Berkeley City Council discusses COVID-19, passes housing ordinance

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Berkeley City Councilmembers discussed COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, and the Ronald V. Dellums Fair Chance Access to Housing Ordinance at their regular Tuesday meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley listed recommendations from the city’s public health officer Dr. Lisa Hernandez in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, which included canceling mass gatherings and community events deemed to be “nonessential.” During the meeting, city council members also discussed different efforts to address housing and homelessness in Berkeley.

“The time truly is to act now. These measures have the power to slow the fires from spreading,” Williams-Ridley said at the meeting.

The city ratified a newly introduced Proclamation of Emergency over COVID-19.

Later in the meeting, an action item to allocate Measure U1 funding to programs aimed at addressing housing and homelessness was passed. These funding increases include $2.5 million for the Housing Trust Fund in 2023, which provides funds for affordable housing construction.

The Ronald V. Dellums Fair Chance Access to Housing Ordinance, also known as the Fair Chance Ordinance, was also discussed and later passed unanimously by the council. The Fair Chance Ordinance would prevent landlords from denying an applicant housing based on criminal history.

“What we need to also acknowledge is that a significant number of people in encampments have a criminal history,” said City Councilmember Lori Droste at the meeting. “If the same people saying that the encampments bother them and yet they don’t support a fair chance to housing, then that is diametrically opposed.”

During public comment, Towanda Sherry, a policy leader of the Fair Chance Housing Coalition, shared a story about her son.

She said she lived in affordable housing and could not allow her son to live with her after he was incarcerated and then released. She added that her son, who experienced homelessness, later died.

“He needed housing, he moved all the way to Southern California from here, because he couldn’t stay with me,” Sherry said during public comment. “I wish he could have stayed with me because I know he would still be here with me.”

Tuesday’s meeting concluded with a discussion about an item that would direct the city manager to lease land from CalTrans to establish a temporary outdoor shelter at University Avenue and West Frontage Road.

The encampment would have toilet and hand-washing stations and garbage receptacles, according to the agenda item.

“We are just sick and tired of seeing people live in such an unacceptable situation,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín during the meeting. “Imagine if we were actually able to repurpose this property, clean up the property and keep it safe. And have social services, hand-washing stations and portable restrooms provided so that people are not exposed to dangerous conditions.”

Robson Swift is a city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.