During their Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council began by adjourning their meeting in honor of Patricia DeVito, Beatrice Barrigher and David Lance Goines. All had been long-standing and influential members of the community who had passed away within the last six months.
Following the adjournment, Mayor Jesse Arreguín pushed forward an urgent item to increase funding to the housing retention program contract by $300,000. According to Arreguín, the program, which provides housing retention program funds, had fully exhausted its funding with many on a waitlist to receive rent assistance.
During public comment, many expressed their support for the increased funding of the housing retention program. Eric Magana, case manager and ERAP project manager at the Eviction Defense Center, said he had been in charge of the housing retention program for almost three years and thanked the city council for their support.
“300,000 will definitely help our tenants continue to stay in their homes but, as stated, for the physical year and after that, we hope that we also receive more funding,” Magana said.
Commenters also praised the creation of a daylighting policy that would consider criteria for identifying high injury and high pedestrian traffic streets, which would then be designated priority areas.
Rebecca Mirvish, president of Telegraph for People, expressed their excitement on behalf of the group.
“I just want to express our extreme enthusiasm for daylighting,” Mirvish said. “We are so excited to see that happen in Berkeley.”
Later, a short Zoning Adjustments Board appeal by two neighbors requesting an additional 40 square feet on the first floor and a balcony on the second floor of an existing unit was denied. Public commenters called this process “ridiculous” with one calling it a “waste of time.”
Taking up the bulk of the meeting was the City of Berkeley Employer of Choice Initiative presentation, which Councilmembers and community members alike praised. The initiative aims to help attract and recruit talent for the city workforce.
The initiative would see the city hire two Associate HR Analysts, contract a marketing agency for up to $250,000 and invest up to $200,000 in social media and communications strategy following recommendations by the city manager. The project will be funded using “unanticipated salary savings within the General Fund” and would not cost the city extra funds for the 2023 fiscal year, according to the meeting agenda.
Lastly, the council discussed COVID-19 and decided to take no action on the resolution to terminate the emergency period. Councilmember Mark Humbert supported ending the emergency following a similar decision by Alameda county, and Councilmember Susan Weingraf supported the same because Berkeley has been proactive with taking action to curb the pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom terminated the statewide COVID-19 emergency Tuesday.
Others, such as Arreguín, said a decision should be taken at a later date, citing Oakland’s extension of their emergency and because Berkeley has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases over the winter, saying it was appropriate to “exercise caution.”
Ultimately, the council voted to postpone the decision to a later date and directed the city manager to investigate the issue further.