Berkeley City Council renews state of emergency, discusses police budget, housing

City Council Meeting
Gisselle Reyes/File

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Berkeley City Council renewed the current state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in a nearly 10-hour-long series of meetings Tuesday.

The current state of emergency will continue until Aug. 15, which is when the declaration will be reconsidered. The city budget was also changed to allow the city to access up to one-third of the catastrophic reserve during public health emergencies, including pandemics, augment the catastrophic reserve and reappropriate general funding to tiny homes.

Motions to improve or further construct street lighting such as traffic lights, create residential preferential parking in South Berkeley and re-establish the North Shattuck Business Improvement District were all approved at the meeting.

More than 100 people spoke at the public comment session of the midyear budget meeting, many of whom expressed interest in plans to defund the Berkeley Police Department. Several in attendance asked the council to consider reducing the police budget by at least 50%.

“Use your position to show your constituents you are listening,” said Berkeley resident Melis Okter. “Ask for the immediate resignation of (BPD) chief (Andrew) Greenwood. Defund the police department that funds violent officers.”

Those in favor of Greenwood’s resignation were responding to Greenwood’s comment at a City Council meeting June 10 that his department would use firearms on protesters if it did not have access to chemical crowd dispersal agents such as tear gas. Later in the meeting, Greenwood apologized.

Several members of the public expressed concern about defunding BPD, however, and said they think the City Council should look into reimagining the department.

Several council members said they supported rethinking the police department’s budget, but this action was not implemented at the meeting.

“We need to transform the way we look at community safety from a budgetary standpoint and a social justice standpoint,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the meeting. “There are going to be very significant cuts to the police budget.”

The City Council also considered the future site of a five-story housing project that will include very low- income housing units at 2650 Telegraph Ave. Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, who lives adjacent to 2650 Telegraph Ave., and 11 other neighbors made an appeal to deny a plan for the building.

Louchakova-Schwartz cited potential noise complaints caused by the building’s garage and outdoor terrace, as well as the potential of further COVID-19 spread due to the density of the project.

The City Council voted in favor of the project, citing that the garage’s sound is required to meet specific noise criteria to be in compliance with California’s Americans with Disabilities Act and that there is insufficient evidence to show that the project’s density will further spread the coronavirus.

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @eric_rogers_dc.