June 2016 Newsletter
This month marks a year since the balcony collapse at Library Gardens, which claimed the lives of six young students and seriously injured seven others. This international tragedy raised questions about the safety of the thousands of balconies in Berkeley and the effectiveness of the Rental Housing Safety Program (RHSP). My office responded by working on multiple proposals over the summer and fall to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future.
The City Council approved revisions to the RHSP in December 2015. This included increasing the number of proactive inspections, enforcing Schedule A requirements (which provides tenants information on the safety of their unit), allowing for confidential complaints on housing code violations, and declaring mold and mildew (which played a significant role in the collapse of the balcony) a public nuisance. As a result of these changes, we have more than doubled the number of annual inspections made, finding habitability issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
In July 2015, Council passed the Exterior Elevated Elements (E3) Policy regarding balcony inspections. Between its implementation and February 2016, over 400 buildings out of the 2,200 identified as having exterior elevated elements were discovered to be in need of repair. Additionally, I introduced a proposal to improve the construction standards of balconies; a policy that is now being reviewed at a statewide level. It is my hope that these policies will increase the safety of Berkeley residents and ensure our city will never experience such a tragedy again.
IN THE NEWS
June 7th California Primary
Election Day for the California Primary is this Tuesday! If you are an absentee voter, but have not mailed your ballot yet, you can drop it off at your polling station or at the official ballot drop-off box in front of City Hall, 2180 Milvia Street, before 8pm on Tuesday. Click here to locate your polling station and other voter information.
Council Makes Progress on Affordable Housing Crisis
At the May 17th Council meeting, multiple proposals were approved to address the housing affordability crisis this city is facing. A list of proposals I introduced passed, including:
Developing an Affordable Housing Funding Plan that will pave the way for constructing 500 affordable housing units over the next five years.
Exploring the creation of a Speculation Tax, which would increase the real property transfer tax for multi-unit properties of two units or more which turn over within a year of purchase to 24 percent, and 14 percent if property is sold within five years.
Building more housing for students at locations close to the UC campus as called for in the Southside Plan. Collaborating with the Berkeley Student Cooperative to expand relatively affordable co-op housing.
Expanding funding for eviction defense services to keep existing tenants in their homes.
Additional proposals passed at the meeting include periodic review of the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee, increasing the number and range of inclusionary units, reducing or waiving fees for landlords of Section 8 housing, and revising the City Density Bonus to promote affordable housing.
Short Term Rental Regulations Passed
The rise of the sharing economy and sites such as Airbnb have had negative impacts on Berkeley’s rental market. Short Term Rentals (STRs), which is when a unit is rented for less than two weeks, is technically illegal under City law. Many people use STRs as a way to provide added income by renting an extra room, or their entire home when they are on vacation. However, others have multiple properties that are only available as STRs year-round, which has reduced permanent housing and increased rents. Over the past couple of years, the City and Planning Commission has held meetings over regulating STRs. On May 31st, Council voted to adopt a policy that allows for the regulated use of STRs. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) would be prohibited from being used as an STR. An owner can only have their primary residence used as an STR, and they must have a license to operate.
Center Street Garage to Close on June 30th
Construction on a new, 720 space parking lot to replace the 420 space seismically unsafe Center Street Garage will start on June 30th. This project is expected to take 18 months to complete, and will impact parking in the Downtown Area. People are encouraged to take public transit, bike, or take other alternative forms of transportation to Downtown during this time. For more information on the closure, click here.
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES: AN OP-ED BY BERKELEY HIGH STUDENT ABBY STECKEL
On May 13, 2016, the Berkeley High Afro Haitian dance program presented its semi-annual spring showcase, entitled “Language of the Soul.” The show brought together over 250 student performers to reflect around a theme of internal struggle and growth. It incorporated reflections on history, racial prejudice, and current events to create a truly thoughtful and relatable program.
Students performed traditional African-derived dance, interwoven with hip hop, drama, spoken word, Mexican folk dance, praise dance, interpretive, and modern dance in an impressive mosaic of student talent. Not only did the performance demonstrate skill, but it displayed students’ dedication to social justice and sent a powerful message of strength in the face of challenges.
BHS is the only high school in the country with an African American Studies Department. Naomi Washington is the department’s lead teacher, and every day, she teaches five classes of Afro Haitian dance. Known affectionately as “Mama,” she has worked for years to create a family of alumni and students centering around the celebration of African history and culture.
