Berkeley City Council discusses gun violence, COVID-19 response

Photo of a city council meeting
Ireland Wagner/File
Berkeley City Council meets in April 2019. At its virtual meeting Tuesday, the council discussed emergency response programs such as Berkeley Ready, which is responsible for all of Berkeley's disaster preparedness activities.

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Berkeley City Council discussed gun violence, smoking regulations and the city’s COVID-19 response at its regular Tuesday meeting.

Before any items were heard, Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Ben Bartlett announced that the council would be adjourning in the honor of Sereinat’e Henderson, who was shot and killed on Prince Street last week. The City Council then unanimously passed an urgent agenda item presented by Bartlett that will establish the Operation Ceasefire workforce to address gun violence in the city.

“Gun violence is intolerable and is trending upwards in Berkeley and across the Bay Area,” reads the item. “To truly break the advancing curve of violence, the City will need to also undertake preventive and intervention measures and invest in long-term solutions.”

According to Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, creating Operation Ceasefire is important for “reimagining” public safety and is an “appropriate” city response to end gun violence.

Kesarwani also voiced her concerns over items related to the city’s Smoke Free Multi-Unit Housing Ordinance as recommended by the Housing Advisory Commission.

“I am concerned by the idea that we are going to spend city staff time on trying to figure out how we can enforce on people smoking in their single-family home,” Kesarwani said during the meeting.

Councilmember Lori Droste echoed these thoughts while also pointing to the lack of prioritization, adding that there should be a ranking or strategic plan included in the recommendations.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn responded to these criticisms by saying the recommendations were thorough and created through a “cordial” discussion between the committee and staff, adding that some recommendations were direct suggestions from staff.

The meeting concluded with a presentation by city staff on Berkeley’s response to COVID-19.

Sarah Lana, emergency services coordinator, started the presentation by discussing the city’s emergency response programs such as Berkeley Ready, which is responsible for all of the city’s disaster preparedness activities.

According to Lana, staff is “particularly proud” of the city’s community resilience centers, which offer day-to-day support to underserved communities that are known to be more vulnerable through disaster preparedness outreach. Lana also went over the city’s Emergency Operations Plan, a framework designed to outline the city’s emergency response.

Emergency Operations Center’s COVID-19 coordinator Katherine Hawn also discussed the major focus areas of the city’s COVID-19 response. These five areas include testing, public information and working with vulnerable populations, such as seniors and the unhoused community. 

“As public employees in the state of California, we are all disaster service workers,” Lana said during the meeting. “This means that even in emergencies after we make sure our families are safe and secure we must return to work.”

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