At its Tuesday meeting, City Council voted unanimously to prioritize funding a hybrid option for the Pathways Project, an initiative passed by the council in April that will connect permanent housing and centralized resources to Berkeley’s homeless community.
The “hybrid alternative” is designed to be a lower-cost option for the Pathways Project’s multiple goals geared toward remedying homeless issues in Berkeley. The hybrid option will fund the combined STAIR Center and Bridge Living Community, as well as the Homeward Bound Program.
“(We’re) getting (the) most we could out of (the) original proposal,” said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the meeting.
One of the options from the original Pathways Project had suggested funding the many programs of the project separately — an Encampment Resolution Team, a STAIR Center, a Bridge Living Community and a Homeward Bound Program — which would have been more costly for the city.
The combined STAIR Center and Bridge Living Community will operate as an enhanced shelter with no curfews, 24/7 support staff, meals on demand and will allow both pets and partners, according to City Councilmember Susan Wengraf. The program is estimated to cost $2.8 million in its first year and $2.6 million annually thereafter.
“We’re not going to see this whole thing from the city’s budget,” Wengraf said at the meeting. “(This proposal outlines) the targets we’re going to reach.”
Mayor Jesse Arreguín added at the meeting that several people had already made private donations towards the program.
Many public commentators expressed concerns that the timeline of the plan will not address pressing problems for the homeless and said the “hybrid alternative” seemed inefficient. Commentators urged council members to take immediate action for pressing issues such as instituting port-a-potties in current encampments.
In response to the concerns, Arreguín said at the meeting that a main focus of the program will be to move people through the (Pathways-funded) facility and connect them to permanent housing.
The council also approved the purchase of 15 additional Automated License Plate Recognition, or ALPR, units for parking enforcement. The plan builds upon the goBerkeley pilot program, which previously deployed five ALPR units. The motion raises the contract amount of the original pilot plan from $450,000 to $1,200,000, totaling the amount going toward the program at $1,650,000.
Before the vote, the motion had stirred controversy, with many raising concerns about privacy and the burden increased ticketing would place on low-income residents.
“We’re all very much concerned about surveillance of citizens. We’re living in a very different climate than we did five years ago,” said artist and activist Kelly Hammargren at the meeting. “Let’s go back to the drawing board and look at what we need to do to protect our citizens.”
Hahn echoed Hammargren’s concerns and said the “marginal utility” of the program was not sufficient in her eyes to offset the “really high costs in terms of privacy.”
City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Lori Droste, however, argued in favor of the motion, calling it a “powerful tool” for greenhouse gas reduction. Worthington added that concerns about privacy should not hinder the motion, as Berkeley will have “a great surveillance policy.”
The motion passed, with City Councilmembers Ben Bartlett, Cheryl Davila and Hahn voting against.
In addition, item 29, the Housing Accountability Act, was passed. The decision of whether or not to use U1 funds for property acquisition to build affordable housing on University Avenue and Ninth Street was postponed to July 25.