City Council discusses rent overcharges, meeting efficiency

Micah Carroll/Staff

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At its first Tuesday regular meeting since its eight-week summer recess, Berkeley City Council directed the city manager to develop a way to mitigate years of rent overcharging by Acton Courtyard, an apartment building developed in partnership with the city.

Additionally, the council discussed several items intended to increase its efficiency at meetings. The council also deferred an item that would establish an incentive-based green building initiative and indefinitely tabled another that proposed the development of a 2018 ballot measure to promote increased police accountability.

In 1999, City Council voted to give the property located at 1370 University Ave. to a for-profit corporation, Panoramic Interests, free of charge on the condition that all units have rents set between 50 and 120 percent of the area’s median income. The item addresses the alleged overcharging since 2012 by Equity Residential, the developer that bought the property in 2009.

Some of the tenants who live in the building were making more than double that of the qualifying requirements, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

“Because the city didn’t go and inspect what (it) was doing … the management company just raked in as much money as it could,” Worthington said at the meeting.

The council discussed the feasibility of refunding tenants overcharged by Acton Courtyard and whether the overcharged amount should be paid into the Housing Trust Fund as an alternative. It also considered when the alleged overcharging began and the council’s ability to charge the corporation.

The city manager will further research options to address the overcharging reported by the proposal, which unanimously passed.

City Council also deliberated on ways to increase productivity at its meetings. Worthington suggested adding a monthly “safety valve meeting” that would give major issues their own time to be discussed, separate from regular meetings. Unlike special meetings, which may be called on short notice, these “safety valve meetings” would be reserved ahead of time.

Councilmember Linda Maio, however, expressed concerns regarding the inefficiencies within regular meetings.

“I don’t want to add in another meeting when we’re not using our time well now,” Maio said at the meeting.

The council also considered abolishing speaker cards and limiting public comment to 20 minutes per item, but voted to discuss these possibilities in a later open work session.

The council deferred the discussion of the Berkeley Deep Green Building initiative to Nov. 15 at the request of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who originally proposed the agenda item. Arreguin said he wanted to consider the initiative after the November election because of political reasons related to his mayoral campaign.

The agenda item regarding the development of a 2018 ballot measure intended to increase police accountability was delayed for the fifth time, according to Worthington.

Contact Edward Booth and Alex Fang at [email protected].