Berkeley City Council committee talks future council meetings, COVID-19 impact

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David McAllister /Staff
The Berkeley City Council Agenda & Rules Committee met Monday to discuss action items for future meetings.

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Berkeley City Council’s Agenda & Rules Committee met Monday to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on legislative meetings, as well as to approve action items for the July 13 council meeting.

Committee members in attendance included Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmembers Sophie Hahn and Susan Wengraf. They were joined by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley and Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen.

After roll call, the meeting opened to public comment. Community activist Kelly Hammargren spoke in depth on committee items concerning fire safety and truck weight limits.

“Consider a resolution to ask our assembly member, Buffy Wicks, and our senator, Nancy Skinner, to take action on density building hardening in high fire areas because that seems to be missing from Senate bills 9 and 10,” Hammargren said in the meeting.

Carole Marasovic, a member of the Berkeley Homeless Commission, also commented on the importance of restoring two canceled Homeless Service Panel of Experts meetings.

The committee members then pivoted to approving the draft agenda ahead of the City Council meeting July 13. Hahn and Wengraf co-sponsored item 14, the All Home Regional Action Plan, which will be the first action item on the calendar. Hahn also co-sponsored item 9, which discusses qualified immunity.

Other actions on the calendar for the July council meeting include items on rezoning in South Berkeley, street maintenance and a truck weight limit.

Although the item is not on the action calendar for next month’s meeting, Buddenhagen added that item 3, a construction contract, was revised to increase the number of allocated funds from $50,000 to $60,000.

Afterward, Williams-Ridley announced that there were no immediate updates in terms of COVID-19’s impact on future meetings. However, she warned that although all city facilities are open, the new variants mean the city will remain vigilant with testing and case rate data.

“We are still in a pandemic,” Williams-Ridley said in the meeting. “We’ll continue to monitor those things in Berkeley and in Alameda County.”

The meeting opened again for public comment, with both Hammargren and Marasovic agreeing with Williams-Ridley.

In addition to expressing concerns over the delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Hammargren urged the city to continue holding council meetings over Zoom, mentioning that it saves greenhouse gases and keeps members safe at the same time.

“There’s a push to get everyone meeting in person,” Hammargren said in the meeting. “That would be totally foolish.”

Marasovic cautioned against vaccinated people’s confidence in fully returning to normal, adding to Hammargren’s comment that future meetings should be held in a hybrid format if possible.

The meeting closed with a look toward the future of city legislative meetings, with Arreguín scheduling a preliminary analysis of in-person meetings at the end of August.

Contact Riley Cooke at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rrileycooke.