Yogurt, Oil and Tenants' Rights Dominate Berkeley Council Meeting

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Thursday September 30, 2010 - 02:01:00 PM

Frozen yogurt, British Petroleum, and political prisoners were a few of the lively subjects discussed at Tuesday's regular City Council meeting. 

The Council ceremonially declared September 28th, 2010 Floyd Salas Day. The jolly, wizened Salas, an acclaimed Hispanic author, was present along with a crowd of family members who cheered enthusiastically as he accepted the honor. Also recognized was Indigenous People's Day, declared for October 9th, 2010. Everybody was encouraged to attend the Pow-Wow celebration on that date at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park. Biotech partners also took the opportunity to thank Youth Works and the City of Berkeley for grant money used to place teenagers in biotechnical internships. 

The Council made a unanimous decision to send a letter on behalf of the City of Berkeley urging President Barack Obama to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier. Peltier is a political prisoner from the American Indian Movement who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents at Oglala, South Dakota, and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in 1977. Supporters insist that his trial was unfair, with nearly all of the evidence having been manipulated, invented, or suppressed by the FBI. Three speakers thanked the Council for supporting Peltier, who has now been in prison for 35 years. 

Perhaps the longest discussion that took place on Tuesday night was the appeal by the owners of Papa Mango, a frozen yogurt shop near Telegraph, against the Zoning Adjustment Board’s decision to allow a Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop at 2400 Telegraph. Christine Limpin and her husband appeared at the Council meeting to argue on behalf of the eight existing locally and independently-owned frozen yogurt restaurants, claiming that the ZAB made its decision without hearing the position of the existing shops. 

The addition of Pinkberry, designated a “quick-serve” restaurant because customers are given their yogurt to sit down and eat at the store, would make 44 quick-serve restaurants in the area, exceeding the quota. Given that fact, and for fear that the number of frozen yogurt shops in the area might be getting out of control and posing a detriment to the livelihood of the smaller businesses, Limpin and seven other frozen yogurt businesses petitioned to have a second hearing. Limpin also claimed that she and her husband were not notified properly about the original ZAB hearing. 

Councilmembers Maio and Worthington moved to support the appellants and have a second hearing. “What their petition asks is have a hearing and consider the facts,” said Worthington. “Given that I am not an expert on yogurt and I do not know if this particular yogurt is dramatically different from all the other kinds of yogurt, I think [it's] the least we can do for these eight small businesses who are struggling in Berkeley—they are already here, and they are struggling.” Eventually, however, seemingly in the interest of filling a business location that has been unoccupied for three years in a bad economy, a substitute motion was passed upholding the ZAB decision and turning down the appellants. 

Item number 19 on the agenda, regarding a Stuart Street resident and landlord who had turned a five-unit residence into four units, turned into a lengthy, often confused debate about Measure Y. Measure Y, passed in 1998, spells out protections from eviction for tenants meeting certain criteria, one of which is that they live in a building containing five or more units. Since this transformation from five to four units had been made without a permit prior to any attempts to qualify for one, and since the transformation would remove Measure Y eviction protections from future tenants, it was decided to remand the ZAB's previously sympathetic ruling back to the Board. 

If ZAB decided to deny the permit, some councilmembers feared, the tenants of the building could be evicted. So, with advice from the City Attorney, it was agreed that the city has discretion to enforce eviction protection in this situation to prevent any evictions from taking place. 

The final item taken up by the council was a recommendation authored by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin that the council urge the University of California to terminate its contract with British Petroleum. “When this agreement was entered into,” the agenda item said, “we didn't know that B.P. would be responsible for the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, and the impacts of that oil spill will continue to affect the gulf coast for many years to come.” 

This item brought up seven public speakers, one dressed in Blue and Gold with a furry bear hat, trailing a black paper bag from her shoe, wearing a number of “B.P.” logos. All of the speakers came to support Arreguin's item, and all were disappointed. 

Perhaps because the research facility operating under funding from B.P. “creates $50 million in money being spent,”as Councilmember Wozniak pointed out, the item died without a motion. “I think the university's a very powerful interest in the city, and they're strongly, strongly against this,” Arreguin commented. “So I think their opposition to this strongly influenced the councilmembers decision to not support this.”