Berkeley City Council faces criticism at Tuesday meeting over handling of homeless encampments

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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Although Berkeley City Council approved the extension of the housing crisis declaration at its meeting Tuesday, many Berkeley residents voiced concerns about the city’s lack of aid to the homeless population.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said at the meeting that the extension will allow the city to implement shelters and provide other services to homeless individuals, which he said is particularly important because of the lack of available shelter.

“There’s a significant gap between the amount of people who need shelter and the amount of shelter we can provide,”Arreguín said at the meeting.

During public comment, however, several Berkeley residents and “Here There” homeless encampment residents expressed less-optimistic views, with many of them demanding that the city sanction the “Here There” encampment, which is located on BART property. The South Berkeley encampment has been a site of controversy since BART’s decision to evict encampment residents in October.

Councilmember Kate Harrison proposed, and later withdrew, a substitute motion to the extension of the housing crisis declaration that would “include encampments as a possible avenue for emergency shelter.” In response to this motion, other council members as well as Arreguín stated their preference to push back discussion of sanctioning encampments to the next council meeting in order to obtain legal analysis prior to making a decision.

“It’s just too big to do on the fly,” said Councilmember Linda Maio at the meeting.

Berkeley resident Richie Smith was honored at the start of the meeting for her work fighting for affordable housing and for her regular attendance at City Council meetings. Smith accepted the recognition by pleading with the council to find a solution to the eviction of “Here There” homeless encampment residents.

“You’ve got to put your heels and soles in the sidewalk,” Smith said at the meeting. “You can’t do this from an office.”

During the meeting, Arreguín presented a revised version of a proposal to address racial disparity within the Berkeley Police Department.

Some council members said they felt that Arreguín’s proposal addressed the issue of racial disparity in a less direct manner than the original proposal did, as it included the elimination of the term “disparate racial treatment” from the proposal’s subject.

“I think it’s very important that you have racial disparity in the subject,” said Councilmember Cheryl Davila at the meeting. “Race is part of the equation. I don’t understand how you could eliminate the words.”

The council tabled the racial disparity proposal. The council did, however, approve a proposal to reform BPD’s use of force policy. Under the proposal, BPD will be required to report on all confrontations between police officers and citizens that involve physical force.

At the meeting, City Council also voted to affirm the Zoning Adjustments Board’s decision to approve the construction of an addition to a single-family home located at 970 Santa Barbara Rd., but with a series of amendments, including a 3-foot setback rather than a 4-foot setback.

The construction project has faced opposition from neighbors, who argue that expansion will block the views from their homes.

“I support the applicants’ position (to accept the amendments),” said Councilmember Ben Bartlett at the meeting. “It looks to me, from my nontechnical eyes, like a valiant compromise.”

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.