Berkeley City Council, Dec. 11, 2018. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Tuesday night, the Berkeley City Council will return to action after its summer break to consider proposals about the possibility of a new RV park on University Avenue and the decriminalization of psychedelic plants, updates on street paving efforts and football game day parking fines, and more.

Council has not had a regular meeting since July 23, when the summer recess began.

One item on the agenda that’s already drawn public interest is a proposal from Councilman Rigel Robinson and Councilwoman Cheryl Davila to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other “entheogenic plants.” (Oakland did it in June.) The current proposal would “restrict” city money and resources from being used to “assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults” who are at least 21. As proposed, the item would go to the Community Health Commission before coming back to the Berkeley City Council later for a vote.

Paving and parking are big themes on Tuesday night’s agenda. According to the city, by the end of fiscal year 2023, Berkeley will have spent about $43 million to pave about 20 miles of its streets. The bulk of those streets are residential. Overall, the city has about 216 miles of public streets, according to the staff report. A list of streets to be rehabbed is included in the report, too. (See Berkeleyside’s paving map from June.)

As Cal football season kicks off, the city is making some fixes to its stepped-up parking fine and towing program near Cal Memorial Stadium. The city now essentially bans non-residents from parking in certain areas on game days unless they are willing to face steep penalties. In May, the city added tow-away zones and increased some fines, up to $225 for people without neighborhood parking permits, as part of the enforcement effort. The updates to the program are minor.

In a related item, Councilwoman Lori Droste has asked the city to add Panoramic Hill and blocks nearby to the area covered by the enhanced game day parking rules. Upcoming home games are scheduled for Sept. 14, Sept. 27, Oct. 19, Nov. 9 and Nov. 16.

In more parking news, the budget for the city’s new Center Street parking garage increased by about $474,000 — to a total cost of about $39 million — because inspections “identified a number of omissions and deficiencies to the original contract documents that were required to be corrected before occupancy was allowed.” The problems required additional work by the contractor, C. Overaa & Co., which was done on overtime to get the garage up and running. “Extra work was also required to correct ADA accessibility, and signage issues,” the city reported.

On a brighter note, the garage has already won eight awards for its design and other features, according to the city.

A city-owned vacant lot at 1281 University Ave., near the West Street pathway, is the focus of several council items. The Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) has asked the city to put out a request for proposals for housing at the site where at least half of the units would be “restricted to 50% AMI or below households, with consideration given to accommodations that serve unhoused or homeless households, including nontraditional living arrangements such as tiny homes and that Council consider interim use for the site for housing purposes.”

The historic Kenney Cottage used to be located on the parcel, but it was moved, according to the staff report. The city received two proposals for housing on the site last year, but both fell through. One envisioned 28 units while the other suggested “16 studios targeting 20-30% AMI and providing on-site homeless services.” The HAC would like the city to ask the community for more proposals now.

In the meantime, the city’s Homeless Commission has asked the city to consider letting eight to 10 RV dwellers — “or as many as the property can safely accommodate” — live on the property at 1281 University. The city would choose applicants “based on the strength of their ties to the community such as employment in Berkeley, attending school in Berkeley and families with children in Berkeley schools.”

Associated costs might result from leveling and paving the lot, adding a curb cut and making other improvements, according to the commission report, as well as sanitation-related needs.

In response to the commission proposal, city staff has asked the city manager to conduct a feasibility analysis of 1281 University Avenue “as an interim site to host Recreational Vehicle (RV) dwellers.” The City Council is set to consider both RV items as part of the action calendar Tuesday.

The Homeless Commission has also asked the city to do a study on the health conditions, health disparities and mortality rates of the city’s homeless population over the last five years. “Staff would have to identify the cost of this proposal,” according to the commission. Staff has countered that the city might, instead, ask Alameda County to consider whether it might start “recording homelessness as a data point in death records” or otherwise track this type of information. Both proposals are on the action calendar.

Councilman Ben Bartlett, along with Councilman Robinson and Mayor Jesse Arreguín, have put forward an “Open Doors Initiative” that could one day make it easier for first-responders and other “critical safety” staff, as well as first-time homebuyers, to buy homes in Berkeley. The proposal asks the city manager and HAC to come up with how the initiative might work.

Also Tuesday night, during two public hearings, more than $60 million in tax-exempt bond financing for the Berkeley Way homeless and veteran housing project is set to be approved for issuance. The city is not financially responsible for the bonds, but the hearings are required to get the money. The California Municipal Finance Authority is set to issue $42 million in bonds for affordable housing in the project, and $19 million for the supportive housing component, according to staff reports. The project team includes The BRIDGE Housing Corporation and the Berkeley Food & Housing Project along with architect Leddy Maytum Stacy.

Would you like to know more about what the city is spending on its housing programs? The HAC completed its first report on the subject earlier this year. The total for 2019 is $5 million, according to the report, which is going to council Tuesday night.

Council is also set to get an update on its residential parking permit program. In the staff report, the city says it could increase revenue if it expanded the number of permits households could request. But the city can’t afford to handle any expansion of the program at this time. Berkeley recently moved to an online system designed to “streamline” parking permit applications. According to some community reports, that process has not gone smoothly. Stay tuned for details.

The Berkeley City Council meets at 1231 Addison St. (between Bonar and Browning streets). Parking is located in a large surface lot nearby on Browning Street. The regular meeting starts at 6 p.m. A live video feed is usually available online. See further meeting details on the city website.

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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...