Berkeley City Council considers relocating chambers to potential homeless shelter, affordable housing site

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Berkeley City Council is considering temporarily relocating its chambers to 1011 University Ave., which has been identified as a potential location for the city’s winter homeless shelter and affordable housing site.

Currently, the council’s chambers are located in a seismically problematic building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr Way. For its temporary location, the city has two options which are located about four blocks from one another.

The first is Berkeley Unified School District’s, or BUSD’s, preexisting meeting hall, which was intentionally built with enough space to hold the council. The second potential location is a city-owned property at 1011 University Ave., a relocation that would require the council to spend an estimated $1.7 million to build new chambers.

Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who is on the council’s homelessness subcommittee, said the committee is considering using the building currently located at 1011 University Ave. as a temporary homeless shelter this winter, though Councilmember Kate Harrison said this is an idea that has not been considered by the council.

The previous council purchased the 1011 University Ave. land with the intention of building affordable housing on the property, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Worthington said he favors relocating to the BUSD space to promote the creation of affordable housing and to use city money to support public education.

Worthington added that the relocation would only be temporary, as the council intends to move back to its current location after the completion of seismic updates to the City Hall building.

“Part of my worry is temporary things have a habit of becoming permanent, and then it would be a giant obstacle to building affordable housing there,” Worthington said. “I don’t think there’s bad faith, that somebody’s trying to stop affordable housing.”

Harrison said building affordable housing is a lengthy process, adding that the 1011 University Ave. location is large enough to accommodate both the council chambers and an affordable housing project. Although Harrison does support relocating to the BUSD space if possible, she said the BUSD site would pose administrative difficulties and would be “more of a hassle” for city staff.

Berkeley resident Kelly Hammargren said she sees the potential relocation to 1011 University Ave. as an example of the council’s refusal to “actually walk the talk” when it comes to affordable housing.

“To take a building and to spend funds on something that was supposed to be used for affordable housing is ridiculous,” Hammargren said. “It makes me wonder if all this talk about emergency need for affordable housing is just rhetoric.”

At its regular meeting Oct. 31, the council voted in favor of opening negotiations with the BUSD board in hopes of finding a more cost-effective solution for relocation. Harrison said that at this meeting, she also recommended that the council set aside some funds to be used for relocation purposes, regardless of which location the council chooses.

The council will have to dedicate funds to relocation — either to BUSD or to build new chambers on the 1011 University Ave. site — according to Worthington. But Worthington said the question is which option would be most cost-efficient and which would be a better use of city funds.

“I think that we need to think of the cost,” Davila said. “We need to act in the most cost-effective way that will benefit the community.”

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