Berkeley City Council began its meeting Tuesday by recognizing outgoing city councilmember Lori Droste. Representing District 8, Droste announced in May that she would not be pursuing a third term.
Denise Montgomery, the landmarks preservation commissioner for Droste’s office, noted that Droste is “open-hearted” and “open-minded.”
Many public commentators acknowledged Droste’s efforts toward improving housing initiatives and zoning laws.
“I really appreciate your service not only to the citizens of Berkeley now, but future citizens through your work on housing,” Montgomery said during the meeting.
Droste’s family, including her wife Carrie Gray and her two children Simon and Cora, were also in attendance at the meeting to celebrate the achievement.
“I want to acknowledge and state for the record how proud I am of who you are,” Gray said during the meeting.
Gray emphasized Droste’s dedication, intelligence, courage and integrity in serving the city of Berkeley through the city council.
During her closing remarks, Droste noted the importance of the council’s cumulative efforts to improve the city.
“Over the past four years, we have shown that we care about progress and moving forward and being more inclusive and moving beyond the status quo,” Droste said during the meeting. “Most importantly, I feel proudest for trying to ensure that our community felt safe and provided for and loved.”
During a period of public comment, concerns were also raised over issues with communication. Speakers noted that community members were not adequately provided with updates regarding the agreement to extend a lease at 1720 San Pablo Ave. for the purpose of maintaining an unhoused shelter.
Christopher Kroll, a member of the public, noted that while community members are supportive of the agreement, they need to be informed of the city’s plans and development timeline.
“There needs to be a lot better outreach to residents to explain new projects going on, especially new supportive housing,” Kroll said during the meeting. “I am very supportive and very happy to see the city of Berkeley actively trying to get unhoused members of our community housed. That is not the issue.”
Moses Abughosh, owner of Cafe Leila on San Pablo Avenue, stated that his concerns are primarily about safety due to incidents at his restaurant, which include theft and vandalism following the opening of the homeless shelter previously.
According to Abughosh, his employees feel unsafe due to harassment issues, and he has decided to close his restaurant earlier due to safety concerns.
“We want to continue being there, but we want to feel safe,” Abughosh said during the meeting.
In response, Mayor Jesse Arreguín noted that because the lease had only been finalized recently, they were unable to hold a community meeting. Arreguín also called on community members to have compassion during the holiday season and noted the “earnest” efforts being made to provide a solution to the problem.
“This is the best opportunity we have to provide immediate shelter for the people who will be homeless in a few weeks if we don’t find a solution,” Arreguín said during the meeting.
Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani noted that the council’s decisions have been difficult and that their only available option was the San Pablo Avenue location.
“The city has to go where there is an opportunity and so there happens to be an opportunity here at 1720 San Pablo Avenue,” Kesarwani said during the meeting.
The council will request that a security assessment of both the 1600 and 1720 blocks of San Pablo Avenue be conducted within two months, according to Kesarwani. They will have another community meeting to hear about specific concerns and suggestions for safety improvements, she added.