Berkeley City Council discusses procedural changes in response to COVID-19

Zoom screenshot of 04/20 city council meeting
Robson Swift/Staff
During a regular Berkeley City Council meeting, topics that were discussed included proposed flight path changes over Berkeley and procedural rule alterations in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The item for procedural changes was passed at the meeting.

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At its regular meeting Tuesday, Berkeley City Council discussed procedural changes and opposition to flight path changes over Berkeley.

During public comment, several members of the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, confronted Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín on a potential ordinance that would reduce the city’s purchasing of animal products.

DxE members alleged that Arreguín did not respond to emails and took no action on the matter, leading to protesters gathering outside of City Hall and Arreguín’s house during the meeting. Arreguín alleged that DxE members were harassing his neighbors and were not acting in good faith.

“People who are going to engage in harassing and disruptive tactics, it makes it hard as public officials to want to work with them,” Arreguín said during the meeting.

During their discussion of the consent calendar, council members discussed a letter of opposition to a proposal from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. The proposal would change flight paths that, according to the letter, would direct flights directly over Berkeley and other East Bay cities.

According to City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, the changing flight path not only impacts noise in the surrounding areas but also air pollution. Adjusting the flight path would increase the pollution over Berkeley’s “flatlands,” Bartlett said at the meeting.

City Councilmember Rigel Robinson noted that the FAA has postponed the issuance of the flight path in order to take in more input and to consider other options.

“What that means is that the rallying cry from the community is working, and with this letter, the city will be joining that rallying cry, which is big,” Robinson said during the meeting.

The action item calendar contained one item that would change procedural rules for the council. The item would make it so that items introduced by the council would be put on pause, and the council will consider extending the item July 27.

This item makes exceptions for bills dealing with COVID-19, bills that are time-sensitive and bills related to public safety that would not be put on hold.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison, however, disagreed with how the item limits other items the City Council can put forward, as the bill gives responsibility to the agenda committee to decide which items will be put forward.

“The state limit on the number of bills per person is a fairer approach. We are all equal in terms of submitting legislation,” Harrison said during the meeting. “I want us to impose limits on ourselves, but the idea that someone else is going to decide whether or not something is important, I can’t accept that.”

City Councilmember Susan Wengraf responded to Harrison, stating that the item is temporary and is “like a Band-Aid.” According to Wengraf, Harrison’s proposal was a more permanent solution that she would be willing to work with Harrison on.

Additionally, City Councilmember Terry Taplin had a concern regarding written public comments, as the item would end the practice of reading written public comments during council meetings.

Taplin noted the benefits from the written comments, and Harrison shared Taplin’s concern.

The item ultimately passed with Bartlett, Taplin and Harrison voting against the item and all other council members voting for it.

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