February 24, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

We're fast-approaching the Super Tuesday Primary Election, and I want to remind you to make your voice heard. You can look up your polling place HERE or vote by mail on or before Tues., March 3rd.

Also, please SAVE THE DATE for my February office hours
Sat., Feb. 29th, 3:30-5 p.m.
1805 San Pablo Ave.

I look forward to engaging with you on any issues on your mind, including those discussed below.
Council Approves Safe Overnight RV Parking, Gives City Manager Authority to Implement Overnight RV Parking Limits in Gilman District and Other “High Concentration” Areas 
In my last newsletter (scroll to the bottom), I updated you that the City had faced challenges in identifying an appropriate parking lot for 24-7 safe RV parking—one part of a two-part compromise Council policy related to managing RV parking:
An RV parked in West Berkeley. Photo: Eric Panzer.
  • Limit Overnight Parking of RVs. In March 2019, the City Council added RVs and oversized campers to an existing ordinance that limits oversized vehicles from parking on the public right-of-way for more than an hour between 2 and 5 a.m. in order to discourage oversized vehicles from parking in the same location for extended periods of time on public streets. This action was taken to address the high concentration of RVs in the Gilman District and other areas of West Berkeley, where there are health and safety concerns related to oversized vehicles parking on the public right-of-way for extended periods of time without access to sewer, water, and electrical connections. 

  • Provide a Three-Month Grace Period Permit—With a Possibility of Renewal—for Priority Populations to Receive a Safe RV Parking Spot. Accompanying the ordinance change passed in March 2019, the Council agreed to delay implementation of the overnight parking limits on RVs and oversized campers until the City provided a designated safe RV parking location for RV households meeting criteria as a “priority population,” including families with children, people who work or study in Berkeley, and people who previously had a Berkeley home address within the last 10 years. Other factors to be considered for eligibility as a priority population include health status, disability and self-care needs, age and household size.

Since March 2019, City staff have spent considerable time and energy to identify a 24-7 safe RV parking site for priority populations, including hiring a property specialist to conduct a comprehensive search. To date, no viable site has been identified within city limits for 24-hour use due to a variety of issues such as expense, limited size, or being legally infeasible.

In light of this challenge—and in an effort to meet our commitment to provide safe RV parking to priority populations— myself, Mayor Arreguín, and Councilmembers Harrison and Hahn introduced an alternative proposal to pilot the use of six City-owned parking lots when they are available during overnight non-business hours for up to an initial 25 RV households that meet criteria as priority populations . This item passed the City Council on Feb. 11th. The six designated City-owned parking lots that may be used for overnight RV parking during non-business hours were selected based on outright ownership by the City, proximity to resources such as public restrooms, ease of ingress and egress (including height clearance), geographic dispersal within City limits, and cost effectiveness . They include the following sites that are listed and mapped below:
  1. The Harrison Street parking lot at the northeast corner of Harrison Street and the railroad tracks, which is 3rd Street.
  2. The West Berkeley Senior Center parking lot at 1900 6th Street.
  3. The parking lot behind City Hall at 2180 Milvia Street (entry on Allston Way).
  4. The Corporation Yard at 1326 Allston Way in an area to be designated.
  5. The South Berkeley Senior Center parking lot at 2939 Ellis Street.
  6. Berkeley Animal Shelter parking lot at 1 Bolivar Drive.
A map of the six designated City-owned parking lots from which the City Manager may select in providing up to 25 permits for overnight RV parking during non-business hours. Courtesy: Berkeleyside .
About a handful of RV households meeting criteria as a priority population would be eligible to park in each lot during overnight non-business hours for up to three months—with a possibility of longer—for a total of up to 25 permits at any given time. Sanitation services will be provided on site (including portable restrooms, handwashing stations, and trash pick-up), and the City Manager is authorized to establish rules to promote neighborly conduct. Right now, it’s unclear how many RV households will be interested in this pilot program to park overnight in a City-owned lot, and the City will continue to do outreach to identify interested RV dwellers. To the extent that the lots are used, it will enable City staff to better connect with priority populations in order to ensure that they are accessing City and County services for which they may be eligible. 

