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City Council Amends Noise Law, Sends Off Coat Hangers to Congress

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 10, 2009 - 09:11:00 AM

At its Tuesday meeting, the Berkeley City Council made some amendments to the city’s revised noise ordinance, remanded a city landmark back to the Landmarks Preservation Com-mission and sent off coat hangers to Congress to oppose the controversial Stupak-Pitts Amendment to Health Reform. 


Noise ordinance 

After listening to concerns from the public, the council made amendments to the city’s revised noise ordinance. It rescinded its first reading from Nov. 17 and readopted it with two changes proposed by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.  

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who is on vacation, was absent from the meeting. 

The city’s updated noise ordinance loosens sound limits for music venues and clubs which get the right permits but also makes enforcement easier. 

Arreguin said that he was concerned about a section of the changed ordinance which gave city staff the discretion to determine whether it’s infeasible for the person violating the ordinance to mitigate the problem.  

Arreguin’s amendments give people the right to appeal staff’s decision to the city manager within 30 days. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he would like the city to address noise violations on weekends, when the city’s noise control officer is not at work, as well as dealing with repeat offenders. 


University Ave. landmark appeal 

The council remanded the Landmark Preservation Commission’s decision to designate the Mobilized Women of Berkeley building at 1007 University Avenue as a city landmark in August. 

Built in 1949 by P. L. Coates, the building features architecture influenced by the design Bernard Maybeck did for the Mobilized Women of Berkeley’s 1938 building at 1001 University. 

Originally used as a community center and thrift shop, the building has been occupied by the East Bay Association of Mentally Retarded (later known as the Association for Retarded Citizens) and Amsterdam Art. 

In landmarking the building, the commission noted its historic, cultural and educational value, including the fact that it was a living testament of the role women played in providing services to needy citizens often overlooked by public agencies. 

But local architect David Tractenberg, who spoke on behalf of the building’s owners, said that the applicant made “every effort to convince people that Maybeck was the architect.” 

“It’s intentionally misleading,” he said. “It’s praise for a building next door (1001) that doesn’t exist anymore. We know the LPC plays an important role, but this kind of sloppy action damages its reputation.” 

Councilmember Arreguin stepped in to say that there was evidence available to suggest that Maybeck was involved in the conceptual design. 

“It’s very confusing,” said Councilmember Wozniak. “The report is mixing up 1001 and 1007. I think if the LPC corrects the errors, it’s worthy of the landmarking.” 

“I think the merits of the building should stand on its own, not because there’s some vague association with Bernard Maybeck,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. 

Landmarks Commission Chair Gary Parsons told the council that the whole issue came down to the commission’s use of two words”—”direct association” with Maybeck. 

“Those two words have taken the focus away from Mobilized Women,” said Parsons. “It’s turning the whole thing into a tempest in a teacup, maybe even a red herring.” 


Telegraph Ave. laundromat 

City Attorney Zach Cowan announced at Tuesday’s meeting that the Berkeley City Council had approved a settlement agreement on a potential lawsuit from the owners of a Telegraph Ave. laundromat. 

The city’s Planning Department admitted to issuing an erroneous use permit to San Diego-based laundromat chain PWS, which started construction of a laundromat on the first floor of a condo complex at 3075 Telegraph Ave. When the condo owners objected because of safety and quality-of-life reasons, the city issued a stop-work order. 

Both PWS and the condo owners threatened to sue the city.  

According to the settlement agreement with PWS, the company would have to file an application with the city’s zoning department within five days in exchange for which the city would pay them $16,000 to make up for lost time. 

“Perhaps I am just naive, but I am struggling with what seems to be a pattern of either favoritism or outright discrimination,” said Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, who lives directly above the laundromat. 

Ali said that his lawyer had threatened the city of Berkeley with a lawsuit over the development, but had never heard back from anyone. 

“I am concerned about the potential fairness of a public hearing, when the corporation is now being paid to stay put, and the citizens have to continue paying legal fees out of their own pockets to coerce the city into following its own laws,” he said. “You are saying sue us, and perhaps we will follow the very laws we claim to uphold.” 

Ali said that although PWS had failed to submit an application within the five-day period, Cowan had said that they would still be receiving the $16,000 check. 

Cowan told the council that PWS had filed the application Thursday. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington requested council to discuss the issue in executive session Dec. 15. 

“PWS violated the agreement,” Worthington told the Planet after the meeting. “Why should we pay them the money for failing to keep their end of the bargain? Should there be no penalties? You are rewarding the Goliath and not the David—is that fair?” 

Stupak-Pitts amendment 

Except for Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who called coat hangers an “inappropriate” gesture to oppose an amendment to the Federal Health Reform Act which would impose tight restrictions on abortions offered through the public option and bar anyone receiving a federal subsidy from purchasing a health insurance plan that covers abortion, the Berkeley City Council supported the action. 

The Stupak-Pitts amendment was considered necessary to win support for the overall health bill from opponents of abortion. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who introduced the item, called Stupak-Pitts the greatest threat to a woman’s fundamental right to choose since he had been in office. Worthington said the coat hanger would accompany a letter sent to the 20 congressional representatives who usually voted pro-choice who had voted for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. 

“The City of Berkeley is sending you this coat hanger as a symbol of the horrible pain and suffering endured by women as a result of years of anti-choice policies imposed by our government,” the letter stated. “We have never sent a coat hanger to anyone before. We are taking this unusual but important step to emphasize the importance of this message.  

“We strongly support health care reform but it is unconscionable that this should come at the expense of a woman’s reproductive rights. A policy which sacrifices women’s rights and protections cannot be labeled ‘reform.’ Please reconsider your vote and do everything possible to ensure that the health care bill that comes out of the conference committee does not take us back to an era of coat hangers and back- alley abortions.”