Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, city parks measures

Proponents of a soda tax were out in force in neon green at Berkeley City Council. Photo: Lance Knobel
Berkeley voters will consider a soda tax in November. Supporters shown here came out before council earlier this year. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley officials voted Tuesday night on ballot language related to a November 2014 soda tax proposal, but exactly what sort of fundraising request might come before voters to help the city’s parks remains to be determined.

Regarding the soda tax, voters will be asked whether the city should “impose a general tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages,” payable by distributors with gross annual receipts over a certain amount.

Ballot language proposed Tuesday night would limit the tax to businesses with receipts over $100,000, but Councilman Laurie Capitelli said the number is still a bit in flux, and will be clarified in June when the Berkeley City Council makes its final decision on city-driven ballot measures.

Read more about the soda tax proposal on Berkeleyside.


Parks funding remains more of an open question. The city is looking at the possibility of a joint tax and bond measure, using a Mello-Roos approach, that could be a combined $25 million bond and $2 million parcel tax for park operations.

Council narrowly voted to consider both approaches in June, with just five officials in support: Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín, Darryl Moore, Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak.

Mayor Tom Bates said he would support a parks bond measure in 2016, but fears the campaign will fail this fall. He said the city should pursue the parcel tax now, but wait on the bond.

Supporters of the bond said it will bring much needed money to re-open Willard Pool, help fund the city’s other two pools, and help create several blocks of public gardens along the Santa Fe Right of Way in South Berkeley. Both Willard Pool and the Santa Fe project would improve access to park facilities in South Berkeley, which proponents have said lacks amenities found in other parts of the city.

More than 30 Berkeley residents came out Wednesday to express support to for the city to re-open Willard Pool. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Support for Willard Pool has been strong since discussions began last fall on how to raise money for city parks facilities. Photo: Emilie Raguso

George Beier, who represents the Willard Neighborhood Association, told council members Willard Pool had been the frontrunner for support during the lengthy public process related to parks funding that started last fall.


He said he did not think a new parks tax, without a bond to fund projects the community cares about, would win enough support to pass.

“If we don’t have sexy projects like the Right of Way and the pool… it’s going to be a ho hum measure,” he said. “It will be hard to generate excitement.”

Jacquelyn McCormick, head of the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, said the group had voted in favor of the Willard Pool project as well, because it had previously won support from the Parks & Waterfront Commission due to extensive public turnout and testimony.

“It should not be an add-on or the last on a long list of projects,” she told the council. “It should be the first priority in any capital plan.”

(Both Beier and McCormick are among several candidates planning to run to represent District 8 in November. Councilman Gordon Wozniak has said he does not plan to run again.)


Willard Pool was not originally on a list of potential bond-funded projects — costing an estimated $19 million — that came out of Councilman Darryl Moore’s office earlier this month. But council voted to include the pool on that list at its May 13 meeting with the understanding that the projects, as well as the bond itself, were still very much up for debate.

The list includes everything from $1.3 million for the Berkeley rose garden to more than $6 million for the city’s basketball courts, ballfields and tennis courts. Aquatic Park ($2.25 million), San Pablo Park ($1 million) and Willard Park ($425,000) are also on the list, along with the James Kenney Community Center ($2.3 million) the West Campus and King pools ($4.2 million) and the Ohlone Dog Park ($300,000).

There could also be $1.25 million for the Santa Fe Right of Way project. Adding in money to re-open Willard Pool would bring the bond amount to $25 million, city staff said earlier this month.

Many of those projects were among 12 ideas submitted to council by the city’s Parks and Waterfront Commission after an extensive public process last year. The recommendation also included selection criteria to establish priorities for a bond, such as equity, community needs and net benefits.

A $25 million bond would cost the owner of a 1,900-square-foot home $44 a year, city staff said Tuesday night. The operations tax would cost the same home $48 annually. If the tax measure appeared alone on the ballot, it would cost the owner of an average-size home $43.

Willard Pool closed in 2010, after Measure C received slightly over 60% support, short of the two-thirds vote it required. Measures N and O, a bond and tax proposed in 2012, also failed to reach the two-thirds majority.

Those measures included funding for a warm pool in Berkeley. Supporters of the new bond said they believe it was the warm pool that sunk the effort in the past. Pool supporters now are concentrating on Willard, and have contested a city staff estimate that it would cost $4.7 million for a complete rebuild.

“The goal is not to have a repeat of 2010 and 2012,” Rob Collier, a driving force behind earlier pool fundraising efforts, said Tuesday night. Collier told council that, if the bond includes money for all three of Berkeley’s pools, as well as the Santa Fe Right of Way, it will have ample support to pass the measure. “We can win this time,” he told council.

City officials will revisit the issue in June to determine exactly how to move forward. But several members of council said they fear steep opposition to other tax measures might make it a particularly tough battle.

“My heart is wanting to go forward with the full monty, the Mello-Roos,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “My head is saying it’s unlikely that we’ll win that election. It’s a tough mountain to climb.” 

Read more Election 2014 coverage on Berkeleyside.

Related:
Willard pool reopening on agenda for park bond measure (02.13.14)
Council to study $20M parks bond, 10% parks tax boost (12.12.13)
Berkeley groups want old railroad bed to be a public park (11.20.13)
Willard Pool supporters turn out for parks meeting (10.17.13)
Berkeley Tuolumne Camp supporters push to rebuild (10.16.13)
Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley’s parks (10.04.13)
4 public meetings planned on future of Berkeley parks (09.25.13)
Pensions, infrastructure key Berkeley budget liabilities (02.20.13)
More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront (09.29.11)

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