Meeting our obligation to support priority populations is important to me, and a critical first step to implementing the ordinance that limits overnight parking of RVs and oversized campers on the public right-of-way . A key amendment to the ordinance was adopted at the Council meeting on Feb. 11th: the overnight RV parking limits were reduced from citywide to only in areas of the City that have a “high concentration” of RVs, such as the Gilman District and other portions of West Berkeley. The City Manager will determine the specific boundaries of the initial implementation area, which will encompass the Gilman District and possibly other areas of West Berkeley where there is a high concentration of RVs. Signage will be added to streets subject to the ordinance so there is a clear understanding of the new rule.       

I want to be transparent with you about why the ordinance was changed to only apply in “high concentration” areas, rather than citywide:
  • First, we need to manage our scarce resources wisely. It simply doesn’t make sense to apply the ordinance citywide when many streets are already subject to Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) enforcement or paid parking.
  • Second, I heard valid concerns from some of my Council colleagues about the City’s ability to provide an overnight parking spot to priority population RV households if the ordinance were to be applicable citywide. By focusing on high concentration areas, we can better ensure that we have sufficient safe overnight RV parking spaces for those who are eligible for the program.

I will grant that there is a risk in this approach that the Council has simply enabled a relocation of the challenges facing the Gilman District to other neighborhoods lacking RPP or paid parking enforcement. The Feb. 11th item does give the City Manager the authority to implement the overnight parking limits in any area of the City with a high concentration of RVs, and I believe this is an important new tool if a particular area becomes the source of numerous health and safety complaints made through our 311 customer service line . I also believe we have an obligation to provide vulnerable RV households with viable alternatives. To that end, I will continue to work to identify additional safe overnight RV parking locations within Berkeley as well as work toward establishing a regional RV site that could be available 24-7 with co-located social services . There are discussions among elected officials about using the county fairgrounds as a possible location, and an Executive Order by the Governor may make additional state properties available.       

I understand this is a contentious issue that engenders strong feelings, and I also understand that compromises can leave all sides feeling dissatisfied. I worked to develop the Feb. 11th compromise because I believe the status quo isn’t working for West Berkeley and that we must try a different approach. The direction adopted by the Council on Feb. 11th passed nearly unanimously, 8-1, which speaks to the work done to ensure that concerns raised by some of my Council colleagues were addressed. I believe strongly that the best way to achieve real progress for our community is by listening to everyone—and incorporating good ideas no matter who or where they come from. The item passed by the Council achieves my two essential goals: providing safe places to park for vulnerable RV households while also ensuring a healthy and safe Gilman District. It’s a first step, and I’m eager to monitor our progress so we can get this right.  
Confronting the Humanitarian Crisis at the CalTrans Freeway On-Ramp and Off-Ramp Areas  
We all see the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the freeway on-ramp and off-ramp areas at University Avenue—on the right-of-way controlled by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). In the wealthiest region of the wealthiest country on earth—it is heartbreaking to see what can only be described as a shantytown at the edge of our City. 
Property controlled by CalTrans near the intersection of Eastshore Highway and Hearst is being permanently fenced off. Photo: Evelyn Larsen.
The tents and belongings of about 100 people, the trash and debris, the strewn bicycle parts, the discarded needles pressed into the dirt, among other detritus. I've learned that the people sheltering on the CalTrans right-of-way are some of the neediest and hardest to serve. In my visits, some have described staying at our Pathways Navigation Center for a time, only to return to homelessness. To me, it’s a daily reminder of how intractable homelessness can be, how there are larger forces at work that make it so challenging for a city of our size to support everyone in need to achieve permanent exits to housing. We also know that the CalTrans right-of-way is a highly unsafe area for anyone to be sheltering because of freeway traffic—not to mention noise and air pollution. The status quo is simply unacceptable.

