Berkeley voters likely to see joint parks funding measure

More than 30 Berkeley residents came out Wednesday to express support to for the city to re-open Willard Pool. Photo: Emilie Taguso
Willard Pool supporters (pictured here last fall) won a victory Tuesday night with the latest council parks proposal. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Two Berkeley officials put forward a new proposal Tuesday night for a combined bond and tax measure that could go before voters in November.

The idea, presented by Berkeley City Council members Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli, would cost property owners about $58 a year for an average Berkeley home, which is defined by the city as 1,900 square feet.

The combined bond and tax measure, which is called a Mello-Roos, could bring in $19 million to improve existing parks, re-open Willard Pool and create public gardens in a two-block section of the abandoned Santa Fe Right of Way in South Berkeley, among other projects. It would also include an annual $1.1 million operations tax to help pay for parks maintenance. (The bond would be paid off over 30 years.)

Maio and Capitelli presented their proposal on the dais. It is scheduled to come back before council for a public hearing June 24. A vote could take place that night or July 1.


In addition to $4.5 million to re-open Willard Pool, the bond proposal includes $4.25 million for the King and West Campus pools; $2.25 million for Aquatic Park; $1.5 million for James Kenney Park; $1.4 million for tennis courts; $1.3 million for the Berkeley Rose Garden; and $1.24 million for the Santa Fe Right of Way project. Basketball courts and ballfields would receive $2.15 million, and Ohlone Park would get $300,000.

Allocations proposed previously were cut for several of the projects after concerns came up that an earlier $25 million bond list would be a hard sell for voters.

The proposed parks operations tax was also scaled back, from $2 million to $1.1 million.

Robbert Collier, an organizer on past parks fundraising campaigns, described the new proposal as “the best of both worlds.”

“It’s fiscally responsible and slimmed down, while still providing enough money to do proper maintenance on the parks and carry out some of the larger capital projects that really … excite the people of Berkeley,” he said Wednesday.


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 have said they believe it was the warm pool that sunk the effort in the past, and will not pursue it again.

About a dozen members of the public spoke on the item Tuesday night. They thanked Maio and Capitelli for coming up with a “creative” solution, and said they would support a proposal that included money for projects such as Willard Pool and the Santa Fe Right of Way.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak noted that the operations tax will not be enough to completely fill the gap in the parks budget, which has been cutting both staff and spending but continues to lose money and fall behind on maintenance needs.

But City Manager Christine Daniel said, if approved by voters, the measure would certainly make a difference.


Daniel said there’s currently a $500,000 annual deficit in parks funding. The $1.1 million tax would cover that, put an estimated $300,000 toward Willard Pool, and leave about as much for major maintenance needs.

“This proposal is funding a lot of really, really important needs, and obviously it’s not enough,” she said. “But it’s more than exists now.”

Daniel also said it is a “very favorable” time to move forward, given current interest rates of 4.5%.

Mayor Tom Bates was the lone “no” vote on bringing the proposal back. He said he is concerned voters will not be willing to support the ask, which would leave the parks with nothing.

Bates said he would prefer to put the operations tax forward on its own. In May, staff said a $2 million parks operation tax appearing alone on the ballot would cost the owner of an average-size home $43, which would be a 16% increase over what is currently paid.

Community members who spoke Tuesday night said they are certain Berkeley residents will come out to support the city’s parks, particularly with the package presented Tuesday. They said waiting is not a viable option.

“It’s time to put our parks first. We aren’t going to wait until 2016,” said Beebo Turman, a Berkeley parks advocate the coordinator of the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative. “We need to do this now. Our parks need it.”

Read more Election 2014 coverage on Berkeleyside.

Related:
Plans firm up for Berkeley soda tax, city parks measures (05.21.14)
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)

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook. Email us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.