I hope you are having a safe and productive new year. As we enter 2016, I want to take this opportunity to update you on some of the important work my office was involved in this past year.
Black Lives Matter/Police Response to December 2014 protests
2015 started on a difficult note in the wake of large demonstrations in Berkeley and nationwide in response to the killing of unarmed African American men by police. The Black Lives Matter movement which was borne out of these tragic killings, not only called for an end to police brutality, but also addressed the systemic racism in law enforcement and throughout our society. I joined thousands of Berkeley residents at some of these demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter.
On December 6th, Berkeley Police (BPD) responded to the first night of demonstrations with heavy force, including using tear gas to break up the crowd. In response to the use of excessive force on protestors, I led efforts on Council to not only look at ways of improving police-community relations, but to also investigate the police response to the December 2014 protests and new ways of crowd control.
Our citizen Police Review Commission spent the good part of 2015 investigating BPD’s response to the December 6, 2014 protest and issued a report proposing a number changes to police crowd control policies. You can read their report here. The City Council will be voting on the Police Commission’s recommendations at our meeting this upcoming Tuesday, January 26th.
On June 16, 2015 Berkeley experienced a horrible tragedy when a fifth floor balcony at the Library Gardens apartment building collapsed killing 6 students, most of whom were visiting from Ireland. In the wake of the tragic balcony collapse, I led efforts on the Council to strengthen building codes to require that existing balconies be inspected to ensure safety, and that new balconies be built using stronger materials including steel. Berkeley’s balcony regulations have led to statewide efforts to strengthen building codes, so this unspeakable tragedy never happens again.
Downtown Community Benefits
In 2010, Berkeley voters approved a ballot measure allowing for five high-rises in the Downtown area. In exchange for builders exceeding height limits, they were required to provide “significant community benefits” to the City. While the Council adopted new zoning allowing higher density housing in 2012, we never adopted guidelines for the delivery of community benefits. My office led efforts on the Council to develop a policy requiring significant community benefits from Downtown high-rises including: affordable housing, union construction jobs, more open space, and funding for the arts. Council approved an 18-story apartment building in early December, the first in 40 years. Thanks to the community benefits policy I helped craft, that project will provide $10.4 million in funding for affordable housing, in addition to other community benefits.
Homeless Task Force
In 2013, my office convened a Homeless Task Force to start a community conversation on how we can end homelessness in our community. Over the last 2 ½ years, the Task Force has engaged hundreds of Berkeley residents and has developed thoughtful recommendations on improving homeless outreach, mental health services, emergency shelter and permanent housing. The Council will be discussing the Task Force’s recommendations at our February 9th meeting. You can read the Task Force’s report here.
The Task Force will continue to meet in the coming year to move these initiatives forward and to continue to develop policies and programs to address homelessness. Everyone is welcome to attend Task Force meetings and participate. Visit the Task Force webpage to learn about upcoming meetings.
Rental Housing Safety Program
The balcony collapse brought the issue of housing safety front and center. While Berkeley renters are paying some of the highest rents in the country, many live in inhabitable or unsafe conditions. In recent years, a number of apartment buildings have burned down due to fires, further highlighting this problem. This is unacceptable. No one’s life should be at risk due to unsafe housing. Berkeley’s housing inspection program is in need of major reform. That is why I introduced a proposal to strengthen our Rental Housing Safety Program to require more inspections, and to hold owners accountable to make the improvements needed to keep housing safe.
The City Council voted on several initiatives which I introduced to limit the sale of tobacco products to improve the health of youth.
The Council passed a policy last year to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes near schools. The Council will also be voting on a proposal to ban the sale of tobacco products to youth under the age of 21.
Berkeley has led the way in tobacco prevention. We were one of the first cities to ban smoking in public places and we will continue education and efforts to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoking on our youth.
Our entire state has faced an unprecedented drought which requires all of us, including the City government, to take major steps to reduce water usage. My office introduced several initiatives which led the City to develop drought reduction strategies. After the declaration of drought by Governor Brown, I proposed that the City reduce water usage by 25%. In 2015 our city reduced water usage by 29% and we are looking at ways to store and reuse water for irrigation. I also proposed that new development projects include green infrastructure to manage storm water and capture rainwater for reuse.
My priorities for 2016 include: Affordability/displacement crisis, ending homelessness, supporting small businesses, promoting sustainability and green building.
It is my honor to represent you on the City Council. I look forward to hearing your ideas about how we can improve our City, and my office is always available if you have any questions or need help with city services. Please call us at (510) 981-7140 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Councilmember, District 4
Also, did you know I have a City Council Facebook page? Follow my page (http://www.facebook.com/berkeleydistrict4) to receive short updates on various City related matters!
