If a proposed agreement is approved, the city will move its public meetings to 1231 Addison St., where the School Board meets. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

Update, Thursday, 9:50 a.m. With a swift vote at the end of its Wednesday meeting, the Berkeley School Board approved an agreement with the city of Berkeley allowing the city to hold public meetings in the board chambers at 1231 Addison St.

If the City Council approves the agreement on Oct. 30 as well, Berkeley can move in immediately. The city would have access Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Board members Judy Appel, Karen Hemphill and Beatriz Leyva-Cutler voted in favor of the agreement and Josh Daniels voted against it. Ty Alper was absent.

There was chuckling from the dais when Appel, who worked on crafting the agreement, referenced the years of deliberations that preceded the vote.

“There’s been a lot of pieces to this negotiation, there’s been a lot of communication, I think some miscommunication, and one of the things that I’m very proud of is the way that we were all able to move beyond that, and come up with a contract, an agreement that I really think is best for the people of Berkeley.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who was at the board meeting to discuss another item, said sharing the facility will help foster civic engagement and collaboration.

Original story, Tuesday, 3:03 p.m. After years of on-and-off negotiations, the city of Berkeley and Berkeley Unified School District appear poised to finalize a deal for the shared use of a public meeting room.

Under a proposed agreement coming before the School Board on Wednesday, the city would have access to the board’s meeting room, at 1231 Addison St., on Tuesday and Thursday evenings indefinitely. The City Council meets roughly every other Tuesday, and the Zoning Adjustments Board every other Thursday.

The city would be required to pay the school district a $600,000 one-time fee, as well as $1,200 per meeting.

If the School Board approves the agreement at its Wednesday meeting, the City Council will consider it for approval on Oct. 30, said City Clerk Mark Numainville.

The move to Addison Street would take the city out of its dilapidated chambers in the Maudelle Shirek Building, also called Old City Hall. The once-stately building, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is considered in urgent need of unaffordable seismic retrofits.

The City Council has held its meetings at the Addison property once before, during a three-month trial period in early 2016. The pilot reportedly went smoothly, but the negotiations that began before it, and continued for months afterwards, failed to produce a deal. Negotiations were re-opened several months ago, and in June, board member Judy Appel, who sits on the board’s facilities subcommittee, announced the parties were nearing an agreement.

Last year, Berkeleyside looked into why the city and district had not been able to reach an agreement, requesting records of communications and speaking to many people involved in the discussions. The records and interviews suggested that logistical barriers and hard feelings slowed down the process. In recent months representatives from both sides have seemed eager to come up with an agreement, however.

For years, the city has wanted to move its public meetings out of Old City Hall, which is in need of major upgrades and seismic renovations. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

For years, the School Board and City Council did share a space, both meeting at Old City Hall, with the district paying the city $1 a year plus covering maintenance and upkeep. In 2010, Berkeley Unified began planning renovations to its West Campus at 2020 Bonar St., where the central district office and the board meeting room are located (the meeting room entrance is around the corner on Addison). The City Council at the time approached the district in hopes of sharing the renovated meeting room.

“As a part of these discussions, there was verbal understanding that the dais would be built to accommodate the needs of the City Council, and that the district would city would split the costs of renovation [sic],” says a memo on Wednesday’s School Board agenda.

Once the construction work was underway in 2012, however, the city decided not to pursue an agreement. Around that time, neighbors had expressed concerns about the impact of council meetings, which often are louder and go later than School Board meetings. The city was unable to find another viable location, though, and returned to the idea of splitting the space with the district in 2015.

Then in 2017, the city purchased the old Premier Cru building with the idea of creating council chambers there. City staff has said it could cost the city less to use that site for meetings, but the building is just a few blocks away from West Campus, and there are now other uses planned for the property.

Berkeley Unified has said the number and timing of the meetings the city wanted to hold at its site, where construction is planned for the near future, created a challenge. The city also wanted to use the room for Rent Board meetings, which take place monthly on Mondays. Monday access is not explicitly included in the new proposal, but the agreement would allow the city to request additional dates, and the city would be allowed to access the facilities as early as 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The smaller Berkeley School Board sits on a dais that was built with nine seats, with the intention of hosting the City Council. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

In the past, city representatives have also balked at the high fees the district has requested for the use of the room, because, they said, the School Board met in Old City Hall virtually for free for years. The district did cover maintenance costs in those chambers, though, and under the new agreement would continue maintaining the Addison room. (The city would be required to provide its own security, however.)

The district has also long wanted the city to pay back some of those old West Campus renovation costs, which are captured in the new agreement.

The proposed $600,000 one-time fee would “cover a share of the district’s construction costs related to the board room project,” the agreement document says.

New revenue from the shared usage would be significant for the district, which is gearing up to make a second round of $2 million budget cuts for 2019-20. However, board members told Berkeleyside the $1,200 fee is just expected and intended to cover the actual cost of using and maintaining the facility, not to make a profit for the district.

Under the proposed agreement, the city would also be responsible for several facilities improvements, including noise-reduction bumpers, signage and outdoor lighting. The district would need to set up cable broadcast service in the board room, and eventually at the West Campus gym, so it could be used as City Council overflow space.

Berkeley Community Media has broadcasted city meetings on its local cable channel for years. The organization used to broadcast School Board meetings as well, but that partnership ended when Berkeley Community Media relocated its broadcasting facility over the summer. City and School Board meetings are all streamed online as well.

It appears the agreement would go into effect immediately after it is approved, and remain in place for at least 10 years, unless the terms were violated or the city chose to move out.

This story was updated after publication to include more information in the new and previous agreements, and to include a clarification from board members.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...