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Berkeley City Council Asks Iran to Release Detained UC Students

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday January 28, 2010 - 08:27:00 AM

The Berkeley City Council joined the fight to free three UC Berkeley graduates detained in Iran Tuesday when it voted 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.”  

(Editor's note: The letter was later amended to read, "As the first city in the United States to oppose military intervention and/or use of force in Iran in 2007, as well as oppose the bombings of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq (as was proposed and/or carried out during the Bush administration), we have a long record of respect for Islamic nations and their rights. However, we do not agree with the decision to further detain these three young Americans." 

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

In response to questions by Councilmember Linda Maio about whether the letter should be sent through the State Department, Worthington said that the department had recommended “having this done individually by cities rather than the government of the United States or the White House.” 

“That makes a difference to me,” Maio said, moving the item for a vote. “If that’s their strategy, to have cities work on their own, then I support it.” 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who normally abstains from voting on Berkeley’s involvement on international issues, approved of it. 

“I have an Iranian friend who told me that there are a number of people in the Iranian government who receive their education in Berkeley. I think it’s important that the letter does come from Berkeley.” 

The letter, written in both English and Farsi, says: 

“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.  

“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 that family members complained the Iranian government has not been allowing.  

Belgian tourists Idesbald Van den Bosch and Vincent Boon Falleur, who were arrested and imprisoned in Iran on spying charges during a biking trip Sept. 5, released a statement this week describing conditions at Evin Prison, where the three Americans are reportedly being held. 

Den Bosch and Boon Falleur said that they spent one out of three months in solitary confinement. 

“We had some contact in Evin Prison with the Americans who were hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan ... We are deeply concerned about their well-being. We were detained for half as long Shane, Sarah and Josh will have spent in prison on January 31, 2010. We appeal to the Iranian authorities to act in a humanitarian fashion and not politicize their case. Our hearts go out to them and their families.” 

The Belgians described the psychological strains of interrogation and solitary confinement as immense. 

“In solitary confinement, we were in cells with no outside contact and a ceiling light on day and night,” they wrote. “We could not make eye contact with some guards and other prisoners; no communication was possible with other prisoners or with our families. Everything was designed to make us feel very lonely.” 

Den Bosch and Boon Falleur said that Bauer, Shourd and Fattal were still confined in solitary cells when they left Evin Dec. 8. 


Affordable housing policies in light of Palmer decision 

The Berkeley City Council voted to spend $30,000 to hire consultants to do a Nexus study and examine affordable housing policies in light of a recent court decision that essentially wipes out the inclusionary housing requirement statewide.  

A ruling in Palmer/Sixth Street Properties v. City of Los Angeles said 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 policies that will encourage affordable housing.   

City staff suggested an affordable housing mitigation fee, a special tax and revisions to the density bonus program or zoning regulations as possible options.  

Councilmember Linda Maio and a few other councilmembers said that they were in support of investigating all the options except the special tax, which was ultimately taken off the list. 

City Attorney Zach Cowan said that, even if the city made changes to its density bonus policy, it couldn’t mandate that developers keep a certain percentage of units as affordable. 

“The city can request them to do so in exchange for certain incentives,” he said. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore said that the incentives should be linked to the percentage of affordable units—the higher the number of affordable units, the more benefits a developer would get. 

“It’s very important that the changes to the policy be linked to something that has a substantial amount of affordable units in the project,” Councilmember Worthington said, making a friendly amendment that would give tiered benefits to projects. 

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 postponed voting on changing the zoning ordinance for Panoramic Hill until April to give neighbors more time to resolve their concerns. 

The revised ordinance would curb development in an area that already has the most stringent residential standards in the city’s zoning code, to reduce risks to human lives. 

A staff report from city Planning 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 extending 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.  

Although the requirement of providing 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.  

Parking is one of the major issues of contention among the neighbors right now. 

Some neighbors said that they were opposed to more parking spaces being built, while others wanted the parking requirement for rentals enforced.