City Council approves wage theft prevention ordinance, contract for hotel development project

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Berkeley City Council voted eight in favor and one in abstention to adopt a multi-year contract with a developer that would provide financial assistance to facilitate the construction of a hotel development project and approved a wage theft prevention ordinance at its Tuesday meeting.

The wage theft prevention ordinance will ensure that construction workers receive all their wages and mandatory labor benefits from their employers by holding contractors and developers accountable for upholding labor standards.

“By expanding transparency and accountability before a project is complete, Berkeley has taken an important step towards preventing wage theft and leveling the playing field for honest construction businesses competing for this work,” said Scott Littlehale, policy director of Smart Cities Prevail, a construction industry research and advocacy organization, in a released public statement.

Another impactful decision made at the meeting revolved around the 16-story hotel and commercial building built by Center Street Partners, LLC — which will include 334 hotel suites, conference center facilities, restaurants and a parking garage.

The hotel is to be located at the heart of Downtown Berkeley at 2129 Shattuck Ave., a site that is currently occupied by a Bank of America branch. According to city documents, the city will rebate half of the transient occupancy taxes — taxes on travelers who rent accommodations — so the cumulative amount of the rebate will not exceed $13.1 million.

Several members of the community expressed concerns with the city subsidizing part of the financial development of the hotel project, stating that city funds should be spent on public projects and not on businesses.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, said there was a “misunderstanding” among some members of the public about the rebate for the hotel development project. Worthington noted that in order to make the hotel financially feasible, the developers will get a “discount on transient occupancy taxes.”

In order to clarify some of these misunderstandings and public concerns, the city’s economic developer manager Michael Caplan spoke about the projected economic impact of the hotel at the meeting.

Caplan noted his support for this project citing that it is a “generative project over the city and east bay” because of its substantial job and revenue impacts. According to Caplan, the hotel will generate roughly $4.35 million during the first year and create another 100 jobs with permanent benefits.

“This is all about creating a vibrant and welcoming Downtown,” said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

A small group gathered outside the steps of Old City Hall an hour before the City Council to rally in support of putting a police accountability measure on the upcoming November ballot. This item on the agenda proposed by Worthington, however, was not discussed by City Council at the meeting because of time constraints.

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao.