Ohlone protests, affordable housing plans, a new independent police auditor: A recap of Tuesday’s City Council meeting

Francesca Munsayac/Staff

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As members of the Ohlone tribe broke out into traditional song at the start of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, council members prepared for discussions regarding development on the West Berkeley Shellmound, BART’s “100 percent” affordable housing plan and a possible independent police auditor.

Hundreds of people were in the audience and an “overflow room” at Old City Hall. Many members of the audience were protesting Blake Griggs Properties’ invocation of SB 35 — an affordable housing bill — on 1900 Fourth St., known by the Ohlone people as the West Berkeley Shellmound. The council gave the Ohlone 35 minutes to advocate for their land.

“With permission of the Ohlone people, I will speak for them that we preserve whatever remnants there are … in the shellmound,” said Berkeley poet laureate Rafael Jesús González at the meeting. “This monument to their religion, to their identity, to themselves.”

The site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is listed on the California Register of Historical Resources, thus making it exempt from SB 35, according to a press release from the Ohlone tribe.

The Ohlone tribe has gone through two years of work, talking to the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board and Landmarks Preservation Commission as well as going through the “process of CEQA,” or the California Environmental Quality Act, said Ohlone tribe spokesperson Corrina Gould at the meeting. She added that the shellmound is a “place and space that we have attended to for time immemorial.”

Later that evening, the council passed a motion to oppose AB 2923, which would give BART zoning control over its lands. BART plans to have 100 percent affordable housing at the North Berkeley BART parking lot, according to a figure outlined in BART transit-oriented development, or TOD, guidelines.

“Giving our powers away to BART is a nonstarter,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “We have the power to zone it and control the process and get as much affordable housing as we possibly can out of the process.”

Public commenters, however, showed mix reactions to AB 2923. Alfred Twu, who is running for the City Council District 8 seat, disagreed with the council’s item and said the North Berkeley parking lot is the “single largest opportunity” for affordable housing.

They added that BART stated its interest in building affordable housing on the lot.

Moni Law, a Berkeley resident and UC Berkeley alumna, said claiming the council is against affordable housing for wanting local control of the North Berkeley BART space is a “falsely framed narrative.”

“The affordable units — they’re not 100 percent affordable,” Law said. “(AB 2923) would … provide that the TOD project shall include a specified 20 percent affordable housing requirement. That’s no better than what you already have.”

Near the end of the meeting, a long debate ensued over whether the council should initiate a “meet-and-confer” process regarding Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s proposed charter amendment, which would include an independent police auditor. Council members received Arreguín’s revisions at about 2 p.m. that day, and Councilmember Lori Droste noted that they can’t “begin the process of restructuring our police at 11:20 at night.”

The new auditor would investigate all complaints filed against Berkeley Police Department employees and would take responsibilities from the Police Review Commission, or PRC, executive director, according to Arreguín. Several PRC commissioners, including vice-chair George Perezvelez, came to support Arreguín’s proposal.

The motion passed with five council members — Cheryl Davila, Ben Bartlett, Kriss Worthington, Kate Harrison and Arreguín — in support of the meet-and-confer and four council members — Sophie Hahn, Susan Wengraf, Maio and Droste — abstaining.

PRC commissioner Cooper Price said past members of PRC “overwhelmingly and repeatedly made clear” that they wanted the reforms that Arreguín outlined in his charter amendment — the PRC has supported these reforms for about 45 years, according to Harrison.

“The Police Review Commission-approved charter amendment, I believe, represents the best chance that we have to implement reforms that are long overdue,” Price said. “Reforms, really, decades in the making.”

Alyssa Bernardino covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Cooper Price is the Police Review Commission’s head. In fact, Price is a PRC commissioner.