The City and CalTrans have made some efforts toward improving the situation:
  • A Council item introduced by Councilmember Harrison and Mayor Arreguín on Nov. 19th directed the City Manager to do weekly trash pick-ups. In response to this item, a dumpster was placed in the area, which is serviced weekly. But we can all see that this isn't yielding a dramatic change in the appearance of the area. On Sun., Feb. 16th, City Public Works staff picked up nearly 5 tons of debris.
  • CalTrans is in the process of installing permanent fencing along the stretch of Eastshore Highway as you approach the corner of Eastshore and Hearst after exiting at University Avenue. Previously, there was no barrier between vehicle traffic and sheltering individuals along this stretch.
  • City staff have done extensive outreach to individuals sheltering on CalTrans property. Over a two month period from December to January, the City's Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team made 24 visits, with an average of 17 people engaged per visit, for a total of 387 engagements. During the visits, staff regularly provided food, water, clothing, hygiene sets, and information and assistance in accessing City support services.

In September of last year, CalTrans was able to temporarily increase its budget for clearing trash and debris from its right-of-way, but what I learned from that experience is that maintenance alone is a fleeting solution. One could argue that maintenance alone can be harmful because it requires homeless people, some of whom have disabilities or other vulnerabilities, to temporarily move their belongings or risk losing them. I know some may subscribe to the idea that more frequent maintenance—if sustained—will push people to camp elsewhere, but that’s not a real solution; not only is it inhumane, it’s not fiscally sustainable. I believe we must pair any effort to maintain and secure the right-of-way with a real alternative place for people to go. As a community, we have to do the work to answer the question asked by the homeless and their advocates, “Where do we go?”  

In the little over a year that I have served on Council, what I have observed is that while everyone agrees that the condition of the CalTrans property is not acceptable, there is no consensus—among elected officials or City and CalTrans staff—on what exactly should be done about it . As we learned in our unsuccessful effort to identify a 24-7 safe RV parking site, Berkeley lacks large publicly-owned sites in our direct control that can be repurposed for homeless shelters and services. My office is currently in the process of evaluating the state properties that have been made available as a result of the Governor’s January Executive Order , but the path forward isn’t obvious.

That’s why it’s so important that we work to build a consensus toward a viable strategy . I believe we need to involve a broader range of stakeholders than simply the City and CalTrans, who have not been able to come up with a viable solution so far.

Last week, I wrote to our CalTrans District 4 Director Tony Tavares proposing the creation of a short-term task force that could build consensus for change. And I'm pleased to share that CalTrans has been receptive to further discussion.

Here’s the note I wrote to CalTrans :
Hello District Director Tavares, Chief Deputy District Director El-Tawansy, and District Branch Chief Bozionelos,
I wanted to reach out to you because I remain very concerned about the condition of the CalTrans right-of-way at University Ave., a concern that I know we all share.  

I recently learned that CalTrans may be in the process of reaching out to the East Bay Regional Park District, which I have also done myself. It has occurred to me that as we forge ahead in our efforts to address the situation that there is a need to build consensus toward solutions among a larger group of stakeholders, such as the East Bay Regional Park District, businesses at the Berkeley Marina and near University and Second St., individuals experiencing homelessness and their advocates, homeless service providers, City of Berkeley staff and Council representatives for the Mayor and Districts 1 and 2, and CalTrans District 4.  

I would like to build support for the creation of a short-term task force that involves key stakeholders and that can provide recommendations for a strategy to address the situation, such as a relocation site for individuals currently sheltering at the CalTrans right-of-way at University or other viable alternatives, along with a plan to secure the right-of-way in some way to deter future camping in what we can all agree is a highly unsafe area.
Would you be open to scheduling a phone call to discuss this possibility in greater detail? 

Thank you for your consideration.

Council Approves Measure P Allocation for Homeless Services
In December, the Council took action to allocate Measure P revenue for homeless services. Approved by voters in November 2018, Measure P increased the transfer tax from 1.5% to 2.5% for Berkeley properties selling for $1.5 million or more (or, roughly the top third of all real estate transactions) for a period of 10 years. 
Pathways Navigation Center located on Second St. works toward permanent housing exits for individuals in its shelter open 24-7.
Because it's tied to the number of high-value real estate transactions that occur in a given year, the annual amount raised from the property transfer tax increase is inherently more volatile than other sources of city revenue, such as property or sales tax. City staff conservatively estimated that the Measure P transfer tax increase would raise at least $6 million annually. Since the tax went into effect in January 2019, the city has raised a total of $9.8 million due to a number of high-value property transactions that occurred in the latter half of 2019. Because of the volatility of this revenue source, we can’t necessarily expect to receive a total of $9.8 million every year.

