Berkeley City Council acts on grocery store hazard pay, ban on new cars

Photo of traffic
Daniel R. Blume/Creative Commons
In its first meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council took steps toward banning the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles citywide, among other action items. (Photo by Daniel R. Blume under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Berkeley City Council took steps toward guaranteeing COVID-19 hazard pay to grocery store employees and banning the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles citywide at its first meeting back from winter recess Tuesday.

During the meeting, the council approved a referral calling on city staff to draft an emergency ordinance requiring grocery stores to provide an additional $5 an hour in hazard pay for employees. According to item author Councilmember Terry Taplin, the ordinance would apply to stores with at least 300 employees and remain in effect for 100 days or until Alameda County returns to yellow tier COVID-19 status.

“I want to recognize all of you for your efforts and recognition of the urgency of hazard pay for workers,” said Liz Ortega, executive secretary-treasurer for the Alameda County Labor Council, during public comment. “Many members I represent in this industry have been going to work every day despite putting themselves and their families at risk.”

Another referral approved during the meeting looks to the city manager to draft an ordinance aimed at phasing out 80% of new fossil fuel vehicle sales in Berkeley by the year 2027 8 years earlier than a similar statewide ban announced last year

The referral was approved with an amendment to include an economic impact assessment of the ban following concerns put forth by Councilmember Susan Wengraf.

“I’m a little concerned that the environmental goals will have very little impact while the economic impact will be very large on our city,” Wengraf said during the meeting. “I would like to see those numbers before making a decision on moving forward on this proposal.”

The council also voted to declare the issue of racism a public health emergency in Berkeley.

The declaration was reviewed by the city’s Health, Life Enrichment, Equity and Community Committee after first being introduced by former Councilmember Cheryl Davila last year. The item identifies racism as a “Public Health Crisis, a Threat and a Safety Issue in the City of Berkeley” and affirms the city’s commitment to eliminate all “socioeconomic barriers to health equity.”

The City Council’s vote to approve the item affirms the declaration but refers other elements of the item to the city manager, including a call for elected officials to hold public information sessions on racism and increased city support for women and minority-owned businesses during the pandemic.

These referrals and three other items were part of a six-item action agenda that the council voted to move to the consent calendar during the meeting, allowing them to vote on the entire meeting agenda simultaneously.

In addition to the referrals, the city council approved a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for a “wartime mobilization” of state resources to improve the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution following concerns over the status of the ongoing rollout.

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