IN THE NEWS
Office Hours at the Farmers Market
Saturday, January 30th, 10am – 1pm
Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market, Center and Milvia
As your City Councilmember, I want to hear from you about what you care about, and what the City should be doing, and what it can improve. As a way to connect with residents on a regular basis, I will be holding office hours at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Markets each month. During these open Office Hours, we hope you will share your thoughts, comments, and concerns, or just stop by to say hello. We look forward to learning from you how to make District 4 even better.
State of Berkeley’s Economy/Economic Dashboards
City Economic Development staff recently presented a report to Council on the state of Berkeley’s economy. Our economic is strong and getting stronger, but some structural challenges, such as inequity and rising housing costs, persist. Specifically, the report found:
• Our unemployment rate is below pre-recession levels and one of the lowest in Alameda County although there are significantly higher rates for African Americans and Latinos in our community.
• Business licenses have grown steadily over the past decade with a significant spurt in 2014.
• 47% of active businesses in Berkeley are minority and/or female owned.
• Commercial vacancy rates have dropped dramatically moving from 10.1% to 5.9% since 2008.
• Construction spending is at an all-time high with the 2nd quarter, 2015 exceeding $100 million. (Typical totals have averaged between $20 and $40 million per quarter.)
• Vacancy rates in our commercial neighborhoods have dropped by 50% in the last 5 years.
The Citywide findings are in the Berkeley Economic Dashboard, a six-month snapshot of economic performance and trends in employment, real estate, development, sales tax, and other key indicators. The economic development office plans to update these dashboards every 6 months. The Commercial District Dashboards provide a more focused look at economic performance in nine of Berkeley's neighborhood commercial districts. Businesses and community members can use this report to analyze the business mix, storefront vacancy, and sales tax trends in their district. OED plans to update these reports annually. The Berkeley Economic & Demographic Profile provides broad information on Berkeley's population, business sectors and amenities. The City Profile is a tool for businesses, commercial brokers, researchers, community stakeholders, and other people seeking more information about Berkeley. For further detail, please see a staff report and presentation given to the City Council on December 15. These and other Economic Development reports are available at www.cityofberkeley.info/oed/reports/
Free Spay and Neuter Program
PAW FUND, a non-profit that helps people take care of their pets, is now also offering a subsidized spay and neuter program (SNYP) to community members. Under the program pet owners can receive several free services including spay and neuter surgery, microchip, vaccines, and nail trimming. There is also no limit to how many pets can be treated. Eligibility requirements are simple. You must either be a Berkeley resident, or temporarily here, such as homeless or transient, and low-income. For more information call PAW FUND at 510-390-3488.
Update on Homeless Initiatives
Berkeley is facing a homelessness crisis - and we are not alone. Cities throughout the region are seeing a dramatic increase in street homelessness. During these cold and rainy winter months, you see people sleeping in doorways, in our parks and on public sidewalks. We cannot let people literally freeze to death on our streets. In order to provide a safe and warm space outside of the elements, our city staff prior to Thanksgiving, working with non-profit agencies, opened a Warming Center at the North Berkeley Senior Center and at service sites. The Warming Center will continue through the El Nino season into April and we are also expanding the number of shelter beds for the homeless. I want to commend our interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and her staff for their leadership in working with community stakeholders to provide these emergency services in just a matter of days.
In addition to these emergency services, the Council has been hard at work addressing the broader issue of homelessness. On Tuesday night, the Council unanimously passed a resolution declaring a Shelter Crisis. The next steps are working with our staff to apply for potential state and federal funding and to expand the number of shelter beds.
In addition, my office convened a Homeless Task Force, which has been working for the past two ½ years to develop new services and more housing for our homeless population. The Task Force presented a series of recommendations to the City Council last June, and on February 9th the Council will finally take up our suggestions for increased mental health services and homeless street outreach.
On January 26th, the Council will receive a report on the results of the 2015 Homeless Count. You can download the report here. Not surprisingly, the survey found that homelessness has not decreased in Berkeley. We still have a long way to go to reduce homelessness, but I will continue to make this a top priority.
LifeLong Medical Care, Serving Our Berkeley Community
LifeLong Medical Care, in partnership with Sutter Health, offers same-day care for urgent medical needs at 2001 Dwight Way in Berkeley. East Bay residents, especially those on Medi-Cal or without insurance, can use this location to help meet their urgent medical needs. The LifeLong Berkeley Immediate Care Center is located inside of the Herrick Campus of Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley. In addition to offering same-day medical care for adults and children, the Berkeley Immediate Care Center offers various lab tests, HIV testing, and adult vaccines on site. No appointments or referrals are needed. The center is open Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on LifeLong’s Berkeley Immediate Care Center, call (510) 204-7979.