In December, a rushed and confusing late-night vote took place described further in Berkeleyside —to allocate Measure P revenue for homeless services. At our Jan. 21st Council meeting, t he Mayor clarified the action taken by a Council majority. To read the Measure P clarification item, click HERE (scroll to Item #45) . The table below is a summary of the Measure P allocations provided in the Mayor's clarification item.
Here’s my take:
I voted not to approve the Mayor’s Measure P proposed allocations for three key reasons.
1)      I believe we should err on the side of being conservative when allocating a volatile revenue source, such as the transfer tax . The Mayor's proposal allocates more than than $11 million in FY20-21 for ongoing expenditures, even though City budget staff have only estimated $6-$8 million in annual revenue from Measure P. In my view, this is a risky budgeting approach; we may not have the revenue available on an ongoing basis to keep the promises we’re making to homeless and formerly homeless individuals. I don’t think it’s fair to pull the rug out from under people in need, and I would rather see us make promises we know we can keep

2)      No longer-term strategy has been envisioned for how we will use the 10-year increase in the transfer tax resulting from Measure P to achieve specific goals as they relate to homelessness . What are we trying to achieve? How will we measure our success? And how do the Measure P investments fit in with our other homeless services investments totaling $17.3 million ($3.6 million General Fund) in FY19-20 ? I understand there is an urgency to act when it comes to homelessness—an urgency I feel everyday. But we can’t let our feeling of urgency prevent us from thinking deeply and strategically about how to spend our scarce resources most effectively based—whenever possible—on evidence of what works. There needs to be greater accountability for how these resources are spent. The good news is that it’s not too late to undertake this longer-term strategic thinking and the Homeless Services Panel of Experts convened as a result of Measure P is well positioned to advise the Council in this regard. This longer-term strategy ought to consider what specific resources will be allocated to address what I would argue is the City’s most urgent homelessness challenge—the highly unsafe encampments on the CalTrans right-of-way at University Avenue.  

3)      There was no information presented at the December Council meeting about the outdoor emergency shelter concept funded for a total of $922,000 . The Council has now had an opportunity to hear the outdoor emergency shelter concept (see Item #44) and refer the key question of identifying a location to the City Manager. I’m open to testing new approaches to our homelessness crisis, but again, our investments ought to align with a strategy. I believe the outdoor emergency shelter item is lacking in several respects: it doesn't prioritize those sheltering at the CalTrans right-of-way (the population that appeared to inspire the item) nor does it contemplate working with CalTrans to simultaneously secure the area in some way to prevent people from sheltering in highly unsafe areas. Finally, this item (introduced by Councilmembers Harrison, Davila, and Robinson and Mayor Arreguín) did not provide sufficient funding to support people in achieving exits to permanent housing, such as through rapid rehousing subsidies.
In conclusion, it’s important to be honest with ourselves about what we’re up against. The New York Times recently reported that it costs $600,000 to create a single unit of affordable housing in the East Bay . Meanwhile, Berkeley’s 2019 homelessness point-in-time count showed 1,108 who are homeless, which we know is an underestimate of the number of people who experienced homelessness because it doesn’t capture people who exited homelessness prior to the count nor people who became homeless after the count. For the sake of argument, housing those 1,108 people in below-market-rate affordable homes at a cost of $600,000 per unit would require a total of $665 million—an amount that is more than three times larger than the City’s entire General Fund budget . Statewide, as the New York Times article notes, it would cost about $70 billion to create homes for the state’s current homeless population of 150,000—an amount that represents 47% of the state’s total $148 billion General Fund budget that supports a wide array of government services. These construction costs do not account for permanent rent subsidies and supportive services that we know would be needed to help ensure that formerly homeless individuals with mental health challenges and/or employment barriers stay housed, nor does it account for the ongoing need to increase the affordable housing stock as new individuals become homeless.

