Public Comment

South Shattuck residents still waiting to be noticed

Thomas Ferrell
Thursday February 02, 2017 - 10:51:00 PM

Holdovers from the Bates administration on the city staff are still running government, accommodating developers, and thwarting the public.

The controversial Berkeley Honda proposal to shoehorn a repair shop/dealership into the old Berkeley Bowl building was approved on September 8 by the old ZAB with the help of an accommodating planning staff, and the votes of 4 new or substitute members. Given the makeup of the old ZAB and the anti-neighborhood bias of the Bates-era staff, no one was surprised by the outcome.

The neighborhood appealed the ZAB decision, as everyone expected. Then an election happened.

The new mayor Jesse Arreguin smartly judged that the public hearing for this controversial issue should be the only agenda item, and so it is. The hearing for the neighborhood appeal is set for Tuesday February 7 at 6:00 p.m.

So far, so good, right? We'll hash the thing out on the merits, and may the best arguments win. Not so fast, folks—what's this

Notices for the special Council meeting list different public hearing dates (March 7, February 7) on the front and back of the card. They were mailed 2 days later than required by ordinance. Does this jeopardize the hearing? The appellant needs to know. (The appellant of record is 45-year neighborhood resident Louise Rosenkrantz, representing a large group of neighbors who have been working on the issue for 2 years.) 

Then this happened: 

1) January 30. Rosenkrantz tells planning director Carol Johnson that the neighbors need immediate clarification. Large outreach meeting for neighbors is planned for that night. What should interested neighbors be told? Leaflets need to be changed, email contacts alerted. Deadline is imminent for documents to reach the City Council before the hearing. Can city staff provide clarity? Fast? 

2) Johnson emails Rosenkrantz that the notice is definitely "invalid" and that staff are looking into "alternate dates." Rosenkrantz and the neighbors announce to supporters that the February 7 hearing will not take place. 

3) January 31 (4:13 p.m.) City staff reverses itself, the February 7 hearing is on—despite the self-contradicting notice and the untimely mailing. Rosenkrantz learns this minutes before the deadline for submitting documents to the Council. Confusion. The document deadline passes, neighbors protest. 

4) February 1 (5:46 p.m.) Staff responds to the neighborhood protest: "The City Clerk has verified that the notices left their office on January 23rd and were received at the Post Office on January 24th. These dates are compliant with the minimum 14-day advance notice." 

Hmmm. The Post Office was open January 24 and 25. The postmark was apparently applied by a Neopost postage meter—an office device—presumably before delivery to the Post Office. Yet the cards are all postmarked January 26. 

Is the city clerk's account truth or fiction? Is the notification confusion, and the conflicting staff advice, accidental or intentional? The effect is likely to depress neighborhood participation—similar to shifting a hot agenda item to the midnight hour, as happened at ZAB. 

Staff has been aggressively pushing the Honda project from the start, altering its own recommendations to accommodate Honda's wishes, and crafting bizarre interpretations of zoning code. 

At the September 8 ZAB hearing, public testimony did not begin until 10:30 p.m. Dozens of neighbors, many in frail health or with young children, filled out speaker cards but could not stay long enough to participate. The hearing did not conclude until nearly 1:30 a.m. “Things are somewhat devolving as fatigue sets in,” a reporter tweeted during the Board’s deliberations. 

So, what explains the current strange notification snafu? And why the contradictory guidance from city staff? 

Or, to reframe the question: will neighborhood organizations, and a public that supported and campaigned for the progressive slate, ever find responsive service from the professional staff? Can the progressive mayor and council majority control a staff trained to advance the pro-developer Bates agenda?