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Council Delays Discussion Of Stadium Exemption

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday December 17, 2009 - 08:30:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council postponed discussion of the most controversial item on its Dec. 15 agenda. 

Councilmember Jesse Arre-guin’s request that City Manager Phil Kamlarz report on the city’s involvement in approving an amendment to state Senate Bill 113, the Local Government Omnibus Act, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger Oct. 11, was tabled on a 5–2 vote.  

The council will not get a chance to vote on it until January. 

The state omnibus bill traditionally includes only non-controversial provisions. This year, however, the bill included an amendment, requested by the University of California, that would exempt UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium and other state historic structures from legal restrictions regarding construction on earthquake faults.  

Lawmakers in Sacramento, including Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, voted for the bill. 

Although the university maintains that the amendment was necessary to clear legal hurdles in the retroffiting of the stadium, Arreguin wants to know why the city stated, through its lobbyist, that the city had no objection to the amendment despite controversy surrounding the stadium.  

The retrofit and expansion of Memorial Stadium has been the subject of at least four lawsuits and a prolonged protest in the form of a tree-sit, which made national headlines.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion. Councilmember Darryl Moore later made the motion to table the item due to lack of time, along with an item from the Peace and Justice Commission requesting universal and unconditional amnesty for Afghanistan and Pakistan War Military Resisters and Veterans. 

In signing the bill, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a signing statement requiring UC Berkeley to work with the state Legislature and the governor’s staff to address concerns raised by the amendment.  

Though the discussion of the Omnibus Act amendment was postponed, the council rushed to take care of much other unfinished business at its Tuesday meeting before breaking for winter recess. On the agenda were speed hump trials to calm traffic; a recommendation for the pools ballot measure; and whether the city should join CaliforniaFIRST, a statewide property-based energy-financing program modeled on the Berkeley FIRST pilot which ended this month.  


Speed humps 

The council unanimously voted to carry out pilot tests for vertical deflection devices, or speed humps, in eight different locations to calm traffic. 

The city had earlier carried out pilot programs for speed cushions in two locations which have been scrapped. 

These new trials will not be installed before July. 

Although the city had adopted a moratorium on speed humps in 1995, it has been represented as being in effect for the last 15 years. The moratorium was imposed after complaints about the adverse effects of speed humps on the disabled. 

But according to city officials, the disability commission accepted the new trial program. 


Pools ballot measure for June 2010  

The City Council recommended Tuesday that a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District be studied along with a general bond for the citywide pools project in the June 2010 election. The project aims to renovate, repair or replace some of the city’s existing pools.  

City staff will come back to council in January to get further advice on the issue. 

The council approved the citywide pools master plan at its Nov. 17 meeting, which included the relocation of the warm water pool from the Berkeley High School Old Gym, slated for demolition in 2011, to West Campus.  

Mayor Tom Bates said that if the Berkeley Unified School District decided to put bond measures on the November 2010 ballot, the city would have to place the pools bond on the June 2010 ballot.   

The school district will let the council know by January whether it plans to have any bond measures on the November 2010 ballot.   

Some city councilmembers expressed reservations as to whether voters would approve the pools ballot measure in the June election given the dismal economy and traditionally low voter turnout during that time. UC Berkeley students, who usually vote for taxes and bonds, will also be away on summer vacation at that time.  

The council passed a motion at its November meeting to carry out a voter survey to gauge whether the measure would get the required two-thirds vote to pass.  


CaliforniaFIRST program  

The Berkeley City Council approved the CaliforniaFIRST program, which will give Berkeley homeowners money to do energy upgrades with the option of paying it back over the course of up to 20 years. 

Modeled on the Berkeley FIRST pilot program, which ended this month, CaliforniaFIRST “presents an opportunity to increase the scale of the property-based clean-energy financing model and to relieve Berkeley and other cities of having to administer such a program on a city-by-city basis,” according to a report prepared by city Planning Director Dan Marks.  

The report says that the program is consistent with Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan and ongoing efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  

Started by California Communities, CaliforniaFIRST gives homeowners in participating cities and counties an opportunity to finance renewable energy, energy efficiency and water efficiency by taking out loans repayable through assessments levied on property taxes.  

If a property owner takes part in the program, the improvements will be financed by bonds issued by California Communities.  

The pilot program aims to “quickly reach a minimum of $25 million in projects through a pooled bond approach, resulting in a better bond rating and lower interest rate than a Berkeley-only program,” according to the report.  

The program is expected to be launched in June 2010, following which a broader program will be unveiled that proposes to finance $330 million worth of projects within three years.  

According to the report, a preliminary assessment of the Berkeley FIRST program found that one of the main reasons property owners chose not to take part in it was because of its relatively high interest rate.   

Only 13 people participated in Berkeley FIRST. 

City staff are expected to present a more comprehensive assessment of the Berkeley FIRST program to council in May 2010.  

The report said that “Alameda County and at least one incorporated city within it must adopt a resolution joining CaliforniaFIRST by Jan. 18, 2010, in order for legal validation of several program components to proceed.”  

According to the report, though at least one other city in the county is working to adopt a resolution within the specified timeline, “there is no guarantee that any of them will pass.”  

Therefore, city staff recommended that the council vote on whether to approve the program at Tuesday’s meeting.  

The report acknowledges that al-though certain details of the program, including the interest rate and administrative costs for participating property owners, have not yet been established, and that “ideally, all details would be specified before the city made a commitment to participate,” the deadline for the “funding opportunity necessitates a commitment prior to understanding all details.”   


Soft-story ordinance enforcement  

Ever wondered whether your house will survive the next major earthquake? You may finally get an answer.  

The City of Berkeley is considering beefing up stricter enforcement of its existing soft-story ordinance, which requires owners of seismically unsafe buildings to inform tenants about the risks.   

Although council was scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, they postponed it for a future date. 

Soft-story buildings are usually more vulnerable during earthquakes.  

There are approximately 400 soft-story buildings in Berkeley, of which 320 were especially vulnerable in earthquakes because of their wood frame structure. As of spring 2009, 31 have been retrofitted.   

According to a report by the city’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, the majority of soft-story building owners in Berkeley are violating the ordinance by not posting warning signs about the structures.   

A May 2009 survey by Disaster and Fire Safety Commissioner John Caner of the city’s list of “Potentially Hazardous Story Buildings” in the Willard neighborhood found that just two of the 15 buildings had warning signs posted, and one of those was a flimsy paper sign attached with putty at an inconspicuous location in the building.  

The commission is requesting that the city mandate that all city departments and agencies check for warning signs on soft-story buildings and levy fines on landlords who continue to disregard the law.  

The commission also wants the city to amend the existing ordinance, which would require building owners to notify prospective tenants about the earthquake risks through flyers and web postings.   

The amended ordinance would also require tenants, before signing a lease, to sign a disclosure form acknowledging they are aware of the seismic hazards.  

A report from city Planning Director Dan Marks asks the City Council to give city staff time to consider the commission’s recommendation and return with proposals for how to address the problem given limited resources.  

Marks says that additional resources might be required for a “more aggressive effort” at seeking compliance.  

According to city officials, the proposed enforcement is expected to be followed by a requirement asking owners of soft-story buildings to retrofit their property.