City Council votes on parking changes, opposes closure of Alta Bates

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At the Oakland City Council meeting on Tuesday night, the council approved major reductions in parking requirements for new building construction, while nurses clad in scrubs gave a passionate plea to the council, asking them to oppose the closure of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.

In a unanimous vote, with Councilmember Larry Reid (District 7) absent, the council approved an ordinance to Oakland’s planning code that would drastically change off-street parking and loading regulations. The new requirements aim to provide a balance between supplying enough parking to “serve new growth” and to avoid excessive parking supply, while encouraging transit ridership and efficient land use, according to the ordinance language.

In the past, residential buildings were required to provide one parking space per residential unit. The new ordinance would reduce this by 25 percent. Additionally, commercial businesses located near a BART station would not be required to have parking. The ordinance would also require residential developers to either pay for half of a monthly AC Transit bus pass or buy an AC Transit EasyPass for tenants, in an effort to increase the use of public transportation.

Three people spoke in favor of the new parking zone regulations, citing reduction of costs for residents and added walking areas as positive outcomes.

During council discussion, Councilmember Dan Kalb (District 1) proposed that after two years, city staff would evaluate the effectiveness of the change.

Expressing support of the ordinance after the meeting, Councilmember Abel Guillen (District 2) tweeted, “#OakMtg passes ‘no parking’ requirements for new construction in Downtown @Oakland at tonight’s meeting. Hello 21st century.”

Meanwhile, a group of five nurses from the East Bay wearing red scrubs sat in the front row of the council chambers waiting to tell the council about the effects a nearby hospital closure could have on Oakland.

After months of speculation from Berkeley’s Elmwood neighborhood residents, the Sutter Health Corporation has confirmed it will close the inpatient and emergency departments at Alta Bates hospital by January 1, 2030. Hospitals in California must meet seismic standards to withstand earthquakes by this date, in accordance with Senate Bill 1953. Instead of retrofitting the building to new state guidelines, Sutter Health plans to move all services to a “new, technologically advanced, regional medical center in Oakland” at the Summit campus, according to a letter from Sutter Health addressed to the council.

Throughout the night, councilmembers heard testimony from nurses and doctors about how the closure would increase wait times, significantly reduce jobs in health care and lead to crowding in the emergency room.

“Wait times in real emergencies can mean the difference between life and death,” said Thorild Urdal, a labor and delivery nurse at Alta Bates.

“We have half the bed capacity [in Oakland] than the national average,” Urdal continued. “We need full service hospitals in both Oakland and Berkeley.”

“This is going to have a negative impact on Oakland residents to get health care,” said Martha Kuhl, an RN and treasurer of the California Nurses Association.

But Dr. Steve O’Brien, chief medical executive at Alta Bates, said this is just a step towards building a regional medical center. “Our long term plan is to build a state-of-the-art regional care unit that will serve all communities,” said O’Brien.

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously to oppose the closure of the hospital, joining the Berkeley City Council, which did likewise on July 14. The vote will not actually stop Alta Bates from closing; it serves as a symbolic measure.

Additionally, councilmembers heard public comments both for and against an ordinance regarding rent adjustment that would amend the Oakland Municipal Code.

Most notably, the ordinance will require that owners file petitions to the city for rent increases in excess of the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is 2 percent for the year 2016. The CPI measures the change over a year due to the prices of consumer goods and services. The “CPI rate” takes effect July 1 and remains in effect through the following June 30.

The ordinance will also amend timelines for filing petitions to increase rent and require owners to pay interest on security deposits.

Mark Janowitz of the East Bay Community Law Center took the podium to address the audience and councilmembers, and praised the ordinance saying it is “modest, reasonable and will not affect property owners.” Janowitz, speaking to the crowd, asked them to think about the cities in California that have rent control measures that limit rent increases, referencing Berkeley and Santa Monica specifically. He went on to say that those communities are some of the most desirable in the state, let alone the country.

But Jill Broadhurst, executive director of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, said the adoption of the ordinance would be detrimental to property owners. She said that the ordinance would tie owners’ hands when the time comes to make improvements to their properties, and that most don’t have the funds to make improvements, so they would have to pass the cost on to tenants, or simply not make the repairs. “You are approving the degradation of housing in the city of Oakland,” said Broadhurst.

The ordinance passed 7 to 1, with councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) abstaining.

At the beginning of the meeting, two councilmembers, Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) sat during the Pledge of Allegiance, later stating that it was in support of Colin Kaepernick and his recent protests against police brutality. Kaepernick has drawn national attention in recent weeks by refusing to stand during the playing of the national anthem.

“My sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance was not by mistake,” said Kaplan addressing the attendees. “I will work to make sure the conversation is about justice and not about denouncing people who speak up for it.”

In other council business, the council adopted a resolution proclaiming the city’s support for the Standing Rock Sioux’s Tribe in their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribe and the Dakota Access Pipeline company are in a heated legal battle regarding a 1,100 mile pipeline that would be located just north of the tribe’s reservation.

The board is expected to meet again on October 4.

 

 

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