Berkeley City Council discusses zoning appeal, security cameras

photo of city council building
David McAllister/File
The Berkeley City Council held public comment regarding the use of cameras in high crime areas, with some commenters expressing support while others vocalizing their concerns with unneeded surveillance.

The Berkeley City Council met Tuesday to discuss a Zoning Adjustments Board, or ZAB, appeal for a denied permit at 1205 Peralta Ave. as well as a budget referral on security cameras in high-crime areas and a grant application to plant a local urban forest, among other items.

The meeting, which began late around 7:30 p.m. and concluded around 11:15 p.m., was opened by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who fielded the first period of public comment.

Commenters expressed both support for and disapproval of a budget referral to increase security camera coverage along intersections experiencing high rates of violent crime. Some residents detailed their own experiences with robbery and drive-by shootings to show support for the referral, while others expressed worry about unjust surveillance.

City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who co-authored the budget referral with Councilmember Terry Taplin, addressed these concerns, saying a more thorough use policy regarding cameras’ data retention ought to be specified. Kesarwani added that the Berkeley Police Department already employs 283 private cameras for use when crimes have occurred in the area.

“Our constituents are asking us and they want to know what can be done now to combat the alarming rise in shootings that we are seeing,” Kesarwani said during the meeting. “We need to consider this as a potential tool so we can ensure accountability for violent gun crimes.”

Public commenters also protested the potential construction of a public restroom in front of a mural in People’s Park. Councilmember Rigel Robinson noted that staff are looking into multiple locations for the new restrooms and that he hopes to preserve Southside artwork as well as increase restroom access on Telegraph Avenue.

A proposal allowing the city manager to submit a $500,000 Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation grant application to provide funding for urban forest planting was then discussed.

“We know there are serious issues with air quality as we get closer to the freeway, and trees have so many benefits,” Councilmember Sophie Hahn said during the meeting. “Trees can do naturally a job that we haven’t figured out how to do any other way.”

Hahn added that locations in West Berkeley, along University Avenue and in Aquatic Park are being looked into as potential planting sites.

The meeting then moved to the action calendar, which included a ZAB appeal. The owner of 1205 Peralta Ave., a rent-controlled multi-tenant housing location near Westbrae, requested to convert part of a three-door garage, which is currently being used as a storage space, into habitable space and add bedrooms.

The location, which already violates density zoning regulations largely due to previous ownership, has been a contentious topic in the neighborhood. Neighbors attended the meeting to protest the proposed remodels and argue for upholding the original ZAB decision to deny permits, alleging that adding units would overcrowd the street.

Hahn, who had visited the site, said the proposed renovations would not overcrowd the space and the garage area in question would not be deep enough to accommodate vehicles if it were to remain as is.

“The way we rectify an unpermitted space is first to try and see if we can permit it,” Hahn said during the meeting.

Hahn motioned to reverse the ZAB decision and grant the variance, using permits required by the most recent version of building plans. The motion passed and the issue was remanded to the ZAB for further consideration.

Contact Anishi Patel at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.