Page One

Council Revises Sign Policy, Bans Cat Declawing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 12, 2009 - 09:26:00 AM

Berkeleyans, beware: the city will be banning all pole signs effective the third week of December. 

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council voted to revise the city’s sign ordinance. 

Garage sale signs are still OK, provided you dismantle them later. Sandwich board signs are not OK, although Mayor Tom Bates admitted that he sympathized with local merchants who are struggling to keep their businesses afloat by doing virtually anything, even when it verges on violating the law. 

Bates hinted that he would support legislation that would allow shopkeepers to advertise their wares on sidewalk display boards as long as they complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Councilmember Kriss Worth-ington, who vehemently objected to the revisions in the ordinance as they were proposed at a council meeting Oct. 13 because they continued to “suffer from constitutional flaws,” said he was relatively satisfied with the new language. 

“It’s clearly a dramatic im-provement,” Worthington said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s constitutional.” 

Worthington said that City Attorney Zach Cowan had done a good job of addressing constitutional shortcomings in the current ordinance, including language regulating the content of a sign. 

Cowan, along with consultant Vivian Kahn, updated the current ordinance, which Kahn called “more of a repair, with few substantial changes.” 

“The sign ordinance has not been updated for years,” said Kahn. “It will be now easier for people to use and for staff to understand.” 

Not everyone, however, felt that the amendment had made things simpler. 

“I thought this was a clean-up,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “It’s daunting.” 

“You should see what is there now,” said Cowan, smiling. 

The updated ordinance includes a severability clause to reduce the city’s liability in case it gets sued for not complying with state law. 

Changes include consolidating provisions dealing with the same topic, alphabetization of definitions, and deleting provisions that have become obsolete. 

All new signs have to comply with the city’s Building Code. 

Under the new provisions, signs have to be maintained regularly and the city will notify sign owners in case of graffiti or other public nuisance. 

Height for ground signs have been lowered from 30 feet to 20 feet. Service station signs can only be 12 feet high. 

Coucilmembers Darryl Moore and Max Anderson stressed that they wanted the city to be proactive about the blight of billboards along the South Berkeley corridor. 

“I don’t see any billboards on the hills,” Anderson said. “I know why that is, it’s because they won’t allow them to be there.” 


Cat declawing banned 

Berkeley became the sixth city in the United States to ban cat declawing Tuesday despite stiff opposition from the California Veterinary Medical Association and others. 

Declawing of cats is a controversial issue, with those in favor of banning the practice describing it as “cruel and inhuman,” while opponents often refer to the operation as the last resort in many cases. 

West Hollywood, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles have already passed the ban, which cities will not be able to impose after Jan. 1 due to a recent amendment in the state’s Business and Professions Code. CVMA sponsored the state legislation and has spent thousands of dollars lobbying cities to support it. 

CVMA’s official position is that “the decision to declaw a cat should remain between the owner in consultation with his veterinarian on a case-by-case basis.” 

The organization has maintained in letters to several city councils that declawing of cats may become necessary for behavioral reasons. though only after all other remedies have been considered. 

One Berkeley resident who spoke at the meeting said that a recent survey showed that only four declawing procedures had been carried out in Berkeley this year, three for therapeutic reasons and one so that a child with cancer could keep his pet. 

“We do not want to see patients who have health issues compromised by not being able to keep their pets,” said Sally Goodman, who asked the council to hold a public hearing before passing the ban. 

Emotions ran high as some compared the action to banning a woman’s right to get legal abortion.  

“What’s next? Banning circumcision of children?” asked a woman. 

Berkeley previously passed a resolution asking for declawing to be banned. 

Several veterinarians, including Jennifer Conrad, the founder of the Paw Project, said that there are various alternatives to declawing, such as Soft Paws—a little pad that fits over a cat’s claws—no-scratch spray and claw clippings at cat clinics. 

“It is horrible,” said Jean Hofve, a former veterinarian who used to perform declawing. “Thirty-three percent of cats declawed will develop behavioral problems. A cat bite is worse than a scratch.” 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who proposed the ordinance along with Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who is allergic to cats, said that declawing was essentially the amputation of the last bone of the cat’s toe. 

“I have had cats my whole life and I recently adopted a 3-month-old kitten, and I know that declawing makes cats more aggressive and less likely to use litter boxes,” Arreguín said. “This ban is keeping in line with Berkeley’s long history of being humane to animals.” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington amended the ordinance, giving the citing officer some wiggle room in case they found a cat owner or veterinarian guilty of declawing in Berkeley. 

An officer will have the discretion to write up the violator as either a misdemeanor or an infraction. 

The council voted unanimously to approve the ban.