Notes from August 29, 2016 Community Meeting

Homeless Storage Facility Community Meeting

 

Background:

In December 2015, the City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit people from placing items larger than 2 square feet on the sidewalk. It was written in the ordinance that enforcement on this cannot go into effect until a storage facility is created with at least 50 lockers. As a result, City staff looked into finding a location to have this facility. The basement of Old City Hall, which is currently vacant, was chosen as the site for a pilot program that will start in late 2016 and will last a year, costing $235,000.

An August 29, 2016, a community meeting was held by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin with City Staff (Jim Hynes, Assistant to the City Manager; Phil Harrington, Public Works Director; Paul Buddenhagen, Health, Housing & Community Services Director; Lt. Michael Durbin and Sgt. Kevin Schofield from the Berkeley Police Department (BPD)). The purpose of the meeting was to get feedback from the MAAGNA neighborhood on the proposed pilot program. Below are the questions, concerns, and suggestions that were raised at the meeting.  

 

Questions:

How was the location and hours decided?

Hours are based on budget constrictions. There is a limited budget to be used on staff time. Also because of budget issues, it needed to be one centralized location rather than separate decentralized locations. The Veterans Building was ruled out because of concerns about mixing people who may have drugs/alcohol with the sobriety program, and additional significant costs associated with having to construct space at the Veterans Courtyard.  The additional costs are significant due to the fact that an entirely new large structure would need to be constructed to ensure that the facility was rain proof and could accommodate all of the lockers and the 96 gallon containers.  There would also be a need for a small office for staff, record keeping (file cabinets) and a locked rack for storing keys to the locks for each storage unit. There would also be additional costs for electrical work for lighting and power at the interior of the new structure as well as lighting at the exterior to illuminate the area in the evening as a matter of program functionality and safety.  There could also be additional costs for permits

How many homeless are in Berkeley?

The last official count, which took place in January 2015, was 834. Current estimates range from 800-1200.

Will lockers be inspected?

Use of lockers will be supervised to prevent hazardous and illegal materials from being stored. No bikes, bike parts, or shopping carts will be allowed in the lockers. Other materials that could attract rodents would also be prohibited.

What if materials are abandoned?

There will be contact with the people who use the lockers. If belongings are left unattended for 30 days, they will be removed in accordance with the city’s existing policy on removal of unattended personal belongings.

How will we identify who is homeless?

There will be no discrimination against who can use the lockers. Anyone can theoretically use the facility, although it is unlikely that people with homes will use the facility. Outreach will be made to make sure that the homeless community are aware of the facility. 

Where will the entrance be located?

On the Allston side, by Options Recovery Services and the driveway to the Public Safety Building parking lot.

As a landmarked building, are permits required to make alterations to Old City Hall? What about ADA compliance and seismic safety?

Generally, permits are not required for interior alterations. Berkeley Municipal Code (BMC) Section 6.12.030 of the Berkeley Municipal Code was brought up, which states that an application must be made to the Planning Commission for altering/repairing any building in the Civic Center. BMC Section 6.12.060 also says that no building permit shall be issued for construction/altering/repairing any building in the Civic Center without Council approval. City Staff will look into how these sections of the code affect the proposal, along with issues around ADA and seismic compliance. Regardless, Council will have to vote on approval of the contract for the project. 

Additionally, BMC SECTION 6.12.04 should be noted in this process:

“6.12.040 Building erection or alteration--Application to include plans.

Whenever an application is made for a permit for the erection or alteration of any building or other structure, any portion of which is within the Civic Center area, the plans therefor so far as they relate to general exterior appearance, design, color and texture of surface materials or exterior construction or the height of the structure or structures shall be submitted by the Director of Inspection Services to the Planning Commission. (Ord. 5134-NS § 1 (part), 1979: Ord. 4440-NS § 2 (part), 1969: Ord. 4094-NS (part), 1965: Ord. 3992-NS (part), 1964: Ord. 2413-NS § 3, 1941)”

The planning department concurs that landmark review only pertains to the exterior of the building.  This project will not include any changes to the exterior, only the interior, and those changes will be minimal.

How many lockers will there be and what sizes are they?

There will be 120 high-school style lockers and approximately 50-60 96-gallon containers (similar to green waste garbage bins).

Will there be restrooms on site?

There will not be access to the restrooms at Old City Hall. The closest restrooms will be across the street at Civic Center Park (the restrooms behind the Civic Center building).  

How will enforcement of the ordinance work?

