Berkeley City Council to examine impact of 2 community reports

Nicole White/Staff

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Berkeley City Council will convene Tuesday evening to discuss the impact of two new community reports, which will detail roadway improvements and public health inequity.

The first information report discusses possible roadway and sidewalk improvements in Downtown Berkeley — on University Avenue between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street — as an update to the city’s Downtown Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan, which was approved unanimously by City Council in 2013.

These improvements — which include widened sidewalks, separate bike lanes and angled parking — were introduced by Interim City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and Acting Director of the city’s Public Works Department Phillip Harrington.

In proposing such changes, Williams-Ridley and Harrington had the goal of improving the area’s pedestrian environment and maintaining adequate space for larger vehicles, such as trucks and ambulances.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the council will likely decide against moving forward with this recommendation and will instead maintain the original tenants of the 2013 plan.

Additionally, development of the Acheson Commons, a 205-unit apartment complex, has been ongoing since 2013 in the same area. Because of this, several businesses, including Ace Hardware on University Avenue, have been displaced.

“They don’t want cars here in Berkeley,” said Quentin Moore, the manager of Ace Hardware, which is currently relocating to Milvia Street. “I don’t think that’s a good idea for people who come to shop (in the area).”

Moore added that the development of the Acheson Commons — as well as potential changes to the roads — would cause Downtown to become congested with traffic.

“There probably won’t be any discussion (about the improvements),” said Stefan Elgstrand, chief of staff to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district oversees the Downtown area.

Elgstrand said the item was just on the agenda for review in order to update council members on the status of the Streets and Open Space Improvement Plan and Acheson Commons development but may lead to future action sometime during the summer of 2016.

Additionally, Elgstrand said the aim of the recommendation was to “make the streets and surrounding areas more friendly to different modes of transportation.” Elgstrand added that several business owners had complained about people riding bicycles on sidewalks, which is “technically illegal” and creates a safety hazard for pedestrians.

The second report that will be presented to the council is from the Public Health Division of the city’s Housing and Community Services Department. The PHD worked with the Bright Research Group to conduct a public health evaluation regarding health inequity in the city.

This report is the third public health study released by the PHD in recent years. This, however, was the first to incorporate direct feedback from Berkeley residents and underrepresented-minority groups.

In 2013, the Public Health Priority Setting Initiative released a health status report that analyzed health inequities by race and ethnicity in Berkeley. In response to the report, the PHD put together a set of health care priorities for the city, including cardiovascular disease, asthma in children, low birth weight, and reproductive and sexual health.

The PHD shared the preliminary list of concerns with the community in town halls and focus groups to learn what day-to-day health care issues concern Berkeley residents.

According to Janet Berreman, the health officer who manages the PHD, the community was “extremely receptive to being engaged.”

The report focuses on moving toward health equity for racial and ethnic groups and homeless individuals in Berkeley that, according to the study, say they lack access to caring, high-quality health care services to help with socio-emotional and mental health, diabetes, obesity, substance abuse and marijuana use.

The report also said homeless residents feel the need for additional substance-use rehabilitation programs but “(praise) the quality of mental health services available to them.”

“The report causes us to look at what programs are effective at improving health outcomes,” Worthington said. “We really need to prioritize our funding into cost-effective programs that affect health inequities in a direct way.”

Worthington added that the report will likely not be discussed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting but could be voted into action and discussed at a later meeting.

To move forward on health equity issues in the meantime, the PHD plans on having a work session with the council in November, during which they will discuss the report in detail and look at the future of health care for Berkeley residents.

“The (Bright Research Group) report represents the next — and arguably most important — step in priority setting: what Berkeley residents themselves identify as the most important issues in the health of our community,” the report said.

Contact Maya Eliahou and Haruka Senju at [email protected].