Washington’s class has an enormous impact on both her students and the community that appreciates their work. BHS sophomore Jehni Stewart has studied with Washington for two years, and plans to continue taking her class through high school. He said, “Afro Haitian is entirely why I came to Berkeley High. My cousin told me that she loved it, told me how… it pretty much just shaped her experience… so that’s my whole purpose for being here.” As a result of the class, Stewart said, he has not only gained dancing skill, but has become part of a tight-knit community. After school, he often returns to the studio to dance and spend time with his classmates. He explained, “You’re in this class, you dance with this class, you sweat with this class, you sing happy birthday with this class, and you cry, at times, with this class - that’s your family.”
Moreover, Afro-Haitian dance gives African American students a way to connect with their history. Sumaiyah Mujahid, a BHS freshman who has studied African dance since elementary school, emphasized the genre’s basis in ancestral and cultural narrative. “Each dance is telling a story,” she said. “Afro Haitian has roots.” According to Stewart, Washington’s class gives African American students a taste of the traditions that their ancestors were stripped of.
This education is invaluable; in fact, many view it as a necessity. At a school where culturally comprehensive courses are depressingly few, Mama’s class aims to create an open space to discuss and take pride in African heritage. When in Washington’s classroom, it is clear that dance technique only scrapes the surface of what she teaches. A table at the back of the room is layered with colorful posters depicting artistic icons, students’ ancestry, past performances, and more. “[My goal for students],” she said, “is not so much about the physical movement, but it’s to take away what each dance is telling you… it’s about how the meaning of this dance is relevant to your life.”
Jesse’s Office Hours at Downtown Farmers Market
Saturday, June 11th, 10am-1pm
Center Street between Milvia Street and MLK Jr Way
As a way to connect with residents on a regular basis and hear what they care about, Councilmember Arreguin 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.
Berkeley Climate Action Coalition Meeting
Wednesday, June 15, 6pm-8pm
Ed Roberts Campus, 3075 Adeline St
This free event will be focused on exploring carbon farming as a strategy to combat climate change. An expert panel will include Jeanne Merrill, Policy Director at CalCAN, Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley Professor, and Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser, farmers from Singing Frogs Farm. Additionally, Councilmember Arreguin will speak about the Urban Agriculture Package, which promotes farming in vacant lots, and Nathan Dahl of the Land Use Working Group will make a presentation regarding community gardens. Bring family, friends, and neighbors to participate in this essential conversation in order to help Berkeley move towards the Climate Action Plan goal of 80% emissions reductions by 2050. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
McGee - Spaulding Neighborhood Walk
Saturday, June 18, 10am-12pm
Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Civic Center Park
Come out to the Ecology Center booth at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market for a free, easy walking tour of Berkeley’s McGee - Spaulding neighborhood. Robert Johnson and Janet Byron, local authors of Berkeley Walks, will share their knowledge about the historic area, ranging from architectural facts to anecdotes about Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement. Signed books will be available for purchase. For more information, click here.
Youth Mental Health First Aid
Tuesday, June 21 - Wednesday, June 22, 10am-3pm
Berkeley Adult School, 1701 San Pablo Ave
This training, offered through Berkeley Unified School District, is designed to teach caring adults to assist an adolescent experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or in crisis. Participants must complete the two-day, eight-hour training in order to receive certification. Free childcare, Spanish translation, and lunch will be provided. To RSVP, email email@example.com or click here.
Drawing Group at Central Library
Saturday, June 25, 10:30am-12:30pm
Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge St
Instructor Sophia Foster-Dimino will teach a free workshop focused on adding new drawing skills to your artistic repertoire. People of all skill levels, ages 12 and up, are welcome to attend this third session in a six month series. To RSVP, click here. With questions, visit the library website or call 510-981-6121.
SF Pride 2016
Saturday, June 25 - Sunday, June 26
Take part in the largest gathering of LGBT people and allies in the nation during the 46th annual SF Pride Celebration and Parade! The festivities start Saturday at 12pm and last until 6pm at the San Francisco Civic Center. At 10:30am on Sunday, the historic parade will begin down Market Street, honoring the theme “For Racial and Economic Justice.” Afterwards, the festival will continue at Civic Center. Whether you’ve participated for years or plan to attend for the first time, this event is not to be missed. For more information, click here.
Berkeley Homeless Task Force
Monday, June 27th, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Lutheran Church of the Cross, 1744 University Ave
This month’s meeting on the Homeless Task Force will discuss the ongoing efforts and progress surrounding Tiny Homes. All are welcome.
UPCOMING COUNCIL ITEMS
Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Tuesday, June 28th, 7pm
Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Approval of Fiscal Year 2017 Budget
ZAB Remand: 2631 Durant Ave
For a complete list of Council agendas and minutes, click here.