Membership in the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce underscores the city’s desire to promote business, Chamber Executive Director Rachel Rupert told the council Tuesday, arguing against a resolution that would have the city cancel memberships in organizations that participate in electoral politics.
The resolution was briefly addressed even though it had been pulled off the agenda for the second time by its author, Councilmember Dona Spring, who said she is waiting for backup materials on the question.
At the Tuesday council meeting, the body also addressed issues at Allston House, a low-income housing apartment complex, and funding the winter shelter program.
Even though the item was pulled from the agenda, the chamber’s Rachel Rupert and Roland Peterson, the chair of the Chamber Board of Directors, chose to address the council on the issue.
The city belongs to the chamber through the City Manager’s Office and the Fire Department, both of which have paid memberships, according to Tracy Vesely, the city’s budget manager. (Rupert says only the Office of Economic Development, which is part of the manager’s office, has a paid membership.)
The membership is advantageous because “we work very closely with the Office of Economic Development,” Rupert told the council.
“The Office of Economic Development and the Chamber have the same mission, to improve the business climate,” Peterson added.
Rupert noted that this past election was the first time the chamber had endorsed candidates, although it has endorsed against ballot measures in the past as it did in the November election. The chamber endorsed Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak and the challengers to Spring and Councilmember Kriss Worthington, as well as opposing Measure J, the Landmarks Preservation ballot measure.
Berkeley resident Nancy Carleton, treasurer for the Worthington council campaign, called on the city to withdraw its membership from organizations that endorse candidates for office. “It is inappropriate for our taxpayer dollars to go to such groups, and contrary to democratic principles,” she wrote.
While Spring’s resolution targets the chamber only and not its political action committee, Rupert brought the PAC into the discussion. (The PAC put about $100,000 into funding support for and against the same candidates and measure that the chamber had endorsed.) “The PAC is separate from the Chamber,” she said. “The PAC has its own agenda.”
Worthington took the opportunity to ask Rupert and Peterson for the names of the PAC board of directors, something he has been unable to obtain. Peterson has told the Planet that the PAC chair is realtor Miriam Ng, Councilmember Darryl Moore’s appointee to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the treasurer is Stacy Owens. Rupert promised to send the information to the council and to the Daily Planet. (On Thursday, the Planet learned that because Ng is out of town, the information will not be available for a few days.)
A city loan to Affordable Housing Associates, which manages low-income housing at Allston House at 2121 Seventh St., sparked a discussion around safety issues at the property. Councilmember Dona Spring said she had met with tenants and AHA to talk about ensuring security with security cameras and an improved security gate.
“People can jump over the gate—it’s not a security deterrent,” Spring said. Tenants have alleged that there is drug dealing in the building and that it is not safe.
Housing Director Steve Barton said he thought there was adequate security, but added, “We can have someone take another look.”
The conversation did not sit well with Councilmember Darryl Moore, in whose district Allston House is located. Not without sarcasm, he thanked Spring for her attention to the property and noted that he had walked the building with a police officer.
“I believe even a nine-foot gate could be scaled,” he said. “I don’t want to see barbed wire and I don’t want to start micromanaging the project.” The council approved the loan unanimously.
The council also unanimously approved an added $7,000 for the Oakland Army Base winter shelter, and City Manager Phil Kamlarz noted that the city has been able to house everyone who wanted shelter during the cold snap the city has been experiencing.
The city had been prepared to open up one of its gyms if necessary, but it was not, according to Andrew Wicker, a city community services specialist, speaking in a separate interview. “The mobile crisis team was able to contact people and take them to shelters,” Wicker said.