City Council hears Pathways Center updates, recommendations for cannabis regulation

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Rachel Barber/Staff

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Twenty people have found permanent housing through Berkeley’s Pathways STAIR Navigation Center since its opening in June, according to a presentation heard by the Berkeley City Council in its special meeting Tuesday.

Peter Radu, the city’s homeless services coordinator, presented a Health, Housing and Community Services report and said that since the report’s data collection ending Aug. 14, an additional 13 people exited the STAIR Center to permanent housing. In addition, the Berkeley City Council heard reports on potential cannabis regulation and planning department improvements at Tuesday’s special meeting.

Radu presented the center’s accomplishments, citing a “flexible funding” budget feature that allowed the center staff to give work boots to a client who needed them to obtain employment.

The client had them for the interview the next day and ultimately got the job,” Radu said. “Flexible funding meant they could cut (the client) a check right on the spot.”

Radu said the program’s “low barriers” to entry allow the center to aid a wider variety of people but have also caused a few client issues. The center is pet-friendly, coed, and sobriety is not required for entry, which Radu said supports an underserved population but creates difficulties for others trying to stay sober.

City Councilmember Sophie Hahn criticized the council’s focus on the funding for next year. She said instead of thinking about how much money the program will cost, the council should consider the costs of not providing funding for homelessness services.

“What is the cost … to allow a human rights abuse?” Hahn said. Costs are not only dollars. We’re talking about human suffering. We’re talking about a national and community disgrace. That is a cost that weighs heavily on me.”

During a separate conversation regarding cannabis regulation — an issue continuously tackled by the council since legalization in January 2018 — the Planning, Cannabis and Community Health commissions each presented recommendations for regulation. These included potential quotas, buffers between storefronts and schools and the creation of an equity program.

The Planning Commission recommended instituting a quota of 10 or more cannabis storefronts in the city. Ann Rojas-Cheatham of the Community Health Commission, or CHC, recommended capping the number of retailers at the current number, which is six. She also said she would like to see a deliveries ban and more advertising regulation.

Several community members criticized Rojas-Cheatham’s presentation in public comments. Tina Ferguson-Riffe, whom Councilmember Linda Maio appointed to the Medical Cannabis Commission in 2011, went so far as to offer her informal resignation. She called the CHC’s proposals “ridiculous.”

“I feel I have wasted several days and months of my life,” Riffe said before saying goodbye to others in opposition to the CHC presentation. “I’m sorry, guys — good luck.”

While the conversation did not end in a vote, the discussion was an opportunity for community members to advise the council on regulation. Senior city planner Elizabeth Greene said her department hopes to bring a revised ordinance to the council addressing the discussed issues in 2019.

“So far I haven’t really seen in any of the reports what policy would eliminate the underground economy (for cannabis),” Councilmember Kriss Worthington said. “If someone could give me the numbers and a policy to do that, I would vote for that in a second.”

Timothy Burroughs, acting director of city planning and development, also gave an update on his department’s work to improve its service to the community. The department is designing a customer service survey for those trying to obtain permits and will host an event next month entitled “Coffee with Inspectors.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.