More than 40 people lined up to discuss short term rentals at the June 9, 2015 City Council meeting but many of them did not get the chance to testify because the meeting ended abruptly. City Council members could not agree to extend the meeting until midnight. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
More than 40 people lined up to discuss short term rentals at the June 9 Berkeley City Council meeting. Many did not get to testify because the meeting ended abruptly when council members could not agree to extend the meeting until midnight. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Berkeley City Council meeting ended abruptly Tuesday night after officials could not agree to extend deliberations until midnight.

The meeting at Longfellow Middle School shut down at 11:30 p.m. in the middle of a lengthy discussion about regulating short-term rentals. Many of the people standing in line to speak expressed incredulity that council could leave the issue hanging without explaining what was going on. Presumably, council will pick up the discussion at its next meeting on June 23.

The bizarre end was, in some ways, a reflection of a meeting that was ruled by incivility. Members of the audience repeatedly shouted out catcalls and slurs at council members, interrupted their discussions and expressed contempt. One speaker, Rozalina Gutman,  twice turned her back on the council to address the audience directly, saying she had no faith in Berkeley’s elected representatives. And, after Mayor Tom Bates told her twice that her time was up, she turned to him (though she had vowed never to talk directly to council again) and told him his time as mayor should have been over long ago.

Mayor Tom Bates at the City Council meeting 6/9/15 Photo: Melati Citrawireja
From left: Councilman Laurie Capitelli, Mayor Tom Bates and Councilwoman Linda Maio at the June 9 council meeting. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Bates also showed disregard at the meeting. Just as people lined up to speak on a controversial measure to regulate short-term rentals in Berkeley, he decided that, because the meeting time was running out, council should first consider a measure from the Civic Arts Commission to raise money in Berkeley for public art. The rental item originally had been scheduled to be heard much earlier in the evening, but council had changed the schedule, forcing those interested in the rental issue to wait hours for the chance to have their say.

Someone from the city clerk’s office passed out a resolution amended by Bates and City Councilman Kriss Worthington that would make developers of all new residential multi-family and commercial projects install public art or pay an in-lieu fee equal to 1% of construction costs. New mixed-use projects in the downtown above 75 feet that are subject to rules requiring public benefits would be exempt. The resolution asks the Planning Commission to take up the topic.

Bates tried to discourage public comment on the art item by telling audience members that, if they agreed with the proposal, they should not testify, citing the pressure of time. At first, no one indicated they wanted to talk and the council quickly voted to send the item on to the Planning Commission for additional discussion.

The meeting then turned to short-term rentals. In the middle of testimony about that topic, Paul Matzner, founder of Save the Shattuck Cinemas, who was out of the room when Bates introduced the 1% for art program, excoriated Bates over his actions on the public art measure. The two got into a shouting match with Bates threatening to have Matzner removed from the auditorium.

City officials moved the city council meeting to the auditorium of Longfellow Middle School because they anticipated a crowd. The room was full for much of the night. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
City officials moved the city council meeting to the auditorium of Longfellow Middle School because they anticipated a crowd. The room was full for much of the night. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Bates’ frustration may have come because the council had an extremely full agenda. (It did not reach most of it). Two contentious issues had to do with continued funding for drop-in homeless shelters and programs for at-risk youth, primarily the one run by Youth Spirit Artworks.

Sally Hindman, the director of YSA, and other community leaders had encouraged people to come to the meeting to ask council to restore funding that the city manager had suggested should be cut. (The city used a new assessment process this year to evaluate the efficacy of non-profits, leading some not to get as much money as they had in previous years.)

Bates announced at the beginning of the meeting that he had figured out a way to fully fund all the non-profits offering homeless services that were facing cuts. Bates then urged speakers to limit their remarks so council could complete all the work it faced on Tuesday night’s agenda.

Bates’ plea did not work. Testimony about the budget item lasted until around 10 p.m.

Council did vote to find more money in the General Fund, so YSA, Healthy Black Families and other agencies now appear poised to be fully funded. At least one nonprofit, WriterCoach Connection, did not get the $40,000 it was seeking. (Bates suggested that the Berkeley School Board had recently received an influx of cash that it might use to help make that program whole.) Council is slated to address the budget again at its June 23 meeting.

Council then took up the agenda item on short-term rentals and public testimony commenced. Speakers asked council to reconsider its approach to the new regulations, and shared stories about how short-term rentals had allowed them to remain in Berkeley despite the increasing cost of living, and about how their visitors, some of whom ultimately moved to town, had been a boon to the city in a variety of ways. Some urged council to slow down their deliberations. Others said the city should focus on larger property owners — who, by using the short-term approach, are taking too many long-term units off the market — rather than individuals who are simply trying to offer a couch, a room or a back unit on sites like Airbnb.

As the meeting inched toward 11 p.m., the official ending time, council members agreed to extend it to 11:30 p.m. Testimony then resumed.

Just after 11:25 p.m., Bates asked the council to extend the meeting again, saying he was prepared to stay late to get the work done. Only five officials voted to extend: Bates, Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Darry Moore. Worthington voted against the extension and Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín and Lori Droste abstained. The vote failed, and just then the clock struck 11:30 pm. City Clerk Mark Numainville declared the meeting over and the live feed that had been broadcasting to those watching online went dead. Bates tried to call for another vote to extend the meeting, but was informed the meeting had adjourned.

Numainville said the council has in past occasions run out of time.

“The meeting just timed out on its own was not a unique occurrence,” he said. “Usually they wrap up before the end time and there is a motion to adjourn, but it happens every now and then.”

As Bates was exiting the room, he hit his right arm loudly against the wall and yelled something. People still standing in line to testify on short-term rentals also expressed dismay that the evening’s discussion had been curtailed.

The low-down: Short-term rentals, the budget, money for art (06.09.15)
Op-ed: Home sharing in Berkeley is a vital income source that serves entire community (06.05.15)
Rental rates skyrocket, causing headaches for students and those on middle incomes (05.28.15)
Short-term rentals are squeezing out Berkeley renters (05.26.15)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...