Berkeley has long been a leader in environmental sustainability. We have promoted alternatives to driving and invested in infrastructure for biking, walking and transit. As a result, we have the highest level of bike commuters in the country for a city with a population over 100,000. Roughly 9.7% of our residents bike to work, with many others biking recreationally or just to get around town. Despite the popularity of cycling in Berkeley, between potholes and a shortage of bike lanes, it can be a dangerous ride on many of our city streets. Sadly there have been a number of accidents where cyclists have been seriously injured by motorists.
In February 2016, a terrible accident on Fulton Street and Bancroft Way left a cyclist with critical injuries. This incident led to community members and Bike East Bay mobilizing fordedicated bike lanes on Fulton, a heavily trafficked route for bicyclists. I have worked closely with Bike East Bay and city staff to expedite bikes lanes on Fulton, and I was proud to take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony for this bike lane yesterday, on Bike to Work Day. While we made Fulton a little safer, we have a lot more to do. I am committed to expanding our bicycle network to make our streets safer for everyone while moving our Climate Action Plan forward.
Fortunately there are a number of initiatives under way to expand biking in Berkeley. Bay Area Bike Share will be installing its first ten bike share stations in Berkeley by the end of the year. With four stations centered in the downtown, the first phase is focused on connecting important transit routes. Over the next two years, 27 additional stations will be added throughout Berkeley totaling 400 bikes.
Construction on the long-awaited Hearst Avenue Complete Streets Project begins this Fall. The project will improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Hearst Avenue between Shattuck and Gayley Rd/La Loma Ave by installing a protected bike lane and expanding sidewalks. This has been a priority of both the City and the University for several years, and I am glad it is moving forward. For more information on the project, click here.
Lastly, Berkeley is in the middle of updating its Bike Plan, to expand bicycle boulevards and bike infrastructure, and make biking safer. You are invited to participate in the Bike Plan process.
IN THE NEWS
Center Street Garage Closing, Transportation Improvements in Downtown
There are two major projects that will begin construction in the Downtown area starting in June. The 420-space Center Street Parking Garage will shut down for approximately 18 months. The old, seismically unsafe structure will be torn down and replaced with a 720-space parking garage with bike and electric vehicle parking. Mitigation measures will take place during the closure, but the City encourages those visiting the Downtown to take AC Transit, Bart or other alternative forms of transportation. For more information on the closure, click here.
Another project is the redesign of the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, which will transform the current plaza, making it more inviting and welcoming to pedestrians. The current rotunda will be replaced, and the adjacent bus stop will be expanded. Improvements to transportation services will be included. There will be no closure of BART or bus service interruptions during the construction, which is expected to take 18 months. For more information on the project, click here.
Updates on Housing Initiatives
In the midst of the current affordable housing crisis we are facing, multiple proposals to improve housing conditions and affordability have been delayed. As mentioned in the lastnewsletter, the April 5th Council meeting dedicated to affordable housing ended up having almost no discussion on affordable housing. The items delayed, including addressing the homeless shelter crisis and Tiny Homes, will be brought up at the May 17th Council meeting (see below for more details). Councilmember Arreguin is proposing amendments to the Mayor’s plan, which focus on creating revenue for low-income housing, expanding affordable housing and preventing displacement. Click here to read Councilmember Arreguin’s affordable housing proposal.
Last Tuesday’s Council meeting was scheduled to talk about the Tenant Protection Ordinance and Short Term Rentals (AirBnB etc.), but those items were also delayed, and will come up at the May 31st meeting.
Urban Agriculture/Community Garden Zoning
Although community gardens have been an important part of our city’s urban life fordecades, they have not been a permitted zoning use, which has created numerous barriers to the formation of new gardens. In addition, many accessory uses such as group class instruction, sales of produce and accessory structures (such as sheds) have required separate zoning permits.These separate permits cost time and money for non-profit, volunteer-run community gardens.
Our office has worked closely with the Ecology Center’s Berkeley Climate Action Coalition Land Use Working Group to develop a proposal that defined community gardens and made them a by right use, which would greatly reduce existing barriers. We are happy to announce that the proposal we submitted was presented at the last City Council meeting and passed on consent. It will now go the Planning Commission. We will keep you posted about next steps and how you can support the proposal at the Commission.
