Ambitious public works program falls short of need

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Measure M will provide more funds for improving streets, but it still will fall short of the need. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The public works capital improvement program was the focus of the budget worksession that preceded Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. Public Works Director Andrew Clough and his colleagues presented an ambitious roster of projects for the next five years, but cautioned that the plans do not keep up with the city’s needs.

“The city’s public infrastructure is indeed suffering,” Clough said. “But all is not grim. We’re here not only to tell you what we don’t have, but also what we have done and what we plan to do.” 

By the end of the current fiscal year, Public Works will have completed the implementation of the city’s public safety radio system, which integrates with the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority. Clough said that sanity sewer system overflows have been reduced by 83% since 2008. City parking garage operations have been automated, and 1,000 so-called smart parking meters have been installed. The new one-person routes for refuse and recycling and other changes in the Zero Waste Division have reduced annual operating costs by $2.5 million.

The presentation and discussion, however, focused more on future plans, particularly concerning the sanitary sewer system, streets, public buildings, and the watershed management plan. In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the department plans to rehabilitate 4.7 miles of sanitary sewers, improve the quality of streets in the Hearst corridor, seismically upgrade the James Kenny Recreation Center and start on the five-year street rehabilitation plan using  funding.

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Public Works plans recurring spending of $10.6 million in each of the next five years on capital improvement projects. Click on the chart for an interactive version.

As the chart above shows, Public Works proposes recurring spending of $10.6 million in each of the next five years, with sanitary sewers and pavement management accounting for the bulk of the spending. As  funding kicks in, the department will have an additional $2.5 million in FY2014 and an additional $6 million in each of the four subsequent years.

But those plans leave $75-85 million of unfunded seismic retrofit or replacement for major public facilities, and an additional $15-40 million in unfunded seismic work for other facilities, according to the department’s presentation. The watershed management plan is unfunded for $37.4 million over the next five years (and has unfunded capital needs of $208 million overall).

Measure M funding will bring streets near desired goal

The  funds, according to Clough and his colleagues, will help improve city streets, but will not bring them to the desired pavement condition index (PCI) of 75.

“Measure M doesn’t have enough to ensure a desired PCI of 75 or better,” said Jeffrey Egeberg, chief engineer. “But the final five-year plan would identify that we’re going to get close to that.”

Council members focused on the departments plans for street lighting and for improving street quality.

Clough explained that the department plans to test replacing existing street lighting with LED lights, which could result in sufficient energy savings to have a payback of 10 years or so. The first trial will be on Telegraph between Bancroft and Dwight.

Council members  and Linda Maio both raised the “inequitable” distribution of lighting in different parts of Berkeley.

“Business and homeowners and renters in [south Berkeley] have been waiting 15 years for the city to catch up,” Anderson said. “What are the prospects that we make sure that all parts of the city are lit?
Lighting provides safety, it encourages businesses to come in. We need to take a real oath for equitable distribution of these resources as they come in.”

 said there were no funds currently for new lighting. “The goal,” Daniel said, “is that [energy] savings will be able to fund some new lighting.”

Gordon Wozniak: wants to slow the process down

Gordon Wozniak: “Do we need all those buildings?”

 raised a broader point about funding the city’s needs.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we have insufficient funds to maintain a sustainable city and to keep the city from sliding backwards,” Wozniak said. “We’re way behind on seismic, and we’re way behind on watershed and public maintenance. I think we should have a council policy that, say, 50% of revenues above a certain amount go into capital improvements. So they don’t all go into the black hole of pensions.

“We need to do some analysis of our buildings and of our vehicles. Do we need all those buildings; do we need all those vehicles?” he continued. “Our staff is 50% 13% smaller maybe we don’t need all of [the buildings and vehicles].”

 said it was vital that Measure M funds be allocated swiftly, so rising costs would not erode the value.

“I want to ask everyone who has an interest in Measure M to take a blood oath to say, ‘I will not get everything I want from Measure M,'” he said. “Otherwise, by the time we get to the end of the process, we don’t have the money to do half of what we could have done. We need to stick to a six-month process.”

