City

The Lowdown: Berkeley council on redistricting, garbage fee hike, city budget, pensions, false alarms and more

Berkeley City Council, Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Berkeley City Council, Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Tonight, Feb. 25, at the Berkeley City Council: a budget and pension update, redistricting decisions, more on proposed 2014 ballot measures and details about a 25% garbage fee hike for residents. Read on for details in this week’s Lowdown. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how to participate and weigh in about meeting coverage, even if you don’t want to attend in person.

Special session on city budget, CalPERS

Beginning at 5:30 p.m., council will get an update on Berkeley’s city budget for fiscal year 2013-14, along with news about CalPERS, the state retirement system for public employees. In a nutshell, the city expects to use about $3.3 million from its reserves to make up a gap between projected revenues and expenses from the General Fund this year. [Update, 2:15 p.m. That reserve money had been approved for use in October, and involved "revenues accumulated in previous years for projects that had not yet been completed.”] The city projects increases in secured property taxes, property transfer taxes, and the transient occupancy tax, but expects to see declines in parking fines, moving violations and interest income. Read more on Berkeleyside about the city budget.

As for CalPERS, the city is trying to prepare for growing financial demands related to employee pensions. The city expects to pay $43 million into the state retirement system for its employees in FY 2015. That amount is expected to grow by at least $2 million each year through FY 2020 based on projected rate increases, according to the staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. Those payments include $7.3 million each year for the “employee contribution,” which is covered by the city. And that’s assuming no salary increases and no addition of staff positions. Read more on Berkeleyside about pension issues in the city.

What’s on the regular agenda?

During its regular session at 7 p.m., council is slated to revisit its contested redistricting ordinance, which resulted in a successful referendum drive overturning the boundaries adopted by council in 2013; continue discussion about potential ballot measures in the November 2014 election; and make a decision about a previously discussed 25% rate increase for residential garbage services.


Revisiting the redistricting ordinance: What it means There are two items about redistricting on the agenda. Council will officially accept the certified petition from supporters of a referendum to fight the city’s approved redistricting ordinance, then vote to either repeal the ordinance or call a special election in June to put the item before the voters. A special election is expected to cost up to $250,000. Councilmen Jesse Arreguín, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson have put forward an alternative item that also asks council to rescind the accepted ordinance, with subsequent approval of the United Student District Amendment map, or direction to council to review another round of maps in April. Read more about redistricting on Berkeleyside.

Two options are proposed for trash service fee increases in Berkeley. Chart: City of Berkeley
Two options are proposed for trash service fee increases in Berkeley. Chart: City of Berkeley

Trash service fee increase: What it means The Berkeley City Council is also scheduled to decide whether to institute a 25% increase in residential trash service fees in one fell swoop, or to phase it in over three years. Staff also recommend that council set a public hearing for May about the rate increase, and approve an extra $17,208 for a rate study (total price tag: $140,000) dealing with the city’s “sustainable refuse services.” The city’s Zero Waste Fund has a projected shortfall of $3 million in fiscal year 2014-15, which is prompting the fee hike, according to the staff report prepared for Tuesday night’s meeting.

Ballot measures in November 2014: What it means Earlier this month, council agreed to conduct a community poll to assess support on a parks bond and tax increase, a sugar-sweetened drinks tax, a commercial vacancy tax, and a business license tax on rental housing. Berkeleyside has reported extensively about the possible parks tax and bond. The other items have more recently entered the discussion. Council will continue its discussion on these items, and perhaps more. See the staff report.

Other items of interest

Berkeley police blocked traffic at both ends of Allston during the fire investigation. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Photo: Emilie Raguso

False alarms drain police resources, change could be coming Council is set to receive an information report about how Berkeley Police officers currently respond to residential and commercial alarms, which has previously been a hot topic on Berkeleyside. After a group of citizens raised concerns that the city’s existing approach to alarm response is a drain on the department’s limited resources — particularly because the vast majority of alarms are found to be false — a police department analysis determined that only 1.5%, or about 53, of the 3,400 alarm calls responded to in 2012 were “in-progress” burglaries, robberies or vandalism cases. Other cities have taken steps to require verification of an actual threat prior to police response. Berkeley may do something similar moving forward. See the staff report. Information reports generally are not discussed, but may forecast future action items by council. Public comment on “information items” is taken at the same time as comments on the consent calendar.

On the consent calendar, council is set to consider an expenditure of $437,000 for its “Pre-K Power Play” program, which would expand the program’s reach from 300 to 500 families. The program is part of the city’s 2020 Vision campaign to eradicate the achievement gap. [Clarification, Feb. 28: Regarding the Pre-K Power Play program, council referred the item to the budget process for consideration later this year. The expenditure itself was not up for consideration this week.]p>


There’s also a new memorial bench, in honor of Marian Francis Schouler Robinson, planned for Cesar Chavez park, and nearly $20,000 in donations coming from three groups to the city’s animal shelter.

Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.
Follow live tweets of the Berkeley Council meeting by clicking the image above. Join in by tagging your tweets #berkmtg.

Meeting details

The Berkeley City Council meets Tuesday nights at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Special sessions generally take place at 5:30 p.m. and regular meetings begin at 7 p.m. Council agendas are available online here. Watch the meetings online here.

Berkeleyside often covers council meetings live on Twitter. Others sometimes do the same and the discussion can get spirited. Follow council coverage on Twitter via hashtag #berkmtg. Follow along in real-time here, and tag your tweets with #berkmtg to join in. You do not need a Twitter account to follow along. Just click here.

Council-related Twitter handles:
@MayorTomBates; @LindaMaio (District 1); Darryl Moore @BerkCouncil (District 2); @JesseArreguin (District 4); Laurie Capitelli @berkcap (District 5); Kriss Worthington @k__worthington (District 7); Gordon Wozniak @Gordon_Wozniak (District 8)

Learn more about the Berkeley City Council and how to connect with local representatives via the city website.


Is there something else on the agenda that’s caught your interest? Please let us know in the comments below.

Related:
The Lowdown: Berkeley council on parks funding, 2014 elections, youth on drugs, rodent infestation (02.10.14)
The Lowdown: Berkeley council on historic overlay, mini-dorms, violence prevention, 2020 Vision (01.28.14)

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