Enhanced fire and police protection, housing development, safeguards for creeks and an advisory measure to impeach President George Walker Bush are among the accomplishments City Councilmembers cite for 2006.
Still, the city’s $300 million budget wasn’t enough to fund all that the citizens and their representatives would have liked and so the 2007 wish lists are lengthy.
District 6 Councilmember Betty Olds has worked to get a new fire station in her district since she came to office in 1992. Nov. 11, the modern Shasta Road station finally opened, but not without concern on the part of the fire-conscious city. This station, as the others in Berkeley, faces periodic “brownouts,” temporary, rotating closures due to insufficient funding.
“The firehouse opening was a great thing,” Olds said. “But one of the things I had hoped to do [in 2006] was to have the firehouses open all year.”
The council will discuss full funding for fire protection when it considers its budget in February.
Another budget question will be renewing police and social services the council added to Telegraph Avenue and Downtown in July, after the highly-publicized closure of Cody’s on Telegraph.
Police and social services for the Telegraph-Downtown area were cut several years ago. Making the funding a permanent part of the budget will be a priority for Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring.
Worthington underscored that it’s not simply additional funding that is important, but a commitment to community-Involved policing, where officers who patrol specific locations get to know people who live in or frequent the area.
Cody’s Telegraph closure (the store’s remaining stores on Fourth Street and San Francisco were sold in September to Tokyo-based businessman Hiroshi Kagawa) caused the council to take a hard look at the Telegraph commercial corridor.
The council provided for new cleaning machines and, more important, supported changes in the permitting process which, when approved, will facilitate locating new businesses on the Avenue and allow restaurants to stay open late into the evening. The council will vote on the permit changes this month or next.
Worthington said he hopes that in the new year the city manager will agree with the 70 merchants who petitioned to allow evening parking in yellow zones on Telegraph.
Housing is a big issue for many councilmembers. Worthington wants to see what he calls “truly affordable housing” built—housing for families earning $20,000-to-$30,000 annually. He said it was a victory for the council to place $1 million (a loan from the city’s general fund) last year in the Housing Trust Fund for low-income housing.
Both Councilmembers Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli point to housing and retail to be built at 1100 Harrison St. as a success. A developer proposed a project that neighbors said was too massive for the area. Capitelli mediated a compromise that he says was a major accomplishment of 2006.
“Having been a developer in the past, I understood the process,” Capitelli said, explaining that he was able to broker a compromise that minimized the loss of profit for the developer and maximized the reduction of the impact the project would have on neighbors.
Councilmember Max Anderson lauded another neighborhood compromise proposed in 2006: “Curvy Derby.” For about a decade, the school district has wanted to build a regulation-size baseball field on its property at Martin Luther King Way and Derby Street. But that would entail closing Derby between Milvia Street and Martin Luther King, something farmers’ market aficionados object to —the Ecology Center Farmers’ Market uses the street each Tuesday.
Last year, however, a group of citizens designed a compromise: reconfiguring Derby to form an arc half way up the block to Milvia. A corner of the baseball diamond would fit squarely in that curvature.
“After 10 years, it looks like it’s on its way,” Anderson said. The first phase of the project, which is not controversial, is underway—developing new sports fields for the Martin Luther King-Derby-Milvia-Carlton Street block as it is currently configured.
“I’m hoping over time that we can reach the same sort of consensus on the Ashby BART site,” Anderson said, referring to a proposed housing/retail development that caused an outcry a year ago by neighbors left out of the loop.
Anderson said he has “slowed the process down” and was “hoping some of the good will can spill over from Curvy Derby.”
Councilmember Spring points to complex land-use issues where she has had success, such as setting up a multi-commission task force to create an ordinance for applying state density bonus requirements (extra height permitted for developers who include low-income units in a project).
But sometimes council accomplishments come small, such as when Spring helped save the 40-year-old Channing Way freebox known as the Wishing Well that the city said illegally-encroached on the sidewalk.
“People come to Berkeley to live because of amenities like this,” nearby resident John Lynch told the Daily Planet in June. “It is a great way to care for the local community.”
Spring and Councilmember Darryl Moore have worked to better regulate the overabundant Southwest Berkeley liquor stores that attract loitering and criminal activity. While the regulations are still in the works, Moore points to success in shutting down Dwight Way Liquors. “It took eight-to-10 years to get it resolved,” he said.
Two other important laws passed in 2006. One, a revision of the Creeks Ordinance, designed to protect the city’s waterways, regulates where people can build near creeks and culverts. The other, a revision of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, makes it easier for property owners to demolish older structures. Signatures are being gathered for a referendum on this ordinance.
While new issues confront the council regularly, old problems that persist will be addressed in 2007.
Perhaps one of the most difficult to resolve is violence among young people.
2006 saw three violent deaths among teens and young adults. In February, Juan Carlos Ramos, a Contra Costa College student, was stabbed to death at a teen house party on Contra Costa Avenue and in the same month, 24-year-old Keith Stephens was shot and killed on Carrison Street. In September, Wayne Drummond, 23, died of a gunshot wound to the torso he likely received somewhere in the Telegraph Avenue area near campus.
One way to address youth violence is giving young people a safe place to go. Moore said he is working on a youth center, something that was proposed years ago. “It’s moving slower than I would have liked,” he said.
Worthington is hoping that Berkeley will finally adopt a “sunshine” ordinance—“one with teeth,” he said. The law would expand community access to public information and facilitate the public’s participation in city government. A workshop on the ordinance is slated for February.
Maio would like to find a way to fund the city’s crumbling storm drain system and permanently avoid the flooding Berkeley saw in early 2006. “We are not able to really control [flooding] without major investment in our storm system infrastructure, but I intend to make that a priority in my current term,” Maio said.