Berkeley City Council holds work session to discuss group living ordinance

Tracy Lam/Staff

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More than 100 students attended a Berkeley City Council special work session Tuesday to protest an ordinance that would place additional regulations on “mini-dorms” and group living accommodations.

Mini-dorms, according to the ordinance, are housing units occupied by six or more people over the age of 18, while group living accommodations are buildings designed for residential use by nonfamilial individuals, including fraternities, sororities and student cooperatives.

The ASUC Office of External Affairs encouraged students to attend the meeting so that their opinions could be considered by the council.

“The point of having this work session is to get input from both sides of the community as to what should be done,” said Stefan Elgstrand, chief of staff for Councilmember Jesse Arreguin.

The ordinance places stricter regulations on social gatherings and alcohol consumption, stipulating that gatherings of 10 or more nonresidents involving alcohol end by 10 p.m. on weeknights and by 1 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and days preceding national holidays, according to the staff report.

If enacted, it would also require the designation of a “responsible resident” in each unit, who would be accountable for proper waste management, the notification of neighbors regarding gatherings totaling more than 50 people and the issue of a response to any community complaints within 24 hours.

Failure to comply with these regulations could result in the residence being declared a public nuisance, putting it at risk for fines or abatement, according to Berkeley municipal code.

These measures are intended to decrease the use of emergency services, combat inappropriate and illegal alcohol use, and reduce instances of sexual assault, according to the ordinance.

“I would challenge anyone to look into a mother’s eyes whose child died as the result of an out-of-control party where he was given alcohol by people who had no business giving that alcohol out,” said Yolanda Huang, a Berkeley resident and civil rights lawyer who spoke during public comment.

Huang said the adoption of the ordinance was necessary in order to protect the safety of members of the UC Berkeley community.

But Taylor Totten, a campus junior and sorority member, said that passing the ordinance could possibly “discourage” survivors of sexual assault from reporting their cases if they knew the individuals living on the property in which incidents occurred.

No matter what the circumstances of an attack, the residents of the location where it happened could risk being blamed and declared a public nuisance, Totten said.

James Stewart, president of the campus’s Interfraternity Council, said during the public comment session that he believes more progress would be made if “student-led initiatives” were implemented in lieu of the ordinance.

At the end of the work session, the council unanimously voted to hold another session to further discuss the ordinance.

Until then, the ordinance will be referred to the council’s agenda subcommittee — consisting of Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio and Susan Wengraf — where it will be discussed in more detail and amended to address the public’s concerns.

Contact Jessica Lynn at [email protected].