Op-ed: Introducing the Berkeley Social Services and Fiscal Accountability Ordinance

The voters in Berkeley will soon, I hope, be able to vote on whether we should continue to compensate our meter maids over $125,000+ per year while people go hungry and sleep in our streets.

The proposed ordinance is the first step to creating an effective government and an efficient and effective city, dramatically increasing public services without any new taxation.   The “Berkeley Social Services and Fiscal Accountability Ordinance” I am putting forward on the ballot is a game-changer.

Under this new ordinance, the city will be required to spend a minimum of $50 million per year on social services, without raising taxes, by capping all employee compensation, inclusive of benefits, to a reasonable maximum of $100,000 per year, and making any violation a misdemeanor.

Based on the data available at TransparentCalifornia.com, this compensation cap should generate a minimum of $50 million in savings, which can then only be spent on programs authorized by this ordinance.

The measure creates a new public mental-health program, requiring the city to spend $10 million per year on a contract with a private provider to offer 100 full-time social workers and mental-health therapists for all people in Berkeley, creating a free mental-health system.

This isn’t just about our homeless — it will be a well-funded mental public health program that will serve any person in Berkeley, and it will do so without raising taxes. I cannot help but wonder if the young woman who jumped off the building in Berkeley several weeks ago would still be alive today if this program was operational at the time of her death.

This program will be the first step towards ensuring that any person in our city who needs mental-health services, is able to receive them without fee. It won’t be the end-all-be-all, but it is certainly a well-funded start.

The measure further requires the city to spend $40 million per year on a contract with a private provider to provide meals and housing for the homeless. I have chosen to intentionally leave the language vague to allow for the maximum flexibility for the private providers to offer the services in the most efficient manner possible. The measure explicitly limits the contract to 10% maximum profit.

The measure requires that all employee performance evaluations be based on “clear and rigorous performance metrics” and be reported on the city’s website, and that all employment and contractor agreements be renegotiated on a competitive performance basis every two years.

In an effort to better educate the taxpayers about the exorbitant compensation levels received by our employees, I have attached as part of the ordinance 18 pages of listings of mostly non-emergency city employees who receive compensation of over $100k/year. For those who read the ballot materials mailed by the city, this 18-page attachment should prove educational.

The full text of the initiative is available, as is the summary prepared by the city attorney.

The ballot initiative is the first project of CityHacker Labs, a progressive think tank I am launching to research and put in place a series of other measures over the upcoming years. The intent is to bring disruptive innovation into our local city government. This initiative is the first step to dramatically increase the benefit to the public from our government, without increasing taxation. This ballot initiative is also intended to provide an education on how the process works, who the players might be and their strategies of choice.

Want to help put this measure in front of the voters?   We have roughly one month to gather signatures to put this on the ballot this November, and we’re hiring! If you want to help gather signatures (and get paid!), please review and respond through the Craigslist job advertisement or via email at ordinance@cityhackerlabs.com.

Given the urgent and critical needs of our community, Berkeley voters ultimately face a choice – we can attempt to raise taxation to completely unsustainable levels, or we can address all the needs of our community by eliminating the extreme and gross inefficiencies in our government and get exponentially more public benefit for every dollar spent.

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Vladislav Davidzon is the founder of CityHacker Labs, a progressive think tank bringing disruptive innovation and effective business management practices to municipal government. He is also the CEO at the Regenerative Leadership Institute and a resident of Berkeley. All opinions are strictly his own and do not reflect corporate policy.