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.

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)

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  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    We need more baseball fields in Berkeley, there are not enough baseball diamonds for the the kids to play on.

  • Zorg

    Can they pay for this out of all the extra property tax money they have from newly sold houses with their non prop 13 values. Even fixer uppers in West Berkeley now are paying $12k a year in taxes. Enough is enough no more tax.

  • berkeley mom

    Please more details on exactly how this money will be spent. I’d pay twice as much as proposed if we were actually going to build/maintain attractive, quality pool facilities (like on par with what El Cerrito has). But if this is just to fix our low-quality ugly blighted pools, I will take a pass. I think there is a large segment of the Berkeley middle-class families who are growing weary that we can’t have anything nice in this town.

  • guest

    “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.”

    Let’s review. We cannot afford to keep existing parks operational – swings without seats, basketball standards without hoops and nets, undulating tennis court surfaces undermined by tree roots – so the answer is to build a new park? I think I will adopt this approach. My car is broken down and I can’t afford to fix it so I’ll buy another car.

  • Woolsey

    Vote no – Berkeley is a wealthy community with much higher than average revenues because of the extreme property valuations. These projects should be paid for out of existing revenues. At some point the City Council has to stop saddling us with more taxes and more bonds.

  • Westside

    $58 a year is a steal for what this measure would fund. This property owner says Yes Yes Yes.

  • Chris J

    I am disinclined to vote more money out of my pocket for services and such that ny existing taxes should already be maintaining.

  • Chris J

    Multiply that by every other add-on like school support, public safety, etc and your $5k a year payment could increase significantly.

  • Paul M. Schwartz

    Why is the City of Berkeley giving Mills Act property tax breaks to the owners of very expensive landmarked homes. Tax breaks that probably cost the city over $500,000 per year and then coming to us and saying the city need more money. Wake up and stop the Mills Act landmarked homes property tax giveaways. One property owner wants Mills Act tax savings to fix up his private swimming pool.
    Paul Schwartz, member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

  • Westside too

    $58 dollars on top of what are already some of the highest property taxes in the state given to a city that mismanages its funds so badly that our infrastructure is falling apart at the seams? This property owner says No No No.

  • guest

    Capitelli recently spoke about Prop 13 as if it were a baffling and insurmountable problem that excuses the failures of the council, mayor and city manager. It almost sounded as if Prop 13 was a surprise to him rather than part of the landscape with which those managing city funds must cope. And no, he did NOT address the effects on city revenues of transfer taxes and higher property taxes of the recent housing boom, issues best ignored by those who seek excuses for their ineptitude rather than innovative ways to deliver necessary city services.

  • guest

    How is it ‘a good time to borrow’ when the city already has obligations that it cannot meet?

  • George Beier

    Long-term capital projects are almost always financed by long-term debt. Rates are low right now, so it’s a good time to be borrowing money. As cities of our size go, we do not have a lot of outstanding borrowing.

  • Zorg

    We do however have a lot of unfunded pension obligations. Possibly best to get the books in order with the money on hand rather than asking for more just because money is cheap to borrow.

  • Matt Parker

    Fixing the parks is a good use of public funds but typically this sort of bond/tax scheme involves bond underwriters who stand to make millions off of the interest. 4.5 % is high in a low interest world and essentially whatever we borrow we have to payback near double in amortized scheduling. Taxpayers think bonds are free money buy it costs the City a ton. The usual proponents of this are the bondholders, underwriters, construction companies(like Turner) who charge 3x what a private concern would pay. Parks yes,milking taxpayers to pay the corrupted debt system NO.

  • southberkeleyres

    Very likely that the City will have asked for many tax and bond measures to pay for parks before this 30 year Bond is paid off. NO, NO,NO. When will the city require employees to pay into their generous retirement benefits like private worker do? (Those that are fortunate enough to have a job.)

  • guest

    How is it that keeping the tennis courts, swings, basketball standards etc qualify as ‘long-term capital projects’?

  • Chris J

    Our friends bought a house in the Philippines to retire into, built by a large development company with all kinds of amenities; pools, tennis courts, etc. and paid about $150,000. The development company provides all the amenities including protective services. Basically providing what the city of Berkeley gives for the taxes we pay, only as a business transaction. The national property tax over there for a typical 3BR/2B home is about $200–per year.

    Sure, its a foreign country with its own problems, but the cost of living over there is easily half the costs of living here, if not less for a similar (and tropical) lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, obviously, because it takes a certain ‘something’ to make a move like that. I always applauded folks who left frozen winter lands like the Midwest and New England to journey to our own temperate California climes and queried about those who chose to stay in such hot summers and frigid winters.

    As a Berkeley and its environs gets more and more expensive to live, as more jobs go overseas, will more retirees choose to do the same and retire in Mexico, Guatemala, or the Philippines where one could easily live comfortably just on their own social security checks?

  • Chris J

    And more tennis courts while they’re at it. Ha!