Berkeley City Council heard local elementary students advocate for sustainable school kitchens and approved a bird-safe building requirement ordinance during its weekly meeting Tuesday.
The meeting began with comments from Jacqueline Omania’s fifth-grade zero waste class from Oxford Elementary urging council members to support the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, in reducing its plastic waste.
Each year, students in Omania’s class commit to reducing their landfill waste. They produced only a one-pint jar of waste this entire year, according to student Aziza Nazar.
While Omania and students are working to reduce waste in classrooms, the same is not happening in their cafeterias, where students receive a plastic fork, cup and a plastic-coated paper food boat with their school lunch each day, said student Ethan Hegarty.
Students would like to see council members help BUSD adopt a “reusable mindset” to replace its plastic and paper foodware with reusable utensils.
“Plastic is damaging our world and ourselves and the first step to prevent this is to fix school lunches,” said student Teryn Armstrong. “We need to change before it’s too late.”
BUSD does have a dishwasher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School that can meet the needs of the district’s nearly 10,000 student population, as well as $10,000 worth of stainless steel reusable utensils. However, BUSD has not employed these resources yet, according to Ben Schleifer, food program coordinator for the Center for Environmental Health.
Omania said BUSD currently lacks the funding to hire employees to run the dishwasher.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the Council will follow up to find ways to support the effort, such as finding funding to pilot the reusable foodware program at Oxford Elementary and later expand districtwide.
Next, the Council proceeded to its public hearing on an ordinance for bird safe building requirements.
The ordinance aims to reduce bird mortality from collisions with windows and other transparent buildings, which is the second leading cause of death for birds, explained Associate City Planner Justin Horner during his presentation.
The legislation would require projects with a building permit to make transparent and reflective surfaces and other high-risk features, such as railings, awnings, balconies and glass walls, safe for birds. This includes a patterned or external glazing treatment to windows.
Horner said 100,000 to 700,000 birds die each year in Berkeley.
High school student Ava Marisia also showed her support for the ordinance, describing her first encounter with a hummingbird collision in her youth.
“Nurturing this hummingbird back (to health) put such a respect for life in me at such a young age,” Marisia said. “Please pass this bill — birds mean so much to me.”
However, Arreguín raised a concern that the materials for building bird-safe windows are not yet widely available. He said this could negatively affect the financial feasibility of smaller building projects as Berkeley faces a housing emergency.
Christina Tarr, Berkeley resident and vice president of Golden Gate Audubon said housing and bird safety are not two separate issues.
“Once we have the ordinance, there will be more (bird-safe) products,” Tarr said. “It’s not a matter of building or birds, it’s building and birds.”
Following more public comment, council members approved an amended ordinance to address concerns such as those brought up by Arreguín. The amendments included an exemption for designated landmarks and affordable housing.
The ordinance will apply to most larger projects, and the council will revisit the ordinance in three years when it has more data to decide on the possible extension to smaller projects.
Council members also approved the Berkeley City Auditor Whistleblower Program introduced by Berkeley City Auditor Jenny Wong. The program encourages citizens to report fraud, waste and misuse of city resources to ensure the responsible use of public resources by civil servants, according to Wong.
Council members also contributed money from their discretionary funds for Berkeley’s 36th annual Juneteenth festival June 18.