City Council to Ask Iran to Release UC Hikers

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday January 26, 2010 - 11:15:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council may join the fight to free three UC Berkeley graduates detained in Iran. The council will consider tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 26) whether to send a letter urging Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to release the trio. 

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were reportedly hiking in Kurdish Iraq last July when they crossed into Iranian territory and were arrested. 

Although their families have maintained that the three entered Iran by mistake, Iranian government officials are holding them on espionage charges. 

The case has received widespread media attention, with a number of celebrities stepping forward to rally for their freedom. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington introduced the item on the agenda. 

“Berkeley has traditionally been a peace-loving city," Worthington said. "It was the first city in the United States to oppose military intervention in Iran in 2007 and oppose the bombings of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq during the Bush administration. We have a long record of respecting Islamic nations and their rights. However, we do not agree with the decision to further detain these three young Americans, though it is well within the rights of Iran to do so.” 

Worthington, who consulted with the students’ families and the State Department before drafting the letter, said he hopes the Iranian government would listen to the City Council. 

“Mr. President, this letter is to formally plead that you do everything in your power to achieve maximum leniency for Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal from the Judiciary System,” Worthington’s letter says, in English as well as Farsi. “We greatly appreciate your generous comment at the United Nations General Assembly in September that you would ‘ask…that the judiciary [in Iran expedite] the process and…look at the case with maximum leniency.’ The City Council of Berkeley, California, is deeply concerned for the welfare of these three U.S. citizens recently detained in Iran.” 

The letter also asks Ahmadinejad to allow the trio to communicate with their families, something which family members complained the Iranian government has not been allowing. 


Affordable housing policies in light of Palmer decision 

The Berkeley City Council will vote on whether to ask the city manager to consider three new affordable housing policies in light of a recent court decision which essentially wipes out the inclusionary housing requirement statewide. 

A ruling in Palmer/Sixth Street Properties vs. City of Los Angeles found that inclusionary zoning programs that require affordable units for rental housing violate the Costa-Hawkins Act. 

As a result, the council, like other local governing bodies across the state, is exploring ways to craft policy that will encourage affordable housing.  

Some of the things the city is investigating include an affordable housing mitigation fee, a special tax and revisions to the density bonus program or zoning regulations to encourage affordable housing.  

  The council could also vote to ask state lawmakers to adopt legislation responding to the court decision. 

A report from the city’s Housing Director Jane Micallef estimates that about 170 California jurisdictions with inclusionary zoning laws will be affected by the Palmer decision. 

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution last month urging the state Legislature to amend the Costa Hawkins Act by exempting local inclusionary zoning ordinances. 


Panoramic Hill zoning 

The City Council will vote on whether to change the zoning ordinance for Panoramic Hill in order to curb development in an area that already has the most stringent residential standards in the city’s zoning code. 

A staff report from city Planing Director Dan Marks says that although Panoramic Hill’s steep topography and location in a high fire-hazard zone close to the Hayward Fault resulted in strong regulation, new homes and additional bedrooms have been built or approved over the years, “accommodating more residents on the Hill and putting them at risk.” 

The report also lists the expansion of UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium and the university’s Long Range Development Plan, which proposes to extend Lawrence Berkeley National Lab over the next two decades, as some of the reasons for changing the existing zoning ordinance. 

On June 17, 2008, the City Council imposed a moratorium on most new development and additions, which was extended to June 2010. 

A number of meetings were held in 2009 to incorporate concerns of Panoramic Hill residents, but according to Marks’ report, the fundamental premise for the zoning amendments has always remained the same: to adopt rigid standards curtailing development on the hill to minimize risk until concerns regarding its current infrastructure are addressed. 

One of the requirements in the revised ordinance mandate creating a new parking space if a homeowner wants to rent out a room on his property. Although the requirement of parking spaces for the rental of rooms to boarders is currently in the zoning ordinance, the revised ordinance clarifies parking requirements and attaches them explicitly to any room that can be used for sleeping. 

The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 26) at Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way.