City Council to address homeless shelter crisis at regular meeting

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Ten months after the original homeless shelter crisis declaration was issued, Berkeley City Council will consider extending the crisis declaration for another year, among five other action items at its regular meeting Tuesday.

The housing crisis plan proposed by Councilmember Jesse Arreguin also involves allowing homeless shelters in facilities that are not city-owned, such as in religious, commercial or residential lots. Furthermore, Arreguin suggested amending Berkeley Municipal Code restrictions on campers and house cars, allowing people to stay in these dwellings for more than three consecutive nights in a 90-day period.

Although the proposal listed the board of Northbrae Community Church as a religious group that has already volunteered its property as a site for a rent-free accessory building, Reverend Michael Burch denied that any official decision was made. Burch said more research still needs to be conducted, and discussions with the church board and committees are ongoing.

“The sooner there’s a roof over someone’s head, the better,” Burch said. “But at the same time, we want to create the best possible situation for success if we’re going to do this.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington mirrored these sentiments. Worthington said the city was working on acquiring more legal advice from the city attorney and cleaning up the proposal’s language before the regular meeting, especially in regards to the camper and house car amendment.

Guy “Mike” Lee, former mayoral candidate and homeless advocate, said while he supports any action that helps the homeless, the item is “way too complicated” and claimed that the authorities should stop interfering with homeless vehicle dwellers as a whole.

Before the regular meeting, City Council will hold a closed, special meeting at 5 p.m. to discuss existing litigation involving developer OPHCA LLC, which filed a pending application with the city to demolish and redevelop a vacant 18-unit apartment complex.

“(OPHCA LLC is) contesting our demolition law,” Worthington said. “We’re trying to prevent demolition of affordable housing and this particular landlord thinks that they should be able to demolish affordable housing.”

In the court documents filed by OPHCA LLC, however, it alleges that the city development policies have prevented the construction of new rental units, which have led to old, dilapidated and unsafe buildings as well as rising rental rates.

After the closed special meeting, City Council will meet with the city’s Department of Information Technology for a work session from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. to get updates about projects the department has undertaken to improve the city’s IT systems, according to Worthington.

Contact Fionce Siow at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.