A Berkeley Activist's Diary, 2 weeks ending Sept. 4. Category: Public Comment from The Berkeley Daily Planet – Berkeley Daily Planet


As September begins and the last days of summer slip away, I am wishing I had taken off to some place interesting in August. I took sort of a staycation with good intentions of continuing weekly Diaries, but good intentions slid into combining the last two weeks of August meetings into this one Diary for September 4. 
It is going to be a while longer before City Council goes back to hybrid meetings. City Council did meet August 23rd for 20 minutes and voted yes on the singular issue to renew continuing virtual meetings. There were 11 attendees with all, but one speaker requesting a return to hybrid council meetings. 
The Mental Health Commission met August 23rd in the evening and it felt more like watching a group therapy session with commissioners filling the role of de-escalation and therapists. Andrea Prichett and Edward Opton were on the agenda for reappointment and in the end the vote was to reappoint both commissioners without dissent, but the reappointment vote came after a rather ugly public grilling. It is unknown to those of us attending what set off the Chair Margaret Fine, but Ed Opton resonded this way, “ Ms Pritchett and I were not prepared for this kind of hostile grilling, nothing in the conversations until tonight [indicated] that Ms Pritchett or myself would be cross examined in this way” Opton went further to call the experience “unduly hostile.” Mary Lee Smith commented, “I feel like a lot of harm has been done, there needs to be repair…” 
At the Agenda Committee, Councilmember Taplin’s request for an information report on alternatives to chemical agents for response to violent large-scale crowd scenarios was referred to the Public Safety Committee and his item on an establishing an ordinance allowing efficiency units as small as 150 square feet instead of the current limit of 350 square feet was moved to action. Vision 2050 was removed from the proposed agenda by the City Manager. The final agenda for September 13th includes rezoning for R&D, safe streets, red curbing in fire zones, surveillance reports, homekey and much more. 
At the PG&E webinar to reduce wildfire risk, it was learned that PG&E cuts down over a million trees per year near or impinging on power lines. Trees are chipped and then “turned into electricity” which means they are burned. The greenwashing term is biofuel, but there is nothing green about chopping up and burning trees. Between wildfire, beef and toilet paper (Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific are the worst), we are losing our forests worldwide. And, while thinking about forests being chopped down to flush down the toilet, don’t forget those convenient disposable diapers are made from trees too and take up to 500 years to decompose in landfill. Is it time for cloth again? 
The City and Visit Berkeley have plans to add 10 more IKE Kiosks to the Downtown. That is in addition to the five that are already installed. While Councilmember Harrison expressed her enthusiasm for the Ike Kiosks, she objected to adding ten more in the downtown. 
Helen Walsh had lots of comments and questions about IKE Kiosks. Walsh, who is a member of the Commission on Disability and low vision herself, commented that Berkeley has a large disabled population and asked, “How does it benefit me?” Walsh likened the IKE to a brick on a corner and asked, who is in charge of the content accessible to a screen reader, are there text changes for low vision, is the content following global accessibility standards, what are the accommodations for users of screen readers? When Jessica Brown representing IKE said they worked with the Federation for the Blind, Walsh responded that Federation for the Blind does not represent all disabilities. From the non-answers to Walsh’s questions by Jessica Brown – IKE, Jeffrey Church – Visit Berkeley and Kirin Slaughter – CoB Office of Economic Development it might be said IKE Kiosks are seriously deficient when it comes to doing the research and providing equity for persons with disabilities.  
Walsh also suggested since the IKEs have power, a possible benefit to the public would be an outlet for charging power wheelchairs and devices. Brown responded that had been considered by IKE and rejected, because they decided such charging services would bring loitering. Slaughter said charging stations were being considered for other locations. It seems pretty obvious it is the poor and homeless who could really benefit from access to charging and they are the same people who are not wanted around the electronic billboards except to find the screen on homeless services and shelter bed counts. 
The logical places for the Kiosks are at bus/transit stops, but that creates a problem with access for queuing and boarding. 
