Op-ed: Berkeley government is failing and no-one has noticed

In the last couple of weeks there have been two daytime armed robberies reported in North Berkeley, according to my neighborhood listserve. One was in a private garage where the woman had left her house and gotten into her car to go to work and decided to make a cell phone call first. A man entered the garage with a gun and demanded her cell phone, which she refused. His partner then went to the passenger door and grabbed her purse and the two ran away and got into a car and drove off. She called 911 but the police were unable to find the car or suspects.

The second one occurred on a street parallel to Solano and a few blocks north. About 11:30 a.m. a man was going through the trunk of his car when a black SUV with no rear license plate stopped and a male with a gun got out and demanded the resident’s wallet. Once again, the police were unable to locate the suspect.

In the 50 plus years I have lived in North Berkeley I have no recollection of daytime armed robberies in this area.

When Mayor Bates was elected in 2000, the staffing of the police force was 215. Today it is 170 or less with an authorized force of 176, according to city documents.

A few decades ago, Berkeley had 18 fire stations and five persons per engine. Today Berkeley has seven fire stations with three persons per engine. A couple of years ago the city started a rolling closure of fire stations because the fire department had insufficient funds. A $6 million tax measure was put on the ballot and passed to cover the overtime to keep the seven stations open. The $6 million is being used for other things than overtime, and the fire department is not disclosing how much money is in the fund or what the funds are used for.

The city charter provides that the function of the Mayor is to preside over City Council meetings and to represent the city at ceremonial functions. The mayor has turned the city government (illegally) into a strong mayor form of government and no-one has challenged it.

During the Mayor’s reign union contract negotiations have provided city employees with raises in excess of the CPI. Contributions to the employees’ pension plan have consumed the budget so that the benefit package now costs the city 80-90% of payroll (per the city website under “employee benefits”). The benefits vary by union. New employees get fewer benefits. The cost to the city for the pensions will dramatically increase in the next couple of years due to actuarial changes that PERS is required to make, and the losses they incur in the market and real-estate investments.

The recent $30 million street-paving bond approved by the voters was immediately reduced by $9 million when the city moved engineering personnel off the General Fund and put them on the bond money. The city is paying current salaries and the property owners will pay off those salaries during the 30 years required to pay off the bond. BAD fiscal management. Illegal use of bond money?

The city has increased the garbage tax and the sewer tax by use of the outrageous interpretation of Proposition 218 which allows the city to send out a notice of increase and says if you disagree sign and send back the notice. They don’t tell you that failure to send back the notice constitutes a YES vote. Every 218 tax increase since the passage of prop 218 has passed.

How would you feel if you didn’t vote in the next presidential election and it was counted as a vote for Trump?!

If you want more daytime armed robberies in your neighborhood, be sure to continue to elect your current representative and be sure to elevate one of them to mayor to suceed Tom who has done a splendid job of making Berkeley more like Chicago.

If you want police, and fire protection, and affordable garbage collection, you had better start to pay attention because ignoring the problem is going to cost you an arm and a leg and maybe your life.

Thank you Tom. You won’t be remembered for soccer fields.

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Ted Edlin, who has lived in Berkeley for more than 50 years, was formerly president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, vice-president of NEBA, chair of the Housing Advisory Commission, and a member of the Fire Commission, now known as the Disaster and Fire Safety Commission.