In wake of protests, Berkeley mayor cancels Tuesday City Council meeting

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Sonia Brin/File

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Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates canceled Tuesday night’s council meeting after three nights of protests in Downtown Berkeley over recent grand jury decisions to not indict police in the deaths of two unarmed black men.

The meeting was postponed due to concerns of overcrowding, according to a memo from the mayor’s office released Tuesday afternoon. The memo said the City Council chamber in Old City Hall, where meetings normally take place, has  capacity for about 125 people.

“We understand substantially more people are interested in attending the meeting,” the memo read. “We want to ensure that the community has as much access as possible to public meetings.”

According to a release from the Downtown Berkeley Association, protesters had planned to shut down the council meeting but have since moved the protest to take place behind Old City Hall at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington disagreed with the mayor’s decision, calling it a missed opportunity for community dialogue about the protests.

“There hasn’t been a lot of dialogue on what can actually be done, what can the city of Berkeley do to deal with these kinds of situations,” Worthington said. “Tonight, I thought, would be the first opportunity to … go beyond slogans into solutions.”

Bates noted that because the protest was not on the City Council agenda, rules governing City Council meetings would have prevented discussion of the issue. When large turnouts are expected at City Council meetings, normally a different venue is found to accommodate them, but for this meeting, there was not enough time to find one, Bates said.

He said the topics on the agenda, which included a resolution to centralize services for homeless youth and the swearing in of newly elected council members, could wait for a future meeting, which he said would likely take place next week.

The memo from the mayor’s office said the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting would be discussed at a future date, for which prior public notice will be given.

Protests began Saturday night and have peaked at more than 1,000 people. During protests Sunday night, the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center was vandalized. The following night, more than 150 people were arrested, many of them UC Berkeley students, after protesters marched from Berkeley to Emeryville and blocked Interstate 80.

The Downtown Berkeley Association release also advised businesses in the area to bring signage, chairs and trash receptacles — which could be used as projectiles by protesters — indoors for the night.

Worthington said he plans to show up at the usual site for the meeting at 7 p.m., despite the cancellation, and encouraged other members of City Council to join him and “listen to what the public has to say.”

Contact Alex Barreira at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @abarreira_dc.