This is all to say that we are not in a position as a city or a state to end homelessness without massive federal support, so we need to think wisely about what it is we ought to do with the resources and policy tools currently at our disposal. We’re not powerless. There are some things we’ve already done—like pass the $135 million Measure O affordable housing bond at the local level and $6 billion in new housing bonds at the state level in November 2018. There are some things we could do more of, and I’ll leave you with one: We could allow for more density along our transit and commercial corridors in exchange for requiring a higher number of affordable units in those residential buildings, similar to what has been proposed in the draft Adeline Corridor Plan (see Chapter 3 on Land Use) . This requires all of us to embrace change in the pursuit of a greater good—more below-market-rate homes for diverse members of our community who are struggling to get by. 
Update on N. Berkeley BART: Sign up for a BART Webinar on the Draft AB 2923 Guidance Document & Establishing Our Community Advisory Group
BART recently released a draft outline of its AB 2923 Guidance Document, which will provide further details to local jurisdictions like Berkeley on requirements for adhering to the state law for zoning BART stations.
N. Berkeley BART station. Photo: Pi.1415926535 (Creative Commons  License ).
BART is holding two public webinars so you can learn more about the draft outline of the AB 2923 Guidance Document as well as BART's draft 10-Year Work Plan . I encourage you to sign up so you can ask questions directly of BART staff:

BART will be accepting public input on these two draft documents until Wed., March 18th. Please send any comments or feedback to Kamala Parks, BART Senior Planner, at  kparks2@bart.gov .

Finally, the Mayor, Councilmember Bartlett, and myself are currently reviewing applications for the Community Advisory Group (CAG). The CAG will provide input to the Planning Commission as the commission considers zoning for the N. Berkeley and Ashby stations that complies with AB 2923 transit-oriented development zoning standards. Four commissions—Disability, Housing Advisory, Planning, and Transportation—are also each tasked with appointing a commissioner to the CAG and are in the process of completing those selections this month. All appointments will be made by March so the CAG can hold its first meeting in April. Thank you to everyone who applied, and we'll be in touch with you very soon! 
Ensuring Safe Access to Legal Cannabis
Berkeley Patient Group (BPG) to Move to Former Pet Food Express Location at University & San Pablo 
BPG is the nation’s longest continuously running cannabis dispensary and has been in operation for the last 20 years. BPG was established by Jim McClelland, who at the time was living with AIDS and found relief in the use of cannabis. In 1996, Prop. 215 opened the door to allow more California patients the opportunity to legally access cannabis to relieve their symptoms and improve the quality of their lives.  
Outside of the current Berkeley Patient Group (BPG) location at 2366 San Pablo Ave. Photo: BPG.
Recognizing the failure of the war on drugs and its disproportionately harmful impact on African Americans, Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana under Prop. 64 in 2016. It is in this new world of legal cannabis for patients and recreational users alike that BPG will be relocating to the corner of University and San Pablo—at the former Pet Food Express location. This move is scheduled to occur in early 2021 and will give new life to what is currently a vacant graffitied space. Because BPG is an existing cannabis dispensary operating in Berkeley and the new location complies with the City’s existing regulations related to buffer zones from schools and other dispensaries, BPG was able to receive a zoning certificate for their move administratively from the Planning Department without Council approval. Neighbors and businesses within 600 feet of the new location were recently invited to a community meeting to learn more about BPG.

Here are five key facts about security measures BPG will take at the corner of University and San Pablo:
  1. 60 Security Cameras. The premises will be monitored by an extensive system of 60 security cameras, both internal and external, with 24-hour remote monitoring and recording capability.
  2. Four Security Guards. Two accredited security guards will be stationed on site at all times, with four or more accredited security guards on site during hours of operation. 
  3. No Loitering. Loitering on the premises of BPG is prohibited, and “No Trespassing” and “No Loitering” signage will be posted.
  4. Frosted Windows. All exterior windows will be frosted to obscure the view of cannabis goods and transactions from the street. BPG is exploring the possibility of overlaying the frosted windows with art from local artists to enhance curb appeal.
  5. Exterior Lighting and Alarm System. Adequate exterior lighting will be installed and maintained to deter nuisance activity, facilitate surveillance, and accommodate safe passage throughout the property. The building will be secured with an alarm system utilizing panic buttons, motion detectors, intrusion sensors, and other detection equipment. 

