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City Council Will Take Up Soft-Story Ordinance, Instant Runoff Voting,

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday January 14, 2010 - 09:19:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council has a full agenda for next week’s meeing, its first of 2010, including an upgrade for the city’s soft-story ordinance, a June ballot measure for improving Berkeley’s public pools, and a request that the city manager provide more information about the city’s involvement in state Senate Bill 113. 


Soft-story ordinance 

The council will vote on whether to revise and begin stricter enforcement of its existing soft-story ordinance, which requires owners of seismically unsafe buildings to inform tenants about the risks.   

Soft-story buildings are more likely to suffer damage in the event of an earthquake.  

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.   


Pools ballot measure 

The city will also vote on whether to put a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District special tax on the June 2010 ballot to improve the city’s pools, including relocating the warm water pool from the Berkeley High School Old Gym. 

City officials are scheduled to present a voter survey conducted last year on this issue to gauge the level of support for the tax. 


Omnibus bill 

The council will also decide whether to ask City Manager Phil Kamlarz to report on Berkeley’s involvement in SB 113, also known as the Local Government Omnibus Act of 2009, which was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Oct. 11, 2009.  

An amendment to SB 113, proposed by the UC Regents, exempts Memorial Stadium on the Berkeley campus and other state historic structures from legal restrictions on building across earthquake faults. 


Instant runoff voting 

The City Council might decide on whether to vote on instant runoff voting (IRV) during its Jan. 26 meeting, according to some city staffers. Berkeley voters approved IRV in 2006 and the California secretary of state and the Alameda County registrar of voters have also signed off on it. 

IRV gives voters the option to rank their first, second, and third choice of candidates, eliminating the need for runoffs.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington wasn’t successful in placing an IRV item on the Jan. 19 council agenda. However, City Manager Phil Kamlarz sent a letter to the San Leandro Council—which is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday—indicating that Berkeley is prepared is move forward with IRV in November 2010. 

The Oakland City Council has also approved IRV and plans an outreach campaign about how to use the voting machines. 

“There is no reason for Berkeley to delay it,” Worthington said. “The sooner we approve it, the sooner we can teach residents about it.” 

Not everyone on the Berkeley City Council supports IRV. Councilmember Gordon Wozniak argued that the system had some fundamental constitutional problems. 

“It’s a practice where you restrict the number of ballots you cast and the number of candidates,” he said. “It doesn’t treat everybody the same.” Wozniak said that a substantial number of people don’t have their votes counted in the final round, which he described as a significant flaw. 

“It works great for two or three candidates, but not when you have 10 candidates,” he said.