Police Seek Immediate Parking Relief

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Exasperated and disturbed by the lack of employee parking in Berkeley, city workers swarmed the City Council chambers Tuesday night, asking for "just a little bit of relief."

Nearly 30 of those that came to the council were employees of the Berkeley Police Association, donned in matching black hats, who pleaded the council not only to create a long-term solution to the parking shortage in the city, but also to lend immediate consideration.

According to the police, some dispatchers are leaving the department because there are no places to park in the city.

"You are slapping people in the face," said Randy Files, president of the Berkeley Police Association. "We are out there serving our people everyday. It is a real labor issue, it is a real public safety issue. You need to provide honest, safe parking for us and give us a workable solution."

The terse debate, which noisily spilled into the outside hall from the council chambers, was over a measure that Mayor Shirley Dean put on the agenda, calling for the need to formally recognize the lack of city employee parking. With multiple construction projects in Berkeley, especially in the downtown area, many city employees have been ousted from their parking spaces in recent months, Dean said.

In typical City Council fashion, three progressive council members joined forces against Dean, a moderate, to write an alternative proposal that aims to increase the availability of parking by utilizing standing facilities - not constructing new ones.

"The item that was presented to us is just focused on one limited part of the picture, and it is basically a chant - 'Parking, parking, parking,'" said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who co-sponsored the new proposal with Council members Linda Maio and Dona Spring. "There are solutions staring us in the face, which involve using vacant parking that is already there and how to promote public transit."

In the progressives' proposal, they highlight the need to wait for the Southside/Downtown Transportation Demand Management Study, which will provide information on how to deal with traffic and parking impacts. Worthington said they should not take any action until they get the report, which will be released in the near future and cost the city more than $100,000 to develop .

The council will decide on the measures next week.

Although recent construction has escalated the parking problem, said Dean, the parking shortage has been an issue in Berkeley for several years. The city lost 22 spaces that once existed for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Building due to construction activity and lost approximately 60 spaces at the Public Safety Building, she said. Spaces that served the courts, the Berkeley Unified School District and police and fire officials have also been eliminated, she said.

Vista Community College may also undertake construction in the near future, which will take away parking spots from the city, Dean said.

Dean added that although she has been working with the city to acquire more parking spaces for a year, it has "so far fallen on deaf ears," and now the city is suffering the consequences.

Numerous civil servants filled the council chambers Tuesday night, decrying the lack of parking and rallying their support for Dean's proposition to implement immediate action.

According to Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, teachers need good working conditions, not just high salaries, to stay in their jobs. One simple way to retain teachers, as California is in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage, is to ensure that they are able to get to their jobs.

"(They shouldn't have) to get out in the middle of the day to move their car," he said. "Compounding all of this is that many do not have an office - they use their cars."

According to Dean, police officers alone need 30 additional spaces, especially since a large percentage of the force travels from a significant distance to work. Since officers work late into the night, public transportation is not a viable alternative.

"Police need to be able to park near the station (and) get to and from court - the frustration is to the point that we are all here," said Lt. Bud Stone, who has been with the department for 26 years.

Before leaving, police officers, namely Files, confronted Carrie Sprague, a member of the Zoning Adjustments Board who earned the wrath of many on the police force by writing down the license plates of their cars that illegally park in residential areas.


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