Enforcement will take place once the storage facility goes into operation. Police will provide a warning to those in violation and refer them to the facility. Refusal to comply will result in a citation. There are other regulations that are in place and being enforced that deal with similar policies, such as blocking ADA access.

 

Concerns:

  • Safety and security is the biggest concern. Allston Way is a major thoroughfare for pedestrians walking from the BART Station to the neighborhood. At night, many homeless are in bushes, have urinated and defecated, and have created a presence that makes people feel unsafe. This is especially true for women who have to walk through the neighborhood at night. There were also safety concerns over the proximity of the location to multiple schools and the Teen Center. 
  • There needs to be efforts made to prevent loitering. Best practices of similar facilities will be looked at, such as what is done in San Diego and Los Angeles. There are also concerns that this will invite more camping in the neighborhood overnight and could potentially lead to another encampment similar to Liberty City.  Staff will be monitoring this carefully and will intervene on any such illegal encampments as they have done so twice this past year.
  • People with mental disabilities on the streets has been a major issue in the neighborhood. There has not been enough response from police and mental health services to deal with this. A lot of this is due to budget constraints, but efforts have been made to allocate funds for five new mental health street outreach workers. Police crisis intervention training has been expanded to every police officer. HHCS is also looking into developing a comprehensive homeless strategy that will better deal with mental health situations.  
  • Garbage, litter, and drug paraphernalia has been found throughout the neighborhood. There are concerns that there is nothing stopping people from dumping the stuff they cannot place in storage.
  • With the homeless population being significantly higher than the number of proposed lockers, there will not be enough lockers for everyone. Additionally, the lockers will be too small for many belongings. It is noted that one of the purposes of the pilot project is to see whether or not more or less lockers are needed and if different and/or larger lockers are needed.
  • The neighborhood is concerned about the historical context in which the City has moved forward with proposals that heavily impact the neighborhood. They feel that during the construction of the Public Safety Building (PSB), many promises were broken and proposed mitigations were ignored, and they must now live with the impacts of that. The best example of this is the construction of the massive communication tower over a weekend with no notification or public process. With a large turnover in City staff and department heads in recent years, much of the institutional memory of past concerns with the neighborhood has been erased. MAAGNA wants assurances that the same mistakes won’t be made again and that mitigations must be kept.  To clarify, staff misunderstood this comment made at the meeting about the tower at the PSB.  We thought they said it happened this past weekend, not nearly 20 years ago.  In fact, there are city staff still here that do recall that issue.

 

Suggestions:

  • Lighting needs to be improved in the area (Options Recovery Services, which operates from the City Hall Annex, has pledge to ensure lighting is properly maintained).
  • Those that use the facility need to be connected with programs that help them get out of homelessness. Additionally, people who use this service should be connected to shelter to prevent camping in the neighborhood. There needs to be a focus on permanent solutions and a housing first policy, not temporary services and Band-Aid solutions. 
  • More dumpsters are needed in the area. The Downtown Ambassador program should be expanded to help clean up litter. Having less litter will create safer spacesStaff will consider dumpsters in the park but there is concern that these would be abused and used improperly.  There might also be concerns registered by those doing special events in the park as well as the parks commission.  More feasible is more regular litter removal by BBB and city staff.
  • Alternative locations must be considered. District 4, and more specifically the MAAGNA neighborhood, bears the burden of homelessness for the entire city. Other than the Veterans Building, other locations include the Transfer Station. Another idea is to permanently move the storage facilities to the Berkeley Way project, however this will not be completed for at least several more years.
  • There needs to be more types of lockers. Should look into providing shipping containers. Can the Port of Oakland provide containers? Such containers would need to be refurbished for storage use. 
  • Need mitigations for neighborhood. People support lockers, but need to make sure that it does not negatively impact neighborhood.   City staff working in conjunction with the contracted non-profit will be making every effort up front through the contracting process as well as through regular monitoring and evaluation after the contract is executed and the program begins to make sure these problems don’t occur.   
  • The times of the facility should not interfere with commute for students and workers.  
  • There needs to be more of a police presence in the area to deal with antisocial and problematic behavior.
  • More research should be done on the best practices of similar facilities in other cities. Look at places such as San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver. Also look into the history of storage programs in Berkeley.
  • Another meeting should be called for, sooner rather than later. The plan needs to have more specifics and address the concerns of the neighborhood. City staff will be looking at the suggestions and comments made by those who attended. 

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