Pensions, infrastructure key Berkeley budget liabilities [02.20.13]
Budget: Spending cuts needed to avoid shortfall [01.28.13]
Council supports Sunday Streets, looks to find funds [01.25.13]
Berkeley General Fund revenues may fall short in 2012-13 [12.12.12]
Average Berkeley street in at-risk condition, many worse [11.16.11]

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  • 4eenie

    I had to submit plans to the city two years ago to replace an exterior door and install a small deck. I called the planning dept. and was told that I could just draw my plan on a piece of paper with the dimensions, etc. and come on in. I didn’t believe that it could be that easy, so I had a friend who was an architect draw up the simple plans. Those didn’t fly with the city. So I hired an architect who “knew the Berkeley system” to draw up the plans.
    Many months later, three versions of the plan later, and one extremely rude clerk later(at one submittal, he refused to look at the papers until I’d folded them properly and insisted that I not speak while he was speaking, and then spoke to me like i was five years old) my plans were FINALLY approved. And then came the project inspections along the way with an extremely rude and arrogant inspector. WTF?
    It was a horrible, horrible experience, and I DREAD ever having to go back to deal with these people. I’d love to see that city planning department reviewed and all the bad eggs ousted.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Right. It isn’t the content of the interaction. It’s the pace and the incredibly unproductive drama that accompanies it. A for-profit organization that behaved this way would close in a month.

  • 4eenie

    Most people want to do the right thing, to have home improvement work permitted. But the hellish process and ridiculous delays Berkeley puts one through to get something done no doubt leads many to skip the permitting process altogether. It’s almost like they really don’t want you to follow the rules at all.

  • wheeler57

    FYI, I don’t have an iPhone, both because I disabled and have no way of using one and because I can’t afford one. Besides that, I was quite capable of organizing things without using some overpriced techie toy.

    I guess that in your way of thinking, a person who gives a damn about where they live, and under what conditions is an agitator? I guess that also means, in your way of thinking, that anyone who doesn’t go along with the status quo and refuses to comply with the so-called “leaders” is also an agitator?

    Another FYI, my primary cause then I devote my time to is disability rights. So, in your opinion, I suppose that’s also a half-baked cause? BTW, welcome to Berkeley, home of the independent living movement.

  • wheeler57

    I understand exactly how property tax works. I’ve been a homeowner in South Berkeley since 1984, and have paid my fair share. My property tax was a little over $500 in 1984, now it is over $5000. Believe me, I know how screwed up the tax system in Berkeley is.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    1) a paucity of alternative candidates

    2) people who vote by habit for incumbents

    3) absence of a strong press that asks hard questions of elected officials

    4) large student population that votes its self-interest and leaves before the bill comes due.

  • guest

    Your not an agitator, you’re a malcontent for reasons unrelated to city governance.

  • guest

    Can Berkeleyans be so lame as to not see the basic structure of our city and school governance?

    The public employees and teachers union manage the election process. With almost no exceptions, this results in a city council and school board who are allowed to chase “causes” as long as they don’t interfere with the union’s control of staffing, salaries and benefits.

    Forcing the unions back into line is not in the genetic code of Berkeley’s electorate. Not now, maybe never.

  • The_Shhhhhh!

    Unless you plan on selling your house sometime soon, or don’t really know what you want to do, getting permits from the city just isn’t worth it. There are plenty of handymen and contractors in the East Bay who are willing to work under the table, and if you do enough research to know what to ask for you can have a structure built that’s up to code without bothering to get a permit.

    Experiences like what you’re describing are why I stopped applying for permits for any of my home improvement work and now just do it all under the table. The hassle of dealing with the insanely hostile and inefficient permitting and inspection system just isn’t worth it.

  • The_Sharkey

    I don’t think you understand what “reactionary” means in this context, Charles.

    I would argue that far-left nut-job Progs in Berkeley denying the BPD the use of tasers and K-9 units because “they might scare minorities” is just as reactionary and idiotic as any conservative politician flipping out about the “trampling of the Constitution” or DHS buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. Probably more so.

  • The_Sharkey

    I would suggest getting a new user icon.

    The use of the Guy Fawkes mask with an American flag associates you with the more radical causes of Anonymous, Occupy, and American anarchist groups.

  • The_Sharkey

    Then you should be able to figure out that the landlords, developers, and gentrifiers who replace cheap older buildings with low associated property taxes with new ones that generate significantly more property tax are adding more money to the government pot which then gets used on things like disability access improvements and public works projects.

