2/19/19: This article has been updated to reflect the views of City Councilmember Rigel Robinson.
Berkeley City Council will hold a meeting Tuesday to address several items, including an ordinance permitting cannabis events, amendments to the city’s Living Wage Ordinance and a vacant housing unit assessment.
Item 9: Develop an ordinance permitting cannabis events and designate César Chávez Park as an approved venue
This item develops an ordinance permitting cannabis-related events in Berkeley. The ordinance would grant licensees a temporary license to host cannabis events in Berkeley, given that all attendees of these events are 21 or older.
The item also states that the approved location for these events would be César Chávez Park. Mayor Jesse Arreguín recommended this item and cited alcohol-related events as precedent for future cannabis events.
According to Councilmember Rigel Robinson, this ordinance will reduce the association between crime and cannabis.
“Establishing a protocol for Cannabis Events that replicates the same protocols as events with alcohol is one important and exciting step in the process,” Robinson said in an email.
Items 17A and 17B: Proposed amendments to Berkeley’s Living Wage Ordinance
These items amend Berkeley’s Living Wage Ordinance, which ensures that businesses working with the city pay their employees enough to ensure that they are at or above the poverty level.
One large amendment within Item 17A would require employers to post information about the Living Wage Ordinance to ensure that employees see the information. Other amendments further clarify terms described in the Living Wage Ordinance.
Another amendment states that, in addition to paying the standard living wage — currently $15.45 an hour — employers must provide medical benefits equal to at least $2.56 an hour. If employers do not have medical benefits for employees, the added amount must be paid directly to the employee, according to the items. The added cost will be updated annually to account for different financial needs.
Items 19A and 19B: Assessment of vacant properties
Item 19A addresses the 3,754 vacant housing units identified in the City of Berkeley Fiscal Years 2018 & 2019 Adopted Biennial Budget. It proposes hiring staff to assess the vacant housing units.
Item 19B refers the issue of vacant housing units to City Council to determine whether the units meet the criteria to use the funds from Measure O bonds — bonds that the city of Berkeley issues to fund affordable housing initiatives.
While Item 19B states that the rate of vacant housing in Berkeley is normal for the Bay Area, Item 19A states that Berkeley has a severe housing shortage.
The proposal is not thorough enough, according to Councilmember Kate Harrison, who said it is important to know not only where these housing units are but also how long they have been vacant. Harrison said the proposal of Items 19A and 19A has an important place in starting to address the vacant properties, however.
“We did a review of the rent-control properties last year. A thousand units have been vacant more than a year; it wasn’t just happenstance,” Harrison said. “Four hundred units were in buildings more than half-vacant.”