Jesse Arreguín: “desperate need” for affordable housing
Jesse Arreguín: “desperate need” for affordable housing

The Berkeley City Council last night passed Councilmember Jesse Arreguín’s proposal to move to an up or down vote on an affordable housing mitigation fee at an October meeting. The city has been debating a fee since the Palmer/Sixth Street Properties v. City of Los Angeles decision in 2009 invalidated inclusionary housing requirements like those in Berkeley.

“We have a desperate need for affordable housing in Berkeley,” Arreguín said. “We need to move forward with adopting a fee right now.”

The Housing Advisory Commission had recommended setting a fee of $28,000 per market rate unit, but councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Susan Wengraf last night said they were concerned about setting a fee before there was certainty on other potential fees under consideration (other potential fees include streets, parking and open space impact fees and a West Berkeley transport fee). Capitelli suggested a decision be held off until a December meeting of the City Council when the full range of fees could be assessed. 

“I’m still convinced there needs to be a package of fees,” Capitelli said. “It’s a little bit like my mother gives me $10 to go to the store to buy food for the family. And then I walk into the store and I see a beautiful chocolate fudge cake for $9.95 and then I have a nickel left to buy everything else for the family.”

Capitelli’s extended metaphor dumbfounded Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“Affordable housing is bread and butter and water,” he said. “It’s not chocolate fudge cake.
There is no reason why we can’t have this fee in place.”

Capitelli later said he would withdraw the comparison.

Arreguín argued that there was no need to wait until December. The affordable housing mitigation fee was different from others under consideration, he said, since it would be the only one to apply citywide (others are aimed at the downtown or West Berkeley areas), and it had been extensively discussed by the council. At the start of the session, Housing Advisory Commission Chair Vincent Casalaina had provided a lengthy calendar of meetings, reports and discussions over the last 21 months on the issue.

Arreguín’s motion to bring a fee to a vote in October, at the council meeting following a work session on the fee, specified a range of $15,000 to $34,000. It passed with five votes in support (Arreguín, Linda Maio, Max Anderson, Darryl Moore and Worthington), one opposed (Capitelli) and two abstentions (Susan Wengraf and Gordon Wozniak).

Other council actions

Banning plastic bags  The City Council also considered the recommendation from the Zero Waste Commission for a two-phase single-use bag reduction ordinance. The ZWC proposed implementing a plastic bag ban for large stores in Berkeley — those with over $2 million in annual sales — from January 1, 2013, and extending the ban to all stores at some point in the next two years.

The council agreed the implementation of Phase 1, to roughly the 90 largest stores in the city. That ban was passed in January this year by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority. The Authority budgets $273 per store in the first year and $105 per store the second year for outreach, in-store notices, and Authority staff time.

City staff had estimated the cost of Phase 2, which would extend the ban to over 600 additional stores in Berkeley, at between $160,000 and $180,000. Because of concerns about the cost, Phase 2 was not approved by the council.

Sale of downtown Post Office  Debate on a resolution to urge the US Postal Service to stop the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office was the lengthiest item at last night’s council meeting. The unanimous vote to adopt the resolution was already reported on Berkeleyside.

Sunshine Ordinance (not)  Revised wording for the so-called sunshine ordinance was agreed by the City Council last night. The new wording does not use the term “sunshine ordinance”. One of the originators of the ballot measure, Dean Metzger, argued that the title should include “sunshine ordinance”, since that was how most people recognized the issue. City Attorney Zach Cowan said his advice was the word “sunshine” would violate the state election code, since it is a suggestive term. He cited a court decision where the use of the word “reform” had been ruled out because of bias.

Foreclosures Finally, the council endorsed a request to the Alameda County Recorder of Deeds and the County Sheriff for a meeting to discuss ways to facilitate delaying or stopping foreclosures. The letter was cosponsored by Worthington, Capitelli, Anderson and Moore.

Berkeley City Council unites in opposing Safeway project, and other Council business [07.18.12]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...