BPG is planning to establish a vape lounge of 428 square feet on site that would be available to customers 21 and older from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. In their report to the Cannabis Commission, BPG details that security staff will check-in patrons, who must show their ID and be subject to a time limit for consuming BPG products. No alcohol or tobacco products are allowed to be consumed on BPG premises. A security guard and ombudsperson would continually monitor use of the lounge during hours of operation. Customers who use the lounge will be educated about the dangers of using cannabis and driving a vehicle, a designated rideshare pick-up and drop-off space will be located nearby, and public transit information will be made available. If necessary, BPG will report any known or suspected impaired drivers to police. BPG previously operated an on-site consumption lounge for 11 years at a prior location, and states in its report to the Cannabis Commission that it would only permit the use of vaporizers and cannabis-infused products; smoking would be prohibited . In order to receive a Use Permit to operate the vape lounge, BPG would be required to attend a public meeting before the Zoning Adjustments Board and would need to meet the City’s requirements related to an appropriate ventilation system and other operational standards established by the City’s Department of Health, Housing and Community Services .

BPG’s full report to the Cannabis Commission detailing its plans for security, operations, inventory control, neighbor relations, and other issues can be found HERE (see pgs. 15-148) . If you have any questions about BPG’s move, please feel free to contact my office: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110
Council Approves Cannabis Ordinance Updates
On Feb. 11th, the Council approved updates to our cannabis ordinance. As a former member of the City's Community Health Commission and as a parent, I have carefully considered the input the Council has received from public health advocates related to our approach to legal cannabis. I believe we must ensure safe access for adults and discourage use among children and teens.
Cannabis plant. Photo: warrantedarrest (Creative Commons License ).
Here are key elements of the cannabis ordinance updates adopted by the City Council on Feb. 11th:
  • Limits the Total Number of Cannabis Businesses. Limits the total number of storefront dispensaries in Berkeley to no more than seven; limits delivery-only retailers to no more than seven; restricts cannabis cultivation businesses to manufacturing zones.
  • Permits a Limited Number of Vape Lounges With Operational Standards. A vape lounge is permitted at a storefront dispensary (with a maximum of seven dispensaries citywide) and would require a use permit, which involves a public meeting before the Zoning Adjustments Board. All vape lounges would be required to have an appropriate ventilation system and meet other operational standards, which would be checked annually as part of renewing an operating permit.
  • Adds More Buffer Zones for Storefront Dispensaries and Increases Distances from Schools. Increases buffer zones from 600 feet to 1,000 feet from middle and high schools, keeps our previous 600-foot buffers from elementary schools and other storefront dispensaries, adds 600-foot buffers from City-operated community centers and skate parks.
  • Requires Health Warnings With Annual Review. Requires cannabis retailers to prominently display a “Government Warning” notice related to health impacts, using language very similar to that required by state law; further requires the Public Health Division of Berkeley’s Dept. of Health, Housing & Community Services to review the warning language annually to ensure it reflects the latest scientific evidence.
  • Bans Marketing to Children. Regulates packaging, dosage, and prohibits products or marketing attractive to children in accordance with state law.
  • Requests More Health Information About Additives and Flavors. Researchers are continuing to better understand the harmful health impacts of additives such as Vitamin E acetate, and the Council directed the Public Health Division to review what is known about “flavored cannabis products for combustion or inhalation, and cannabis products whose names imply that they are flavored, and review any additional ingredients that may be hazardous, whether natural or artificial, including Vitamin E acetate in inhalation products” and make recommendations for Council consideration.    
My Website
For updates on community issues and links to City information resources, please visit my website: www.rashikesarwani.com.

This site is also where you can find an archive of all of my newsletters to date.

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Seeking Assistance from the City
Here are key City of Berkeley resources to keep handy:

For illegal dumping , potholes, missed garbage pickups, or graffiti...
Call 311 or (510) 981-2489

For a public works emergency , such as a sewer overflow, traffic signal outage, fallen tree, or toxic spill...
Call (510) 981-6620

For a homeless person who appears vulnerable and in need of services or is demonstrating concerning behavior...
Call the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) (510) 981-5273

For non-urgent criminal activity with no suspect present...
Call the Berkeley Police Non-Emergency line (510) 981-5900

You can also download the SeeClickFix app to report an issue to the City.