Berkeley City Council to discuss repurposing Old City Hall as temporary storm shelter

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A referral to repurpose Old City Hall as a potential temporary storm shelter will be discussed, among other items, at Berkeley City Council’s regular Tuesday meeting.

The referral for the city manager, which was sent by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Cheryl Davila, notes that for the past 15 years, the city has run a storm shelter and currently has $31,000 set aside to operate a shelter — but it has not yet identified a location for this year.

Recently, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education and City Council approved an agreement to allow city meetings to be held in a space operated by the school district. Because city meetings were previously held in Old City Hall, the building will now be mostly unoccupied.

The referral said if Old City Hall is not being utilized, “this city treasure risks becoming an unkempt eyesore.”

According to the referral, some community members have expressed concerns about repurposing Old City Hall into a temporary storm shelter because the location has some seismic safety issues. The referral added, however, that the Veterans Memorial Building has similar seismic issues, and the city is currently allowing multiple temporary uses there, including the emergency shelter in the basement.

Because the city has declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness, it can use spaces for emergency locations for up to six months. The proposal from Worthington and Davila only recommends using Old City Hall for four months.

“Therefore, it could serve Berkeley well to convert Old City Hall, an unused building, into a temporary emergency shelter. In doing so, the City of Berkeley can provide stability,” the referral said.

Another item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting is a request from the Bay Area Migrant Welcome Committee for the city to approve contributions for migrant asylum seekers to the United States, specifically to the Bay Area.

The resolution, from Davila, would approve the expenditure of up to $150 per council member to the Bay Area Migrant Welcome Committee. The funds would be delivered to members of the caravan seeking asylum and would support food, shelter and other basic needs.

“In support of Berkeley’s Sanctuary City status, Berkeley should be in the lead of welcoming the caravan of migrants who departed from San Pedro Sula, Honduras on foot on October 12, 2018, citing persecution, violence and grinding poverty as motivating factors for their collective decision to embark on a courageous journey North,” the resolution said.

Another item on the agenda requests that the city manager consider permitting the city to boycott Amazon. If passed, the item would allow the city to refrain from purchasing Amazon goods for city use for “its role in tracking immigrants in cooperation with ICE,” the referral said.

“Therefore, the City of Berkeley should consider that it will boycott Amazon and not use its services to purchase goods either for city use or for official events and commit to finding ethical alternatives,” the referral said. “Setting this example will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit sending a message to Amazon to prioritize human lives over money.”

Jessíca Jiménez is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and and follow her on Twitter at @jesscajimenez_dc.