City

The lowdown: Berkeley council on the city budget, nicotine sales restrictions, sewage fee increase, more

Berkeley City Council meets Tuesdays at Old City Hall, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Berkeley City Council meets Tuesdays at Old City Hall, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. with a worksession on the city budget for the next two fiscal years, as well as a proposed increase in sewage fees. At its regular 7 p.m. meeting, council has public hearings on the budget, the city work plan, and the extension of permit parking on Sacramento and Essex streets. Also on the action calendar: a vote on the sewage fee increase, proposed restrictions on nicotine sales, cellphone proximity warnings, the possibility of online public comments for council items and a plan to engage citizens with the city’s budget.

Action items

SEWER FEE INCREASE The city is looking at increasing sewer rates to close a projected gap in the cost to run its sanitary sewer management system and comply with new federal requirements that set out strict improvements to the system in coming years. At 5:30 p.m., Public Works director Andrew Clough will present two options for how the city might increase rates to cover the program’s costs going forward. The city commissioned a study to analyze how that might work, and has put forward two options for consideration. Option 1, a cumulative 72% jump, would see average single-family-home rates increase by 2020 to nearly $70 every two months. Option 2, an 82% increase, would result in bills of about $74. Both of those options are lower than previous projections — but only because they assume a significant reduction in water usage — council received in March. Council is slated to select a new rate structure, which would trigger a Proposition 218 process and public hearing before new rates can be set. The city plans to mail notices to residents by May 15, and have the hearing June 30. A Berkeleyside story is forthcoming.

Proposed sewage fee rate changes. (Click to view the staff report.)
Proposed sewage fee rate changes. (Click to view the staff report.)

NICOTINE SALES RESTRICTIONS Council is set to adopt, on first reading, a new law that would limit sales of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes near schools and parks. The law, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2016, would require any retailer who sells “Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems” to buy a tobacco license ($498). In addition, sale of nicotine products would be prohibited under the new law within 1,000 feet of schools and public parks. Violating the ordinance would be classified as a public nuisance. Council will also consider building a 1- to 2-year grace period into the law “to minimize economic hardship.” According to city staff, “Approximately 75% of licensed tobacco retailers in Berkeley operate within 1,000 feet of a school or public park. Currently the City has 84 active TRLs (excluding pharmacies). Elimination of 75% of these would result in annual revenue reduction of approximately $31,374.” Read more. [Update, 3:15 p.m.: See Berkeleyside’s story on the subject.]

Proposed buffer zones for tobacco and nicotine-product retailers. (Click the map to view it larger.)
Proposed buffer zones for tobacco and nicotine-product retailers. (Click the map to view it larger.)

CELLPHONE SAFETY NOTICES The city has come up with an ordinance, after direction from council last fall, to require cellphone retailers to provide a notice to customers about how best to carry phones. The notice is designed to warn customers “to maintain a minimum separation between their bodies and their cellphones.” Read the staff report and proposed ordinance, and see a survey completed by the city in March that asked 459 Berkeley voters about their cellphone use. Council is set to adopt the ordinance on first reading. See past Berkeleyside coverage.


PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING Councilman Kriss Worthington has a proposal on the action calendar to let citizens help decide how the city spends its money. Worthington says seven U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Vallejo, have used the process as part of their budgeting. He says it’s a good model: “The participatory budgeting program will have a positive impact on the budgetary process in Berkeley by encouraging residents to become more involved in local politics, deepening democracy, empowering communities, making budgeting more effective, and ultimately improving the overall quality of community services and public infrastructures.” Read more about the city budget in general, and learn about Worthington’s proposal.

ONLINE COUNCIL COMMENTS Worthington also would like to allow the public to submit comments online for council items. If approved, his proposal would ask the city manager to create an online form people could fill out to make comments without needing to be present at council meetings. Shoreline, Washington, has a similar system in place. Read more.

Public hearings

Source: COB
Source: COB

THE WORK PLAN For those interested in what the city has been and will be up to, the city work plan is a must-read. It highlights achievements from last year, and describes resources and plans for the coming fiscal year. See what the priority projects are for each department, and what role each plays in Berkeley. The report is broken down by departments and sections, so jumping to areas of interest is relatively simple. Council is set to offer comments on the plan Tuesday night, as part of a public hearing on the city budget for the next two fiscal years.

