Bates wants the city council to adopt a zoning overlay to protect historic buildings in the civic center area, like Veterans' Memorial Hall. He admits he hopes the push will undermine support for a Downtown Green Initiative scheduled for November ballot. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The new storage program is slated to be set up at the Veteran’s Building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The new storage program is slated to be set up at the Veteran’s Building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

An innovative program to offer secure storage containers for the possessions of Berkeley’s homeless could cost nearly $350,000 a year in staffing, along with $50,000 in start-up costs.

Interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley provided the City Council with the estimates in a Feb. 26 memo that has been posted on the city website.

Read more coverage of homelessness in Berkeley.

The storage program must be in place before the city can begin enforcing a slate of other new rules designed to clean up Berkeley’s sidewalks and limit problematic behavior on them. Advocates for the homeless have said the laws will only serve to criminalize the community’s most vulnerable and downtrodden. Council voted to approve the new rules in December.

According to the memo, the city is looking at a six-month pilot program at 1931 Center St.: “The plan is to re-open the lockers currently located behind the Veteran’s Building and to add a structure in the same location to house an additional fifty (50) 64-gallon storage containers.”

The area would be secured, and staff would be on site daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to allow access. The city says it is also looking at additional sites “to ensure we locate the program in the most appropriate place.”

There would be two staffers on site at all times “for safety and program effectiveness.” The city plans to offer a contract through a non-profit agency, which is the approach it previously took with a locker program that used to be located at the Veteran’s Building.

Little information was provided about how long that program operated or when it ceased, but the city plans to learn from lessons gleaned from it in the past.

“Staff will have a more consistent presence and greater control over this program than they had with the previous locker program. This should help reduce issues such as drugs and vermin that had marred past efforts,” according to the memo.

Under the new program, assigned staff will work only on the locker program, as opposed to that being an additional duty on top of other responsibilities.

Williams-Ridley wrote that it will take $50,000 to get the space set up. That will cover construction of an area to house the containers, fix up the current lockers, and add security cameras and lighting.

Ongoing costs are estimated to range from about $254,000 each year to about $348,000, to cover 5.25 full-time positions: two employees to cover the 105 hours the program would be open weekly. Actual costs will depend on staffer classification.

Previously, the people who ran the locker room were case managers who had the training to help clients get into housing and access services, according to the memo. Those positions would garner the higher salary.

The city is recommending the hiring of “program aides,” rather than case managers, which would result in the lower salary.

The city notes that there aren’t any existing “programmatic dollars” available to pay for the endeavor, so General Fund dollars would need to be used.

The city gives about $3 million each year to community agencies that offer programs and services to the homeless. But there are also many other costs that aren’t broken down, such as calls involving police, paramedics, code enforcement and other city staff.

Williams-Ridley plans to submit an item about the storage bin pilot to city officials for consideration in late March.

The ordinances adopted late last year by council limit how much space people are allowed to take up on public sidewalks. Council previously discussed limits on the storage of personal belongings to either 2 feet square or 2 square feet. That measurement is not in the ordinance language and will come back later for further discussion after the city’s traffic engineer weighs in. Space used by dogs and cushions for sitting are exempt from the calculation.

The rules also prohibit urination and defecation in public, as well as lying down in or on planters for trees.

Proponents of the new rules say the hope is that the city will be able to provide additional bathrooms on Telegraph Avenue and downtown — possibly in conjunction with BART, and mobile showers for public use. The bathrooms would be accessible 24/7. The previous estimate to fund the bathrooms, showers and storage lockers was at least $300,000 annually.

Citations related to the new laws will be infractions, not misdemeanors.

Opponents of the new rules said in December they would work to bring the issue to the voters through a referendum if the laws actually go into effect.

Op-ed: Homelessness recommendations are lackluster response to true emergency (02.11.16)
Berkeley finds fund to expand homeless services during wet weather (12.24.15)
Council on bike sharing, PRC protest report, homeless services, housing (12.15.15)
Op-ed: An open letter to City Council on homelessness (12.15.15)
Op-ed: A night in Berkeley’s Liberty City (12.14.15)
Berkeley homeless encampment at Old City Hall packs up under city orders (12.04.15)
Berkeley council enacts street behavior regulations (12.02.15)
Council on affordable housing, PRC protest report, homeless services, protest march (12.01.15)
Berkeley orders new homeless tent city to disband (11.25.15)
Berkeley imposes new laws on homeless behavior (11.18.15)
Council battle brews over street behavior, homelessness (11.17.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...