Berkeley Public Works Commission discusses formation of transportation department

Image of BPD Headquarters
Theo Wyss-Flamm/File
During a Berkeley Public Works Commission meeting, Liam Garland, the city’s director of public works, presented potential approaches for the Berkeley Department of Transportation, or BerkDOT. Commission members also reviewed a presentation on the goals of BerkDOT, which includes public and environmental health.

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The city of Berkeley’s Public Works Commission discussed its visions for the Berkeley Department of Transportation, or BerkDOT, at its regular meeting Thursday.

Farid Javandel, Berkeley public works transportation division manager, gave a presentation at the meeting outlining the goals of BerkDOT: public and environmental health, racial justice, equitable mobility and safety.

Javandel said for some low-income people, a citation could mean the difference between being able to afford groceries and paying for the citation.

“Ultimately, citations are not about collecting money,” Javandel said during the meeting. “They’re about changing behavior, so if we can find better ways to change behavior than collecting money from citations, that’s something we need to seriously consider.”

Liam Garland, the city’s director of public works, discussed three organizational approaches to BerkDOT at the meeting.

The first, which Garland said has the lowest implementation cost and risk, would establish a BerkDOT division within Berkeley’s Department of Public Works. 

According to Garland, the second approach would create a Berkeley Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, or BerkDOTI, that would oversee the engineering and transportation divisions. Garland added during the meeting that this approach is modeled after the city of Denver’s transportation department.

The last approach would create a BerkDOT department that is independent from the public works department and would report directly to the city manager.

Garland said the three organizational approaches should be evaluated by their ability to align with the vision outlined in Berkeley City Council’s Reimagining Public Safety omnibus package July 14, 2020. One major component of this vision was to “ensure a racial justice lens in traffic enforcement and the development of transportation policy, programs, & infrastructure,” according to a memo from Berkeley city manager Dee Williams-Ridley.

“(This vision) would mean that all decisions, procedures and guidelines that govern transportation in this city would affirmatively work to reduce the burdens of racial inequities and mitigate structural harm on people of color and create streets where people are safe, experience belonging and can thrive,” Garland said during the meeting.

BerkDOT would consolidate six police functions currently executed by Berkeley Police Department: an unarmed traffic unit, crossing guards, parking enforcement, paving, collision investigation and traffic control. According to Garland, BerkDOT would provide around 100 positions and cost $50 million.

At the meeting, members of the public who identified themselves as parking enforcement officers for the city voiced their opposition to the proposed move of the Parking Enforcement Unit from under the police department to a division under BerkDOT.

Katherine Navarrete, a city parking enforcement officer of 15 years, said she was “totally against” the move, citing “grave” concerns about the safety of officers.

“It feels like a smokescreen,” Navarrete said during the meeting. “Like you’re removing us so the police department’s budget can be decreased.”

According to Navarrete, having a visible connection to BPD, including wearing police department badges and radios, helped her mitigate dangerous circumstances.

Kailen Palmer, another city parking enforcement officer, noted at the meeting that people of color comprise “about 90% of the parking division” at BPD.

“I just don’t really understand how a remedy to racial injustice is taking more faces of color out of our police department,” Palmer said. “I personally am not for the move.”

Contact Iris Kwok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @iriskkwok.