City Council to remain in Old City Hall despite safety concerns

In spite of ongoing concerns about poor seismic safety in Old City Hall, Berkeley City Council did not vote on a proposal to move its meetings to another location in West Berkeley.

Mayor Tom Bates decided to table his suggestion after several council members voiced concerns about the accessibility of the proposed relocation site — the West Campus of Berkeley Unified School District, which is located at the intersection of University Avenue and Bonar Street — as well as the move’s impact on traffic congestion in the neighborhood.

“From the beginning, I’ve been against moving our chambers to West Berkeley,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore during the meeting. “There’s no BART access, very limited public transportation.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he was concerned about the impacts of the council meetings on local homeowners and tenants. The area already has some of the worst traffic in Berkeley, he said.

According to Bates’ senior aide Sbeydeh Viveros-Walton, council members asked the city clerk to bring a report compiled last year on 11 suggested locations — including the Berkeley City College Auditorium, the Longfellow Middle School Auditorium and the North Berkeley Senior Center Multi-Purpose Room — before making a decision. The report, released in January 2012, evaluates sites based on criteria such as traffic and noise impacts, proximity to public transit and adequate seating.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the lack of definite plans to retrofit Old City Hall, which he called “the elephant in the room” during the hearing, was also an influence on the City Council’s decision not to pursue the possibility of relocating. Worthington said he feared the mayor’s rush to empty the hall would eventually lead to the purchase of the building by a private developer.

“We have heard that there are corporations interested,” Worthington said. “Once you sell a historic building, we not only lose the property, we lose the land it is on. It’s going to take a fortune to buy that land back.”

During the meeting, Bates and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak emphasized the need to find a temporary location to meet in while arrangements for retrofitting the Old City Hall are made. Bates told council members it was not in the public’s interest to “have us all crushed in some sort of earthquake.”

Wozniak agreed, telling the council it would take between $10 million to $20 million and four to five years to finish the renovations. He suggested the council consider moving its meetings to the Downtown Berkeley Post Office.

“We need some creative ideas,” Wozniak said. “Someone needs to come up with an interim solution.”

Savannah Luschei covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.