THREE BLOCKS OPT TO ADD PERMITS The city plans to add permit parking zones to three blocks, after a majority of residents who live there signed up in support. The affected areas are the east side of Sacramento Street, between Allston Way and Addison Street, and Essex Street (both sides) between Shattuck Avenue east to Wheeler Street. Read the staff report, and read more about permit parking in Berkeley.

The worksession

TWO-YEAR CITY BUDGET It’s time to learn what’s happening with the city’s budget for the next two fiscal years. City staff describe it as a “stability budget” — meaning revenues and expenditures are in line with each other. The city should prepare for “a contraction” next year (fiscal year 2016-17,) which is expected to impact future budgets. In recent years, to keep the budget balanced during difficult times, the city has deferred maintenance on much of its capital infrastructure, from its parks to its facilities. The city also cut back on staffing, eliminating 184 full-time positions in the past five years. No planned permanent staff reductions are expected in the next two years, according to the report, “However, we need to continue to be mindful of the need to address deferred maintenance, as well as remain prepared to address the impacts of future cost increases in areas such as health and pension benefits.” Read the budget report and see past Berkeleyside city budget coverage.


Other items of interest

$500K FOR SUGAR TAX PANEL? Two council members are asking the city to consider giving the panel of experts created after the passage of last fall’s “soda tax” an advance of $500,000, to be repaid in full. The city does not yet know how much it can expect from the new tax, but council members Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio say $500,000 is a conservative estimate. They have asked the city to give $250,000 to the school district’s popular cooking and gardening program — to ensure the program can continue, and would like the panel to be able to make recommendations to council regarding the rest of the money. The item is on the consent calendar.

Photo: NAACP via Facebook
Photo: NAACP via Facebook

CITY EMPLOYMENT RECOMMENDATIONS Council members Max Anderson and Darryl Moore have a $100,000 proposal on the consent calendar for the city to move forward with recommendations from the Berkeley NAACP following questions about the city’s hiring practices and alleged discrimination. That proposal would include department audits ($45,000), an inventory of discrimination-related complaints ($15,000), better reporting about applicants and employment ($15,000), revisions to personnel rules ($8,000), improvements in communication methods ($7,000) and more.

STUDY ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR CONTRACTORS Councilman Kriss Worthington has asked the city to launch a study about its “use of local, small emerging, minority and women business enterprises on City construction, architecture and engineering, professional services, and goods and other services contracts.” According to Worthington’s report, council approved the study in 2012, but has not yet funded it. Worthington, in this consent calendar item, is asking the city to move forward. There is no estimate in the report for what the study might cost.

The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar. Photo: John Northmore Roberts & Associates
The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar. Photo: Chris Benton

MORE BUDGET REFERRALS Worthington has asked the city to add a position for a new mental health services employee, citing prior staffing levels that were more robust, as well as the significant and increasing number of mental health calls fielded by the Berkeley Police Department. Over the past five years, police have seen a 43% increase in calls for “5150s,” or people who are a danger to themselves or others. In another consent calendar item, Worthington has asked the city manager to consider allocating $50,000 toward the solar calendar at César Chávez Park. The Worthington report says the money could be used to help go after additional funding to help a team of people who are helping with the calendar’s design.

UNIVERSITY AVENUE TRAFFIC ASSESSMENT The city looked at University Avenue, between Martin Luther King Jr. Way and California Street, to assess whether safety improvements were needed imminently. According to the staff analysis, based on data from 2008-2013, they are not. Two of the intersections along the stretch studied by city staff are on a list of project recommendations in the Pedestrian Master Plan, and they will be completed as funding becomes available, according to their priority on that list. Suggested improvements could cost up to $475,000. A cyclist was killed in a hit-and-run in January at University and McGee Avenue, but that fatality was not part of the data studied. Read the information report.


Meeting details

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.

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)
Lori Droste @loridroste (District 8)

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

Related:
Council on density bonus, housing plans, public budgeting, solar taskforce, water cutbacks (04.28.15)
Council on community benefits, sewer fee increase, vaccines, parking permit expansion (04.07.15)
Council on accessory units, parks budget, limits on frats and mini-dorms, more (03.23.15)
Council on homelessness, sewer fee hike, limiting vaccine exemptions, crude oil, more (03.17.15)

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