Dear District 5 Neighbors,
Happy New Year! My staff and I want to wish you and your families a safe and productive 2012.
I am writing this on a gloriously warm (if unseasonal) January afternoon. The City Council winter break ends shortly. After our collective deep breath we will come back to the challenges ahead with, we hope, a renewed sense of vigor. The coming year is an important one for Berkeley, when difficult decisions will have to be made by all of us in order to create a sound foundation for the future.
Our long-term budget planning is center stage, with the federal and state policies — and cuts — providing an uncertain backdrop. Through a series of workshops this past fall, City staff has comprehensively outlined both short-term budgetary challenges and long-term needs for several of the City's major service areas — including the unfunded liabilities in our retirement program — in order to adequately prepare us for the decisions ahead.
Many of you have contacted me with suggestions — thank you — and to inquire about City policies and comparisons to other jurisdictions. Two of my colleagues and I have put together some Frequently Asked Questions. This is not a comprehensive list (for intrepid soles there is always the complete City's Budget) but an attempt to portray to you our perspective. I intend to add to this as we move forward.
On Thursday, December 22, 2011, the Occupy Berkeley protest and Civic Center Park occupation came to a close. For almost two months, through Thanksgiving, the campers resided in the park relatively peacefully and cooperatively. During that time the City received virtually no complaints or inquiries about the occupation from the community.
After Thanksgiving, with a precipitous increase in both camper population and in the diversity of protest intention, reports of criminal activity and requests for service began to increase. So did complaints from the community.
Monday, December 19, the campers were notified of the potential enforcement of park hours and of social service and shelter options. Over three days teams of Public Works employees, Police and social service workers quietly assisted the departing campers. The grass area at the park is now fenced off for replanting.
I want to personally thank our Interim City Manager, Christine Daniel, our police department and the City staff who participated. This was a potentially explosive situation that was handled with grace and sensitivity. With so much press about the wrong way to engage with protestors, I was proud that Berkeley modeled a respectful process.
Monterey Hopkins Shopping Area
I hope you all had an opportunity to see the beautiful Christmas lights in the trees across Hopkins this holiday season. They represent another collaboration of the recently formed Monterey/Hopkins business association, started by Monterey Market and the surrounding merchants, in an effort to brand and promote the district and attract more patrons.
Many retail businesses have suffered during the recession, so we are very lucky that this commercial district is doing so well. Attractive, successful business areas improve property values, increase walkability, offer a variety of shopping options, provide tax revenue and reinforce community. Regional draws, in this case Monterey Market, attract customers that stay and patronize the other shops on Hopkins.
I understand that successful commercial areas also mean impacts to the neighborhood: traffic, parking, noise, and employees. Over the last year and a half, I have initiated and organized numerous neighborhood meetings to try to deal with these impacts and to improve communication among the neighbors, the merchants and the Monterey Market. This work continues.
Last month, the East Bay Express published a short article about our neighborhood shopping area and highlighted the conflict among some of the merchants regarding product mix and pricing. It is a serious discussion between a few of the merchants and they have met, separately from the business association, which continues to focus on the common goal of promoting the district as a whole.
My sincere hope is that Berkeley's commercial districts, like the Monterey Hopkins shopping area, experience ever more success. My work is to ensure that all the businesses will be sensitive to the resident's concerns about impacts and will continue to work with my office, the City and adjacent neighbors to mitigate them.
Again — all the best in the New Year. Enjoy the lovely weather but remember it will rain. Keep your umbrellas close by.
Berkeley City Council, District 5
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