The Berkeley City Council returned from a six-week recess, approving the police union contract and funding for the Miyawaki Pocket Forest Pilot Program during its Tuesday meeting.
Among the items up for approval was a budget referral of $100,000 to beautify vacant storefronts in Berkeley’s commercial districts. The referral, authored by Councilmember Kate Harrison, would install vinyl window graphics.
Councilmember Mark Humbert abstained from approving the beautification project, citing high costs.
“We need to focus any spare funds on human welfare,” Humbert said.
In addition to Harrison’s beautification efforts, Councilmember Terry Taplin authored an item on improving city intersections and safety measures along AC Transit’s 51B route. The item was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Rigel Robinson and Mark Humbert.
It refers $150,000 each to the fiscal year 2024-25 and fiscal year 2025-26 budgets for safety and accessibility improvements, such as curb cuts, “auditory functions of crossing signals” and accessible parking measures. In addition, it proposes that the city manager conducts a feasibility analysis and community engagement process for the development of Bus Rapid Transit improvements on the AC Transit 51B route.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín abstained from a motion to study building Bus Rapid Transit on Telegraph Avenue in 2010, much to the chagrin of transit and environmental advocates in Berkeley. Thirteen years later, he voiced regret over that decision and supported Taplin’s proposal.
“I will admit I was on the wrong side of history on that one,” Arreguín said. “We need clean energy and transportation opportunities to and from Oakland.”
The contract with the Berkeley Police Department will ensure training and resources for effective and culturally competent policing, according to city manager Dee Williams-Ridley.
After Williams-Ridley’s introduction of the memorandum, several council members spoke up in response to a statement by Berkeley Copwatch founding member Andrea Prichett during public comment. Prichett re-released a video from 2017 in which a police officer used degrading racist language to address a civilian.
“I share the entire city council’s shock and outrage. No city employee should speak that way, we take this issue very seriously,” Arreguín said. “I know our staff will be looking into this matter.”
Efforts to address policing will not make Berkeley “soft on crime,” according to Councilmember Harrison.
Earlier in the evening, a group of students, parents and teachers addressed the council regarding the Miyawaki Forest Pilot Project, brought to Berkeley schools by Neelam Patil and authored by Councilmember Sophie Hahn.
“I hope this legislation can be a flagship, a template and a beacon of hope for the rest of the nation,” Patil said.
The Pocket Forest project will be forwarded to the November 2023 Budget Process.
Councilmember Harrison called the Miyawaki Forest Pilot project “the most popular item in the council,” adding that all councilmembers wanted to co-sponsor.
Cardboard tree in hand, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School student Evelyn Lloyd voiced her support for the city-wide pilot.
“We have been using so much toilet paper,” Lloyd said. “We want to repay the climate for what we’ve taken.”