Berkeley council members discuss move out of Old City Hall

Brenna Alexander/Staff
The Berkeley City Council discussed options for new council chambers at its meeting Tuesday night.

Berkeley City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to direct city staff to prepare a report weighing various options and possible sites for the relocation of the council chambers once the building is vacated due to poor seismic safety.

The council asked that city staff bring the report before the council within 60 days so that the item can be placed on the council’s agenda at their next possible meeting. The council has yet to vote on where they will be moving its meetings or when it will vacate the current chambers.

The city has already designated $400,000 from its budget to go toward the construction of new council chambers. The purpose of the report is to evaluate every possible option for relocation within the city and to allow for public input before any decision is made.

“There are certain places that seem logical,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington after the meeting, mentioning Berkeley City College as one location that seems viable but is not being discussed by the city.  “Are there reasons these places wouldn’t work? It would be good to let the public know why.”

The council hopes that the new chambers will be more handicap accessible and able to seat larger numbers than the 123 person capacity the chambers currently hold, as well as featuring updated technology and maintaining close proximity to public transportation.

At the meeting, several community members voiced concerns about the possibility that the council might move their chambers to the cafeteria of Berkeley Unified School District’s West Campus, located on University Avenue between Bonar Street and Curtis Street.

“I’m really hoping that if the City Council considers moving to West Campus that you really look for some alternate locations,” said Berkeley resident Thomas Towey, who lives in the neighborhood around the West Campus.

Towey said he was worried about the lack of a closed space outside of the cafeteria that would house council meetings.

“It’s going to create all kinds of problems from people having to stand outside,” he said.

While Mayor Tom Bates said during public comment that every other option for the council’s relocation had been looked at, many community members seemed incredulous that the West Campus could really be the only option.

“I think the idea of moving this to my neighborhood is crazy,” said Berkeley resident Carol Lindeman, who lives in the neighborhood around West Campus. “This kind of activity has no business in a residential neighborhood.”

Many neighbors in the vicinity of the West Campus said they do not like the prospect of increased noise and traffic late at night that come with City Council meetings. Others pointed out the distance from the city center and potential inconvenience that would arise for community members who want to attend meetings.

“I’ve always stressed the importance of having City Council chambers downtown,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore. “We’re going to have traffic and noise impacts. West Campus is not the location to have this chamber.”

Worthington said there are other buildings around the city that remain in use despite being seismically unsafe. However, Old City Hall is over a 100 years old and needs a variety of upgrades beyond retrofits, including improved wheelchair accessibility.

“The plan right now is to spend $100,000 to shut down the Old City Hall and basically put it on moth balls,” Worthington said, adding that many non-profits would probably be interested in using the building. “I think that would be a waste. It doesn’t make sense to leave this building sitting empty.”

No timeline has been set as to when the council will vacate its chambers.

Adelyn Baxter covers city government.