Berkeley City Council took the first of two votes to pass an ordinance that proposes new standards and zoning amendments for homeless shelters at its meeting Tuesday.
The ordinance is an implementation of Senate Bill 2, a California state bill passed in 2007 that requires all cities in California to allow the establishment of year-round homeless shelters in the city. Compliance with SB 2 by 2014 is necessary for the city to remain eligible for certain state grants, according to a staff report released in June.
Ultimately, the goal is to make the creation of seasonal and permanent housing easier in California, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
The standards that will be put in place for any new shelter would include maximum bed counts, a buffer zone of 300 feet between shelters, an improved management plan and community outreach. Until now, there has been no requirement to reach out to immediate neighbors, Worthington said.
“When there is a meeting that (opens) lines of communication with neighbors, if there is a complaint, people will now know who to call and what the process is,” Worthington said. “(Community outreach) prevents a little problem from blowing up into a bigger problem.”
The proposed zoning permits the creation of emergency housing that does not require discretionary review, a process that Worthington said often adds several months to the establishment of a new homeless shelter. This emergency housing would be established in existing buildings, though the building of a new shelter would still require discretionary review.
In the future, Worthington said the city of Berkeley needs to not only keep an open mind as to where these shelters will be placed but also cater to the needs of different cultures.
“Many of the homeless youth are lesbian and gay. Berkeley doesn’t have a particular facility for LGBT-themed shelter whereas other cities in the state do,” Worthington said. “We need to create an environment where people feel safe and need to be focused on a specific way to do that.”
Additionally, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin asked for an amendment to the ordinance that would add two more zoning districts around the Telegraph Avenue area. The amendment will be addressed in January or February.
Robert Barrer, director of housing programs with Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, believes it is wise for the city to make it easier to provide shelter while still ensuring the safety of the shelter inhabitants.
“(BOSS) is aiming to provide as much housing in the community as possible. Any step that our community is taking so that people’s wait for permanent housing isn’t on the streets is a good thing,” Barrer said. “We need to do this in Berkeley as well as other communities around the state.”
The second reading of this ordinance will take place Dec. 17.