In Case You Missed It: Berkeley's El Niño Preparedness Workshop
The City of Berkeley hosted a community workshop on December 10, 2015 on El Niño preparedness. Check out the City’s El Niño Preparedness website: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Resilience/ElNino. Here are some resources to keep you safe:
- El Niño Workshop (December 10th) See the Presentation for information on how to keep you home, business, family and pets safe in a storm.
- Sandbags Berkeley residents can pick up free sandbags at the City's Corporation Yard at 1326 Allston Way, between 8am-4pm, Monday-Friday.
- City of Berkeley’s Website will have the most up-to-date information for keeping you prepared before, during, and after storms or other emergencies. See the City of Berkeley homepage. Or sign up to the City of Berkeley’s Twitter feed or the City of Berkeley’s News Releases webpage to have updates sent to you.
- Adopt a Drain Program Help the City keep storm drains free of debris. See Adopt-A-Drain Program for free start-up kit.
The work the City and its partners are doing to prepare for El Niño is part of a broader, integrated effort to advance Berkeley's resilience in the face of climate change and other physical, social and economic challenges. A resilience approach to storm water management include the rain garden and permeable pavement projects that the City is installing throughout the City. These projects not only help to mitigate flooding, but also remove pollutants from storm water and help beautify the neighborhood. Learn more about Berkeley’s resilience efforts at www.cityofberkeley.info/resilience
Berkeley Restaurant Week
January 21st – 31st
The 4th Annual Restaurant Week has returned. Prix fixe lunch menus for $20 and dinners from $25 - $35 will be offered at establishments citywide including Zatar, Mission Heirloom, Spenger’s Fresh Fish, FIVE, and Revival Bar + Kitchen. A complete list of participating restaurants, menus and reservations are available at BerkeleyRestaurantWeek.com.
Office Hours at the Farmers Market
Saturday, January 23rd, 10am – 1pm
Center Street at MLK Jr Way
Please join us at the downtown Berkeley Farmers Market each month beginning in January to meet with Councilmember Arreguin. During these open office hours we hope you will share your thoughts, comments, and concerns, or just stop by to say hello. We look forward to learning from you how to make District 4 even better.
Berkeley Bike Share Planning Workshop
Monday, January 25th 6-8pm
YMCA Teen Center, 2111 Martin Luther King Jr Way
Bike Share is expanding to the East Bay. We are looking for public input on where the locations of Bike Share stations should be in Downtown and Southside. There will be two identical sessions: One at 6pm and the other at 7pm. If you cannot make it but want to make a suggestion, go to www.suggest.bayareabikeshare.com.
Localwise Berkeley Startup Job Fair
January 28th, 5pm
Nextspace Coworking, 2081 Center Street
Come mingle with some of the brightest minds in the startup community at the first ever Berkeley Startup Job Fair. Both technical and non-technical jobs are available so remember to bring your resume. This free event is co-hosted by Localwise and the City of Berkeley's Office of Economic Development. Local snacks and drinks will be provided. For more information or to register visit here.
Grand Opening of Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive!
I am very excited that the new BAM/PFA will be opening later this month at their new Downtown location. The new museum will further Downtown's role as a center for arts and culture in the region and contribute to Downtown's revitalization.
BAMPFA Community Day
Sunday, January 31, 2015, 11 am, FREE
Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
2120 Oxford Street at Center
UPCOMING COUNCIL ITEMS
Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 7pm
Longfellow Middle School Auditorium, 1500 Derby St
- Demolition Ordinance
- Donating Unsold Food to Charities
- Response to December 6, 2014 Protests/Police Reform Recommendations
- Increasing Tobacco Purchasing Age to 21
Date and Location TBA*
- Homeless Task Force Recommendations - February 9th
- Worker Coops - February 9th
- Preventing Evictions for Minor Offenses
- Five Year Street Paving Plan
- Minimum Wage Ordinance - February 9th
- Affordable Housing Worksession - February 16th
- Paid Sick Leave Ordinance - April
The above list of future items was set to be discussed on January 12, but the meeting was cancelled due to an elevator malfunction at Old City Hall. These items will be brought up at a future meeting that has not yet been scheduled. Check the online agendas for updates on locations and meetings and more details.
311: Reporting Sidewalks, Streetlights, Graffiti, Street Trees, Potholes and More
Get the easy things fixed by calling 311 weekdays between 8 am and 5 pm, or by filing an online request at Berkeley’s Online Service Center. You will receive a tracking number that can be used to reference your request if/when you call for an update or for further information. Under “General Request” residents can report problem street trees, clogged storm drains, non-working street lights and more. Reporting problems directly to City staff through 311 will expedite a response and provide a direct avenue for staff to follow up regarding the issue.
Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin