Talks surrounding the affirmation of a Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, approval of an administrative use permit for a project on 1444 Fifth St. and a proposed moratorium of the “Shared Sidewalk” policy dominated discussion at Berkeley City Council’s regular meeting May 28.
The meeting kicked off with several proclamations by the council, including the recognition of Berkeley green-certified businesses and the recognition of Berkeley World Music Festival weekend. The meeting was also declared adjourned in memory of former Berkeley vice mayor Susan Hone and in memory of Berkeley community member William Barclay Caldeira, also known as “300”.
After this, the council moved to the consent calendar, during which it approved a recommendation to use the budget process for fiscal year 2020-21 to fund the traffic safety improvements at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Stuart Street with short-term improvements including improved street lighting at the crosswalk — where Berkeley Unified School District board President Judy Appel and her wife Alison Bernstein were injured in a collision in January.
Despite originally deciding to continue item 32 — which adopts a resolution calling for full parity for mental health patients and clinicians at Kaiser Permanente and supporting mental health clinicians in their contract negotiations — to June 25, the council unanimously voted to approve the resolution after multiple speakers spoke out during public comment and asked the council to put the item back on the calendar.
Moving on to the action items, the council held a public hearing on a resolution affirming the ZAB’s decision to approve an administrative use permit for the development of 1444 Fifth St., which would include the construction of four detached, single-family dwellings.
After about an hour and a half of discussion, the council adopted the resolution to approve the permit. The resolution was adopted with conditions that the project must result in five or more dwelling units, that it is subject to the Inclusionary Housing requirements and that the applicant must either provide an inclusionary unit or pay an “in-lieu fee.”
Almost an hour of discussion was also centered on item 45 from Councilmember Cheryl Davila, which, if passed, would place a moratorium on the enforcement of the “Miscellaneous Use of Streets and Sidewalks” or “Shared Sidewalk” policy, until a homeless response system is implemented.
The Shared Sidewalk policy currently prohibits people from keeping any furniture or belongings that exceed 9 square feet in area on sidewalks. The policy also says people are only allowed to place items in front of or within 3 feet of building entrances between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“From what I’ve been hearing from many unhoused folks is that this … is a lot of stress,” Davila said at the meeting. “This being something hanging over their head when they don’t have the ability, some of them, to break down their stuff by 7. They are not able to sleep. They are not able to put their tents up before 10. It just seems like cruel and unusual punishment.”
The council decided to take no action on item 45, meaning that Davila’s recommendation was not approved.
The meeting ended with a final public comment session in which members of the public voiced concerns about the council’s approach to tackling the issue of homelessness.
“Tonight the mayor and the council members talked primarily about numbers — how many billions of dollars the city has given, how many programs we have, how many times you have gone to a certain place — but we’re not talking about people,” said former City Council candidate Aidan Hill. “I understand that staff and the city have done their job and they’re doing their job today, but we’re not asking you for solutions to the big problems — we’re asking you for storage spaces.”