Op-ed: Let’s join forces to back Healthy Berkeley program

A broad coalition of diverse community representatives came together before the Berkeley City Council recently to call for Council support for two very important “Healthy Berkeley” initiatives. One involves a city parks bond proposal, and the other a proposed tax on sugary drinks.

Both could provide long-term funding for healthy city improvements, including parks, playgrounds, pools, school gardens, and nutrition and physical education programs.

Recent events require action

Several recent events have galvanized community activists to articulate and organize for action.

First, federal support for the Berkeley Schools gardening and cooking programs has been eliminated, and the program is threatened by serious reduction in program scope and funding.

Second, the Parks and Waterfronts Commission has identified suggested items for a parks bond measure to address a backlog of deferred and neglected city and neighborhood parks, playground, and pools, and address community and neighborhood equity in the development of needed facilities.

Third, recent health survey results for Berkeley children have shown alarming  health conditions for many Berkeley youth.

Lastly, additional financial resources are coming to the BUSD for the next several years to catch up on state funding shortfalls of the past decade, focused on targeting funds to specific student populations, including low income students.

Unique opportunity

Berkeley faces a unique opportunity to begin to implement a much-expanded multi-year coordinated, integrated, smart, thoughtful, and equitable program for a “Healthy Berkeley.”

Public parks, playgrounds, pools, schoolyards, and high-quality public spaces are essential to the health of Berkeley’s young lower income residents, and important to its neighborhoods, both of whom have been consistently shortchanged by recent local efforts, such as the “mothballing” with dirt of the Willard middle school pool.

New partnerships

A successful program can be structured, and will be supported by a voting public, but not unless we continue to build the necessary community partnerships and collaborations. A winning strategy will need expanded partnerships: between city elected officials and staff, and community members and the public; between the school board and the city council; and between city and school district staff.

Operating principles

Any successful program initiatives will need to be founded on several important ‘operating principles,’ including: New Community Partnerships; Greater Transparency; Strict Accountability; and Targeted Spending. School District and City elected officials and staff must join in full partnership with Berkeley residents, parents, community organizations, property owners, and voters. Accurate and timely information regarding project financing will be essential. Finally, the likelihood of success will be significantly increased if funds are targeted to community priorities.

Rising to the challenge

Our challenge is to build community and electoral super-majorities that fully represent Berkeley’s diverse population and residents. Now is the time to join together in a community coalition to finalize the details of winning electoral actions in support of a “Healthy Berkeley.”

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Marc Beyeler is a long-time Berkeley resident, a parent of a junior at Berkeley High School, and a member of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Parent Advisory Committee.