The Wozniak-Moore resolution went to the city manager’s office for study of its fiscal effects, and is expected to come back to the council for approval sometime this fall. 

Plans to revise the city’s ordinance regulating the placement of cellphone towers was on the agenda for several meetings this spring, but was eventually pushed back to the fall. 

Even without the cellphone tower ordinance revisions, this has already been a productive year for the council. In June, the council approved the city’s Climate Action Plan setting detailed benchmarks and requirements for reducing Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions. And in July, the council passed the ambitious Downtown Area Plan that sets the boundaries and direction for downtown Berkeley development. The Downtown Area Plan had serious citizen opposition, however, and a petition drive calling for a referendum to block the plan is expected to begin as soon as a final version of the approved Downtown Area Plan is published.