Berkeley City Council addresses employee vaccine mandate, consolidates environmental efforts

photo of a vaccination card
Anthony Angel Pèrez/Staff
Berkeley City Council discussed a vaccine mandate for city workers, consolidation of Berkeley's environmental goals and the need to comply with a new statewide waste reduction mandate.

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While California Gov. Gavin Newsom triumphed in Tuesday’s recall election, Berkeley City Council members discussed the city’s employee vaccine mandate and environmental goals — issues Newsom said were symbolically on voters’ ballots.

The council discussed the extension of the vaccine mandate to contractors, remote work and supplemental sick leave in response to requests made during public comment.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley emphasized the number of positive COVID-19 cases among city employees has been “extremely low,” and workers are required to wear masks and social distance. She added, however, that public servants’ duty is to serve the local community, which can’t always be done remotely.

By the end of the meeting, the council unanimously expressed support for a strong COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, and Williams-Ridley said she is committed to ensuring employees receive notifications of positive cases in their workplace.

“I understand that (the city employee vaccine mandate) is controversial but we have to make hard decisions,” said City Councilmember Susan Wengraf at the meeting. “It is ultimately in the best interest of our people.”

Although many city employees spoke in favor of these measures during comment, there were some who voiced opposition to the vaccine mandate. City Councilmember Sophie Hahn suggested that the city educate hesitant workers in a “private one-to-one setting” to alleviate concern.

Later, chairs of both the Zero Waste Commission and the Berkeley Energy Commission were among several other residents who spoke against the council’s previous vote to centralize the city’s environmental goals by combining the two groups.  

Zero Waste Commission chair Christienne de Tournay and Energy Commission chair Janet Stromberg both said the suggested consolidation would inhibit their workflow. Stromberg said the Zero Waste Commission is addressing the “consumption side” of climate change while the Energy Commission focuses on transportation.

Berkeley resident Geoff Lomax, however, argued in favor of “bringing new structure and focus” with a joint environmental commission to address the fact that the commissions’ recommendations sometimes contradict one another.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison, who authored the initial recommendation to combine the commissions, stated her support for keeping them independent toward the end of the discussion.

“We need more people working on this stuff, not fewer,” Stromberg said at the meeting. “But we do need more collaboration.”

Also during public comment, Berkeley Tenants Union representative Paola Laverde asked the council to consider implementing the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, an anti-displacement housing policy long debated in Berkeley.

The council also discussed updating the city of Berkeley’s Zoning Ordinance to include language that is easier to understand, as well as the city’s need to comply with a new statewide waste reduction mandate that will require a substantial allocation of funds. The council will decide the fate of both these agenda items at future meetings.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín adjourned the meeting in memory of recently deceased leaders in the Berkeley community. The list included Vincent Koehler of Koehler Auto Body, lawyer and author Roy Doolan, environmentalist Philip Kreycik and activist Carole Selz.

Rachel Barber is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.