The next Ike Kiosk meeting is virtual on Wednesday, September 7 at 2pm to plan placement for IKE Kiosks in the Gillman District. 
Thursday afternoon, September 1, felt like the first honest conversation among WETA (Water Emergency Transportation Authority) board members and staff regarding ferry service and the challenges to attracting riders. People who can work remotely are not returning to the office more than a couple days a week if at all. Commuter riders are not returning. The first and last mile, getting to and from a ferry to the desired destination is a problem. Ferries are just not in convenient locations. To say ridership has returned to 75% of pre-pandemic as reported by staff was challenged by the chair pointing out it is just not supported by the rider charts. Why does this matter? Berkeley is still plowing ahead with plans for ferry service. Last heard the expectation is robust demand. And, WETA just completed a special session on an aggressive plan for expansion which was absent how it would be financed. Financing is supposed to be covered in a later session, but on September 1, they modified their advertising condition as was stated, “we need the money.” 
It looks like the involvement of the Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) is making the difference in resolving the complaints from tenants of Harriet Tubman Terrace. In July, tenants brought their complaints about construction work quality, debris, the manner in which tenants were relocated for construction and treatment while their apartments were being refurbished. Not every complaint is resolved yet, but Cassandra Palanza, Asset Manager, for Foundation Housing was able to report the actions taken and there appears to be good progress since July. 
The Wildfire Evacuation Workshop: Building Your Fire Weather Plan was rather poorly attended with little more than a handful of attendees, which was unfortunate. The workshop by Khin Chin was really very good. There will be a workshop on home hardening in the coming weeks, watch for it. https://berkeleyca.gov/safety-health/fire/fire-weather-evacuation 
Every eight years the State of California projects future population growth and estimates how much new housing is needed to accommodate all those new bodies. The process by which the housing is distributed around the state is called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). The Housing Element is the plan each city (or county for rural areas) of where to put all those new housing units. 
The topic of speaker Michael Barnes for Community Catalysts for Local Control was “How California’s Sixth Cycle of the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) was Rigged.“ Barnes’ message was that the proposed number of housing units cities are assigned to build are deliberately high and unachievable. This sets cities up for failure. When cities aren’t meeting the mandated targets by the fourth year of the RHNA cycle (the next cycle is 2023 – 2031), the review/approval process becomes “streamlined ministerial” AKA by-right. This means the project developer is no longer subject to the public review process. 
Some see ministerial / by-right approvals for large multi-unit, mixed-use (apartment buildings with commercial space at street level) as a big step in the right direction. Our state Senator, Nancy Skinner and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks are on that train. As a regular attendee of the Zoning Adjustment Board and Design Review Committee meetings, there are most often significant positive changes in design from the review process and public input. Two of us Erin Diehm especially and myself have been successful in shifting landscape plans to native plants, increasing permeable paving and other measures that improve habitat and ecosystem survival. 
My personal view is this city is not doing enough right now in architectural design, land use and landscape planning requirements to prepare us for a hotter more unpredictable climate future. Those opportunities are missed now with every project and will be even worse with projects skipping over reviews and cutting corners to the extent possible to squeeze out the maximum profit while staying within building and zoning codes. 
Since I don’t attend statewide meetings, I can’t report whether or not the projected population growth and resulting allocation of new housing is based in a nefarious scheme. But, it should be asked how do the projections of population growth in California fit with the actual decrease as exemplified by the 2020 census and the loss of a congressional seat? 