Berkeley Resilience Plan
In 2014, Berkeley was one of the first of one hundred cities worldwide to take part in the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. Last month, Berkeley became the first city in the region and sixth in the world to develop a resiliency plan. The plan lays out four major challenges the city faces: earthquakes, wildfires, climate change (including droughts and floods), and racial inequality. The plan provides six goals: build a connected and prepared community, accelerate access to reliable and clean energy, adapt to the changing climate, advance racial equity, excel at working together within city government to better serve the community, and build regional resilience. For more information, check out the Berkeley Resilience webpage.
AN OP-ED BY BERKELEY HIGH STUDENT ABBY STECKEL
On Friday, April 15th, Berkeley High honored the Day of Silence alongside LGBT+ community members, advocates and allies worldwide. On this day, students could choose to take a vow of silence in order to show solidarity with LGBT+ people whose voices are undermined on the basis of their gender and sexuality. Organized by the BHS Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), the event gave students the opportunity to discuss this discrimination and understand their own role in either perpetuating or ending it.
According to Lily Weiner-Mock, one of the GSA’s three co-presidents, the day was an overall success. Weiner-Mock said that the group chose to focus on the acts of allyship and speaking up that the silence promotes rather than the silence itself, in order to encourage people to advocate loudly. For this reason, the club hosted a panel discussion of LGBT students and staff who spoke to packed audiences during 4th and 5th periods. “I thought the panel went really well,” she said. “It’s so great to have people who have something to say, and then have people who actually listen.”
Certainly, there is a lot that the BHS community needs to hear and do to make our school climate fully accepting of LGBT people. One of the GSA’s current initiatives is to establish gender neutral bathrooms on campus. According to Lily, many trans students feel physically and emotionally unsafe using the bathroom at school, and experience aggression if they enter the facility that aligns with their gender identity. For these students, she said, “Every time you go to the bathroom it’s like you’re defining yourself the wrong way.” A few months ago, GSA members posted signs on single-stalled bathrooms that labeled them gender neutral. They were torn down by the end of the day. The club is continuing to push for more inclusive facilities.
The GSA is also developing new history curriculum for teachers to incorporate into their class materials. According to history teacher and GSA faculty advisor Deborah Godner, BHS is currently out of compliance with the California Fair, Inclusive, Accurate, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which mandates that California schools integrate LGBT and disability history into their courses. To this end, Godner has collaborated with student leaders to compile a document suggesting lesson plans that will allow LGBT students see themselves better reflected in what they study.
The theme of improving education came up multiple times in my conversations with the group’s leaders. Sarah Robson, another club co-president, emphasized the importance of having a strong awareness of the challenges that LGBT students face in order to make real cultural change within the school community. During class presentations, GSA members spend a period building a “baseline knowledge” of LGBT issues - explaining the acronym, telling personal stories, answering questions, and discussing current events. For many students, Robson explained, it’s easy to remain passive, avoiding acts of direct aggression but not actually challenging their prejudiced views. “There’s a lot of people who think … ‘No, I’m not homophobic or transphobic,’ when in reality it’s still a mindset that hasn’t shifted forthem,” she said. If people don’t think about LGBT discrimination, she added, it doesn’t change.
The GSA is determined not to let us lose focus.
Learn about Community Choice Energy (CCE) at this public workshop hosted by the Berkeley Energy Commission. Provide input on priorities, governance structure, renewable energy sources, economic and sustainability benefits, and costs. Free and welcome to all. Light snacks will be provided. For more information, click here.
Expand your artistic repertoire with this free drawing workshop, the second of six planned sessions. Open to all community members ages 12 and up, participants are invited to bring an independent project to work on or create something new in an unstructured environment. With any questions, please call 510-981-6121.
Local author and scholar Richard Schwartz will deliver a free lecture about Native American life on the land that became Berkeley. He will talk about the discovery of Native American artifacts and history and discuss current residents’ role in preserving an ancient culture. Formore information, please call 510-981-6148.
Family Fun Festival
Saturday, May 28, 10am-2pm
Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Civic Center Park
The Ecology Center will host its 13th annual free Family Fun Festival featuring a wide range of activities for all ages and interests. Participants have the opportunity to compete in a hoola hoop contest, make puppets, visit the create-with-nature zone, relax at story time with the Berkeley Public Library, and much more. Whether you stop by or stay the whole event, don’t forget to grab a snack from the farmers’ market! For more info, click here.
UPCOMING COUNCIL ITEMS
Addressing the Housing Emergency
- Response to Homeless Shelter Crisis
Alta Bates Hospital Overlay
Transportation Impact Fee
Citizens Budget Review Commission
Short Term Rental (Airbnb) Regulations
Tenant Protection Ordinance
Extending Business Hours in Commercial Districts