Berkeley Council Tackles Alcohol Permits, Columbaria and Google Internet

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday March 10, 2010 - 08:06:00 PM
John Caner of the Downtown Berkeley Association said that faster use permits will help quick service restaurants such as Amanda’s on Shattuck Avenue.
By Riya Bhattacharjee
John Caner of the Downtown Berkeley Association said that faster use permits will help quick service restaurants such as Amanda’s on Shattuck Avenue.

The Berkeley City Council went through a flurry of motions Tuesday night, approving over-the-counter alcohol permits for quick service restaurants downtown, columbaria within city limits and a $130,000 package for a new rent board deputy director. 


Alcohol Permits for downtown quick-service restaurants 

The Berkeley City Council voted to approve expedited alcohol permits for quick service restaurants downtown. Although the Planning Commission signed off on this recommendation, the proposal has met with opposition from the Berkeley Alcohol Policy Advocacy Coalition, which is concerned about public safety, health and quality of life.  

A letter from BAPAC member Laura Menard warned the council about moving forward hastily with this proposal. 

“It is ironic that at Tuesday’s meeting, council will also be considering a resolution to apply for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency grant specifically to address youth access and availability to alcohol,” Menard said, pointing to local drug and alcohol use problems detailed in the last California Healthy Kids Survey report. 

But a letter from John Caner of the Downtown Berkeley Association said that faster use permits will help quick service restaurants such as Amanda’s on Shattuck Avenue. 

“In this economy, many people stay at home unless there are affordable options for eating out,” Caner said. “Amanda’s is an affordable option, but one that is often overlooked because of the lack of beer and wine to accompany the meal.” 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who introduced the item, is hopeful that an easier permit process will help restaurants during a difficult economy. 

Though the City Council had initially included Telegraph Avenue, the Planning Commission, in its final vote, limited the proposed zoning amendments to downtown establishments located more than 200 feet away from a residential zone.  

However Roland Peterson, director of the Telegraph Business improvement District, asked the council to allow Telegraph merchants to make another pitch for these permits at the Planning Commission, which the council agreed to do. Peterson said that the idea had generated interest among businesses which were unaware of the Planning Commission’s discussion this earlier this year. 


Development of columbaria within city limits 

The Berkeley City Council amended the city’s existing zoning codes to allow for columbaria within residential and commercial districts in the city. 

Columbaria will make it possible for individuals who don’t bury their dead to store human ashes within the city limits, which is currently not allowed. 

The current proposal allows a maximum of 400 niches on a site. Only 5 percent of the property can be used for columbarium purposes. The rest must be associated with religious or related uses. 

Councilmember Arreguin said that although he had no problem with expedited permits for columbaria in commercial districts, he wanted administrative use permits to be issued for residential zones. 

Not everybody agreed. 

“I guess short of Elvis being moved to Berkeley, I can’t imagine anything else having any impact on the city,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. “The occupants are quiet, they don’t hold parties. I feel sometimes we ratchet up the level of discretion. At the most we might have a car or two arrive at this place.” 

But Arreguin argued that 400 niches were a lot of slots. 

“I would like residents to have a way to appeal if they wanted to,” he said. 

City staff told the council that so far only the Northbrae Community Church had expressed interest in a columbarium. 

“Have we asked” others?, Mayor Tom Bates asked jokingly, causing laughter from the audience. 

Arreguin’s amendment to replace residential zoning certificates for columbaria with administrative use permits failed. The council voted 7-2 to approve the project. 


$130,000 rent board position 

Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board Executive Director Jay Kelekian testified before the Berkeley City Council Tuesday on his agency’s need for a new Deputy Director. 

At the Feb. 23 City Council meeting, some councilmembers questioned the need for creating a $130,000 position, especially at a time when the city was laying off employees. 

But Kelekian defended the need for a new deputy director, arguing that the position would lead to cost savings in the future. 

He added that the position would substitute for one or maybe more attorney positions at the rent board. 

“We don’t think it’s a controversial item,” Kelekian said. “It will better address our needs.” 

Members of the public, including Sid Lakireddy of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, opposed the new position. 

“We are not asking for the Rent Board to disappear, we are asking that the city show fiscal discipline,” he said. “They are eliminating two lawyer positions, but their budget has gone up over the years.” 

Jim Smith, a Berkeley resident, complained that the Rent Board was now getting involved in other issues that fell outside their jurisdiction, such as collecting business taxes and advising staff in other cities on rent control issues. 

“It scares me that the city is creating a new expensive position,” said Berkeley homeowner Nancy Friedberg. 

Some councilmembers requested that the Rent Board make an effort to recruit some of the city employees getting pink-slipped if they were found eligible. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said toward the end of the discussion that Kelekian’s explanation had not convinced him about the need for a new deputy director. 

“I am concerned that even though the rent board seems to have the funds it will send a bad signal if they hire a person from outside when we are laying off people,” he said. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said that as an independent body, the Rent Board should be given the freedom to decide whether it needed the position. 

In the end the council voted 7-0 to approve the issue, with Councilmembers Woziak and Susan Wengraf abstaining. 


Council Considers Google Fiber for Berkeley 

The council also voted to ask City Manager Phil Kamlarz to submit an application for Google’s Fiber for Communities project by the March 26 deadline. 

It’s up to Kamlarz to make the final call, which he will do after evaluating the application and Request for Information to determine whether the proposed fiber optic network is suitable for Berkeley and reporting the results to the council. 

According to a report from Councilmembers Darryl Moore and Gordon Wozniak, who introduced the item, “Google plans to build and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the country, which expects to deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections.” The report says that “Google will offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000, and potentially up to 500,000 people.” 

Google is kicking off this program by putting out a RFI to help identify interested communities, including local government and the public. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington made an amendment to the motion, asking Kamlarz to investigate whether the program would bridge or expand Berkeley’s existing digital divide. 

“I would also like to see how it addresses affordability for low income residents,” Worthington said. “And I would like to see it being done at minimal cost to the city.”