Berkeley City Council moves forward with plan on reimagining public safety

Photo of a city council meeting
Kristen Tamsil/File
Berkeley City Council approved the reimagining public safety plan as an omnibus package in July. The package includes proposals to reroute certain emergency calls to preferred nonpolice entities, among other elements.

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Berkeley City Council received an update on the ongoing process of reimagining public safety and approved a consulting firm to begin the design of a crisis response unit during its regular Tuesday meeting.

The City Council approved the reimagining public safety plan as an omnibus package in July following public outcry over the death of George Floyd. The package includes proposals to reroute certain emergency calls to preferred nonpolice entities and the creation of a municipal transit authority, titled BerkDOT, to ensure a “racial justice lens” in traffic enforcement, among other elements.

The plan will be implemented through a “robust, inclusive, and transparent community engagement process with the goal of achieving a new and transformative model of positive, equitable and community-centered safety for Berkeley,” according to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley’s update.

Staff has made progress on various elements of the plan, including identifying a consulting firm to oversee the community engagement process of “reimagining police and public safety,” Wiliams-Ridley said. The consulting firm will be considered for approval at the Dec. 15 City Council meeting.

Later in the meeting, the City Council voted to hire the consulting firm, Resource Development Associates, to oversee the design and community engagement process for a specialized care unit. The unit seeks to reduce the role of law enforcement in mental health crisis response.

Before the vote, Councilmember Ben Bartlett raised concerns over whether the firm would be “culturally competent” and inclusive in its role in designing the program.

Lisa Warhuus, director of the city’s Health, Housing and Community Services Department, addressed the council member’s concerns, emphasizing that the firm would be working closely with community stakeholders throughout the process.

“This is a community-driven process; this is not a consultant-driven process,” Warhuus said during the meeting. “So it’s really up to us. That is what’s going to hold this work together.”

The City Council also approved a budget referral of $200,000 to fund enhanced street lighting in high-crime areas. The referral provides an environmental safety assessment of areas with a high concentration of gun violence, particularly in South and West Berkeley neighborhoods.

During the ceremonial calendar, council members and members of the public bid farewell to Councilmember Cheryl Davila, expressing their gratitude during her final City Council meeting for her years of service representing District 2.

As of Monday, Davila lost her reelection bid to challenger Terry Taplin, having received 37.76% of District 2 votes to Taplin’s 62.24% after the race went to a ranked-choice voting runoff.

“Agree or disagree, there was no question on which side you stood, and it was always on the side of justice,” said former rent board commissioner Igor Tregub to Davila during the meeting. “Those who were most marginalized, downtrodden and forgotten in the face of society were never forgotten by you.”

Jacob Souza is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @jsouza_dailycal.