Berkeley City Council addresses Alta Bates closure, bans flavored tobacco

Stephanie Li/Staff

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Berkeley City Council met Tuesday for its last regular meeting of the year, at which it swore in its new and re-elected representatives and addressed a variety of issues including the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center closure, street paving and tobacco sales.

The meeting commenced with the swearing-in of Councilmembers Rashi Kesarwani, Rigel Robinson, Kate Harrison and Lori Droste, along with City Auditor Jenny Wong, following their city election victories in November. Kesarwani, Berkeley’s new District 1 council member, took her seat at the far left on the dais, joined by Rigel Robinson of District 7 on the right in the new council chambers located in the Berkeley Unified School District board room.

Berkeley resident and Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner Igor Tregub, who ran unsuccessfully against Keserwani for the District 1 seat, congratulated the newly-elected council members and spoke in support of drafting a city letter to Sutter Health — the nonprofit organization that owns Alta Bates Summit Medical Center — to retain a hospital in Berkeley.

“I wanted to take the time to lend my support,” Tregub commented at the meeting. “Thank you for doing everything you can to save Alta Bates and calling on Sutter to fix it or sell it.”

Before the meeting, a group of protestors with the California Nurses Association gathered outside City Hall to oppose the proposed closure of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. Sutter Health announced plans to close Alta Bates by 2030 due to the cost of a mandated seismic retrofit, and many community members have mobilized against this proposal. Citing the “potentially devastating impact that would result if it was closed,” the City Council decided Tuesday to draft a letter to Sutter Health and encourage them to either sell the hospital or follow through with the retrofitting.

Council members also voted to pass zoning changes to a site in West Berkeley that Kaiser Permanente, another medical provider, plans on turning into medical offices. While Harrison questioned a lack of concrete commitment on the part of Kaiser, Arreguín said the project would be “in the public interest,” pointing to the need for medical offices in the community in the wake of Alta Bates’s possible closure.

In light of a Public Works Commission finding that Berkeley street pavement quality is significantly lower than the Bay Area average, council members unanimously voted to approve a five-year street rehabilitation plan. In an effort to curb single-use foodware waste, council members also passed an ordinance to help businesses switch to reusable foodware, in order to help meet the city’s goal of becoming waste-free.

Also on the consent calendar, the city moved to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and place limits on the sale of cigars and cigarillos across the city, following the lead of San Francisco, Richmond and San Mateo. Councilmember Cheryl Davila decided to pen the amendment after hearing from two high schoolers about the ease with which they could attain tobacco products. She added that she was particularly concerned about the “targeting” of people of color by such advertising.

“I am so proud of what Berkeley’s doing,” said Valerie Yerger, associate professor at UC San Francisco, during public comment. “This is a serious situation, a social justice issue, and we have to do everything we can at the local levels.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.