Council Raises Parking Meter Rates, Adds Meters, Sets Affordable Housing Push

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:10:00 AM

In a short-agenda meeting Tuesday night where controversy was notably absent, the Berkeley City Council unanimously agreed to an across-the-board 25-cent-per-hour increase in parking meter rates, added 420 new parking meter locations around the city, and set an Oct. 27 date to begin a series of council discussions and action on how to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. 

Meanwhile, following the meeting, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that he expected the City Council would be holding discussions in two weeks in both public and closed sessions over filling the long-vacant post of city attorney. Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan has been serving as acting city attorney since October of 2007, when former City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque resigned. In June of 2008, the Daily Planet reported that Kamlarz told Mayor Tom Bates and several councilmembers that he would begin a national search to find a permanent replacement for Albuquerque following that month’s passage of the city budget. 

In Tuesday night’s parking decisions, the increase in parking meter rates from $1.25 to $1.50 per hour, which will take effect Nov. 15, is expected to raise $1.1 million a year. The increase is expected in part to offset a $300,000 per year decline in parking meter revenue the city is attributing to the national economic woes. 

Several councilmembers indicated they were passing the increase “reluctantly,” with Gordon Wozniak saying that it was preferable to cutting city services mid-year. Darryl Moore asked staff members “non-rhetorically” if the rate increase could be rescinded once the economy recovers, with Laurie Capitelli saying that “maybe we should raise rates for this fiscal year only and then come back to reconsider it next year,” adding that “it would be revolutionary for a city to roll back parking rates.” Several councilmembers indicated that even though they felt the increase was necessary for the time being, Berkeley’s parking rates put the city at a business competitive disadvantage to neighboring Emeryville, which has a $1 per hour parking charge on its Bay Street shops, and Albany and El Cerrito, which have no parking fees. Capitelli said the problem was most pronounced in the commercial district along Solano Avenue, where Berkeley has metered street parking spaces while the city of Albany has free spaces. 

Meanwhile, the bulk of the 420 single-stand, coin-only parking meters, which became available for reuse after the city began moving to its pay-and-display (P&D), credit-card-friendly multi-space meter kiosk system in other areas, will be installed in existing one- and two-hour- limit street parking areas roughly along San Pablo Avenue between Harrison Street and Grayson Street and on Adeline and Shattuck in the Berkeley Bowl area (a map of the entire metering area is available on the city’s website). 

City staff had originally proposed placing 832 of these coin-only meters in various locations. But after meeting with merchants and residents earlier in this year, city staff scaled the new meter placements down to 420. 

At the request of Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín, and Moore, the council had been set to consider a proposal to ask the city’s Planning Commission to immediately look into ways to “consider strengthening [Berkeley’s] Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, including looking at raising it to 25 percent citywide.” Berkeley’s inclusionary zoning rate, which is currently set at 20 percent, is designed to get new housing developments in the city to include units priced to be affordable to people with low and moderate income. 

At Mayor Tom Bates’ suggestion, however, the four agenda item sponsors as well as the rest of the council agreed that the matter could be moved forward faster if the council first took an extensive look at the issue at its Oct. 27 meeting. The council set an inclusionary zoning and affordable housing workshop for that date, as well as an agenda item that will allow it to pass on recommendations to the Planning Commission for action. Several councilmembers indicated, however, that the council discussion and decision may take more than one meeting session. 

Besides being of citywide concern, the issue of inclusionary zoning and affordable housing was one of the concerns that helped drive the successful recent petition drive that blocked implementation of the council’s Downtown Area Plan. In separate conversations with the Daily Planet earlier this month, Bates, who supports the council-passed version of the Downtown Area Plan, and Worthington, who opposes it in its latest form, said that resolving the inclusionary zoning/ affordable housing question on a citywide basis could remove it as an issue, and perhaps would be one move toward a settlement of the various differences over the plan.