Berkeley anticipates large crowds for Tuesday’s City Council meeting

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Anticipating large crowds because of a number of contentious agenda items, the city will relocate Tuesday’s City Council meeting to a larger venue for the first time this year.

The meeting will include discussions of the city’s budget, compulsory treatment of the severely mentally ill and the legalization of short-term rental housing. It will be held at the Longfellow Middle School auditorium, which last housed City Council meetings with similarly high attendance expectations in December and May 2014, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

Chakko said the city expects the meeting’s “packed” agenda will draw crowds, falling in line with a recent pattern of high attendance at City Council meetings.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the importance of and debate surrounding City Council meeting agenda items over the past couple of months have drawn such large crowds that some attendees were unable to enter the meetings’ venues. He also said he was pleased with the decision to move the meeting to Longfellow.

“(Too-small venues) essentially creates a situation in which people are shut out of the meeting,” Arreguin said. “How is that good for democracy?”

Many attendees of the most recent meeting were South Berkeley residents seeking to speak out against proposed budget cuts, Arreguin said. The cuts would reduce funding for several South Berkeley nonprofits that focus on youth and the homeless, according to an analysis conducted by the community-led group Friends of Adeline. Arreguin will recommend that the city continue funding such organizations.

Sally Hindman, executive director of the South Berkeley nonprofit Youth Spirit Artworks, said that many community members and organizations will attend Tuesday’s meeting in support of Arreguin’s proposal. According to Hindman, the proposed budget cuts would end all city funding of Youth Spirit Artworks, which provides art-focused job training to homeless and low-income youth, and the organization would risk closing its doors.

City Council will also vote on whether to support implementing alternatives to Laura’s Law, a law that would allow court orders mandating that some people with severe, documented mental illnesses participate in the treatments prescribed to them. The final decision would be made by Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors. Berkeley’s Mental Health Commission recommended that the council support alternatives.

But Shirley Dean, president of the Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee, said her organization opposes most of the commission’s recommendations, citing a 2012 case in which a mentally ill man killed a stranger near the victim’s home in the Berkeley Hills.

Tuesday’s agenda also includes a recommendation from Councilmember Lori Droste and Mayor Tom Bates to legalize short-term housing rentals, or rentals not exceeding 14 days. Such rentals are currently prohibited in Berkeley, though websites such as Airbnb list hundreds of short-term rentals in the city.

The City Council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the middle school’s auditorium on Derby Street.

Contact Sally Littlefield at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @slittlefield3.