    As a current example, if The Durant gets approved and built by gentrifying developers, that space will be altered from a no-property-tax-paying lot into a brand shiny new building that’s going to generate big bucks for the city and bring more people into the local economy who will spend money at downtown businesses.

  • mfw


  • guest

    Anonymous is a worldwide movement, and anarchistic philosophy is embraced by many more than just Americans.
    I like your icon, wheeler57.

  • guest


  • wheeler57

    In other words, since I’m disabled, that means that I just have to be a malcontent, because all disabled people are naturally malcontents. Is that it? Obviously, I can’t be just unsatisfied with the way things are going just like everyone else. Right? I’m just trying to make sure that I know my place because you able-bodied people (a.k.a. ABs) always seem to get upset when us cripples get uppity.

    Another FYI, I am actually quite upset with the City of Berkeley’s “governance”. Every time I have to negotiate my wheelchair over some of the numerous broken up sidewalks, I think of the negligence. Every time I use one of this city’s numerous out of compliance curb cuts, I am also reminded of the negligence.

  • wheeler57

    The reasons you list are just exactly why I chose my icon. Since I am an anti-capitalist, it suits me very well. Thank you for recognizing it.

  • 4eenie

    That must be it. Or not even close.

  • wheeler57

    Just what Berkeley needs. More shiny new overpriced architectural monstrosities that only the upper class, and upper-middle-class people can afford to live in. Heaven forbid that someone should build some affordable, accessible housing for this city’s poor, disabled, and seniors.

  • Sick of Trolls

    How about both of you get out of here.

  • The_Sharkey

    Anonymous are trolls from the toilet of the internet.

  • The_Sharkey

    Then I’m surprised you take offense at being referred to as a “baby anarchist” or a “malcontent” since that’s exactly what Anonymous/Occupy is.

  • The_Sharkey

    And how does an anti-capitalist malcontent like you plan to pay for that housing, wheels?

    Oh yeah, taxes on those horrible developers and the income from those awful upper and middle-class scumbags who want to move to Berkeley and contribute to our local economy. What slime!

  • The_Sharkey

    You said it.

  • wheeler57

    I live on Social Security, as does my elderly mother. My brother, who is also disabled, lives on SSDI. We co-own a house in South Berkeley, and we are fortunate enough to have a couple of rental units upstairs. My late father cashed out his life insurance to make the down payment in 1984, when we bought this place. We pay our fair share of property tax in this city, not to mention the various fees, the city charges us for our two rental units.

    Anything else you’d like to know about how this slime exists?

  • guest

    The World Wrestling Federation was modeled on COB labor contract negotiations.

  • The_Sharkey

    Check your reading comprehension, wheeler. I referred to developers as “slime,” not you.

    I’m asking you how the City of Berkeley would work if you were in charge.
    You want improvements in accessibility and more housing for low income, disabled, and senior folks. How would you pay for it?

  • guest

    You’re a malcontent not because you are disabled. but because you cast your self as a victim. The courage and life force of my magnificent disabled friends leaves me envious in many ways. Berkeley is full of victims AB and otherwise.

  • wheeler57

    I sincerely apologize for my misunderstanding of what you said it, and who you directed the word “slime” at.

    For one thing, if I was in charge of running the city, UC Berkeley would start paying their fair share of taxes. Some statistics I’ve seen over the years say that about 40% of the taxable property in this city is owned by UC Berkeley. That means that 60% of the property taxes being paid by average homeowners and other property owners. How is that fair? To me, since UC Berkeley is basically an education corporation, this amounts to nothing less than just support corporate welfare. That situation needs to be changed.

  • wheeler57

    How does pointing out things that are wrong cast me as a victim? Also, I agree with you about your stating that Berkeley is full of victims. Lots of people in this town have have it a lot worse off than I do. At least I have a house to live in.

  • The_Sharkey

    Interesting. Given the insane tuition hikes over the last decade or so, I can’t say I really disagree with you.

    Would you extend that to taxing churches and religious institutions like Dharma, which are buying up prime downtown real estate?

  • wheeler57

    My answer is yes. I am totally in favor of taxing all churches. There is no reason why they should be exempt from paying taxes.

  • wheeler57

    My answer to your the question is “yes”. Churches should pay property tax. There is absolutely no reason why church should be tax-exempt.