Many cities have joined in legal action opposing the RHNA allocations. Berkeley did not join. After all, our mayor, Jesse Arreguin is President of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) the organization tasked with distributing the RHNA allocations for the nine Bay area Counties and Arreguin headed the ABAG Housing Methodology Committee which determined the final housing allocation and the 8934 units assigned to Berkeley to construct in its 10.5 square miles. Our next door neighbor, Richmond with 52.5 square miles and many areas along transit corridors that would benefit from increased density is assigned 3614 units. https://abag.ca.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2022-04/Final_RHNA_Methodology_Report_2023-2031_March2022_Update.pdf 
The consequences of failing to meet the RHNA allocation is set in California Senate Bill 35 and what makes SB 35 worse is that the ministerial approval kicks in based on the number of units in the building permits that are pulled / exercised, not the number of units in the projects approved. Meaning that a city can approve stacks of new buildings, but if the owner of those projects decides to sit and not build the city falls into failing to meet the assigned RHNA allocation. Barnes hinted to expect a slowdown in building application permits until the halfway mark in the cycle so that the ministerial approval condition is triggered. 
Berkeley’s RHNA allocation for the next cycle years of 2023 – 2031 is 8,934 new housing units. Which includes 2446 very low-income units (120% AMI). According to these numbers, 43% of new housing is supposed to be for households earning less than 80% of AMI. 
Berkeley did not meet the mandated RHNA targets for new very low and low-income household units in the current RHNA cycle (2015 – 2023) and as a consequence is already on the list for ministerial approval of projects with 50% (or more) of the units allocated to household incomes with less than 80% AMI (Area Median Income). 
If all these numbers are meaningless check the charts on income by household size and matching “affordable” rents. 
Berkeley ran by the RHNA quota for building new market rate housing and escaped ministerial approval for building market rate projects, however, Berkeley is subject to SB 330 from our State Senator Nancy Skinner (signed into law 2019) which limits public review of projects meeting the criteria of SB 330 to 5 meetings. If you attend projects going through the city review process, you will hear staff keeping tabs on the number of meetings. Five meetings is a limiting factor in the review of the 8-story student housing project at 2065 Kittredge with a plan that the Landmarks Preservation Commission found disappointing 
WHAT YOU DO NOT SEE on the home page of the Berkeley City website is that the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the RHNA cycle 2023 – 2031 Housing Element was just released Tuesday, August 30th for public comment/response. We have until October 17, 2022 at 5 pm to make our way through the 441 page report and the 108 pages of Appendices to submit comments. https://berkeleyca.gov/construction-development/land-use-development/general-plan-and-area-plans/housing-element-update 
The DEIR underlies the Housing Element, basically where are we going to put the 8934 new units. The DEIR is the singular action item at the Planning Commission on September 7. 
Fixing the broken access to city records with the new city website is expected to be on the September 20th City Council regular meeting agenda. 
Compiling the list of upcoming city meetings for the Activist’s Calendar means I am in the new city website a lot and that is giving way to emails asking for help in finding city documents. One request was for how to find older council video recordings. After taking a rather circuitous route I found the non-obvious answer, go to “your government” then to “city council” look to the list of choices on the right and go to “participating in City Council meetings” then look for “recorded videos” in the last paragraph under “make a plan to participate.” Click on “recorded videos” and you will have access to council videos for the last 10 years. 
Most people in Berkeley don’t care about these things, but for those of us who are monitoring city actions and looking up past history, the new website and “records online” can easily turn into hours lost in record searches and all too often a dead end. 
In closing my read of the week was An Immense World: How Animal senses Reveal Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong. It is a dense read in print or ebook, but as an audiobook, I found it absolutely delightful filled with descriptions of how animals, creatures large and small perceive the world. It starts with dogs and how they explore the world through their nose, something any dog owner learns quickly in taking a dog for a walk. That is just the beginning. 
The chapters are organized by senses with marvelous stories of how creatures navigate their umwelt (environment) through their special highly developed senses and communication. The book is filled with constant surprises, like whales using echo/sonar low pitched sound that can travel up to 13,000 miles (if measured) to navigate the ocean, male moths with eyes around their penis for mating, the star-nosed mole that explores tunnels through touch with fingerlike extensions from its nose. There is so much to appreciate in the animal world around us. 
Edmund Soon-Weng Yong, the author, narrated the book. Yong is a Malaysian-born British Science journalist with, of course, a British accent.
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