City Council to discuss municipal business license fee reform, student housing

Kevin Cheung/File

Berkeley City Council will hold a regular and special meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a broad range of issues, among them a potential municipal business license fee reform and a contentious student housing project.

During the special meeting, the council will discuss a possible increase in the city’s business license fee, which was created, in part, to respond to rapid increases in rental fees.

“Business owners will have to pay a larger fee, but it still captures only a small amount of rental (price) increases,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, who authored the proposal.

The money collected from increases in business license fees will be added to the city’s Housing Trust Fund in order to invest in other affordable housing units, as well as facilities for seniors and individuals with disabilities. According to the report, approximately $4 million of revenue could be collected by the fee increase.

Yet there are exemptions to increases in the business license fee, including apartments occupied by old rent-controlled tenants, inclusionary apartments covered by regulatory agreements that keep their rents permanently affordable and apartments owned by small, low- or moderate- income landlords.

Capitelli added that there will be a “negligible impact for property owners while a tremendous impact for working class and low-income residents.”

During the regular meeting, the council will reopen discussion on a student housing project located on Durant Avenue.

Located next to the former Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive building, the project — if approved — would consist of a 56-unit residential complex that would include below-market-value affordable housing units.

The project was initially approved by the Zoning Adjustments Board in June but recently saw two appeals, one of which was filed by former rent board commissioner Pamela Webster and ASUC Director of Local Affairs and Berkeley Tenants Union member Matthew Lewis on behalf of the ASUC. The matter then necessitated council review and was redirected to further discussion at its Tuesday meeting.

After deliberation, the council can either approve the project and dismiss the standing appeals, deny the project and overturn the ZAB decision or return some or all of the proposal back to the board.

“The policy questions that these appeals raise are major ones,” said ZAB Commissioner Igor Tregub.

Tregub also said that both appeals represent a “product of disagreements” between the city and the city’s Rent Stabilization Board on a city demolition ordinance that dates back at least three years.

Additionally, the council will also refer Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s proposal on granting city employees a living wage within two years to the city manager, as well as possible revisions of the city’s Rental Housing Safety Program.

Contact Young Min Kim and Adrienne Shih at [email protected].