The Berkeley City Council Pulls Yet Another Stunt

Kelly Hammargren
Sunday November 15, 2015 - 02:27:00 PM

It has become common practice for the Berkeley City Council to present a “surprise" ordinance for vote after closing public testimony. The minimum wage “compromise” was obviously crafted in advance of the Tuesday, November 10 special City Council meeting and was withheld from the public until public comment was closed. The public had no opportunity to see and comment on the “compromise” as an alternative to the recommendation from the Labor Commission or doing nothing. The handing out of blue paper “compromise” is at 3:50 into the meeting video. Mayor Tom Bates declared (video 4:06) that he had not seen the compromise although he stated maybe heard about it. Had he seen it, it would have been a violation of the Brown Act. Only Mayor Bates and the four council members involved, Droste, Maio, Moore and Capitelli know how much was shared with the Mayor in advance.

Surprise ordinances distributed at the last minute after public comment is closed usurps the democratic process and demonstrates once again that Berkeley does not have an open and transparent government. This and other behaviors/practices in Berkeley City Council, Boards and Commissions make it absolutely imperative that someone from the public is present at every meeting to observe, monitor, question and report.

Mid-week we got wind of “mitigations” being on the agenda of the 2 x 2 meeting, that is the meeting between the Berkeley Mayor, City Council Vice Mayor, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) President and Vice President. It is easy to miss what “mitigations” means if you are not closely involved with the Harold Way project and why city officials favoring Harold Way would want to have discussion with BUSD. 

Legal representation for BUSD filed an appeal on October 27, 2015 of the approval of the Harold Way project citing “…As the District has previously urged, we believe the Project as proposed will have potentially significant impacts on the health, welfare and safety of BUSD students, teachers and facilities…” The impacts that need to be mitigated (diminished/relieved) relate to noise, air pollution, traffic, teacher parking and sewage. Sewage is backing up at Berkeley High School (BHS) in the facilities and on the athletic field. Harold Way will add hundreds of residents upstream from BHS placing more pressure on a sewage system that is already in trouble. A full reading of the appeal is available through this link http://www.cityofberkeley.info/uploadedFiles/Planning_and_Development/Level_3_-_ZAB/2015-10-27_ZAB_APPEAL_Sakai_BUSD_2211%20Harold.pdf 

Five of us from the community showed up to observe. Mayor Tom Bates stated as the meeting that was about to start that he had been advised by the City Attorney that discussing mitigations would be a violation of the Brown Act and therefore this item was being pulled from the agenda. No one seemed to know how this item ended up on the agenda, but those of us from the community were not surprised. We have all been expecting an end run to pressure the BUSD to withdraw the appeal of Harold Way.

The Mayor indicated we could leave if this was the reason for our attendance. As good citizens, we all stayed. After all, we had managed to arrive at BUSD room 126 by 8:30 am, the meeting is not recorded and minutes from several past meetings are absent from the City website. Those of us who have been observing our city government closely were not so confident as to believe that discussion of the forbidden item would not ensue if we walked out. Along those lines, there was a suggestion from Mayor Bates that “comments” be added to the agenda to cover discussion of topics not posted. This came up when Beatriz Leyva-Cutler brought up a topic not on the agenda and was reminded as a public meeting, content needed to be posted in advance.