The Berkeley City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a two-year budget that focuses on public safety, housing affordability, sustainability and diversity, according to the mayor.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín released his budget suggestions this week after conferring with the city manager and city staff, and taking budget recommendations from other council members into account. The recommendations include more than $18 million in spending over each of the next two fiscal years to address pedestrian safety with new traffic-calming projects, increase the city’s ability to prepare for wildfires, open the West Campus pool year-round, and boost zero waste efforts, among many other initiatives. There are also 22.5 new full-time positions represented in the budget, which includes several paid intern spots in the Public Works department.
According to the mayor, the budget represents an “unprecedented investment in anti-displacement” work in Berkeley. The mayor has proposed $900,000 to fund those efforts, including $550,000 (total) to the East Bay Community Law Center and Eviction Defense Center for eviction legal defense and tenant counseling; $250,000 for a Housing Retention Program; and $100,000 for “rapid rehousing” subsidies.
Other funding proposed for homeless services includes $17,000 in additional funding to Dorothy Day for a drop-in center, and $15,000 for mobile pump-out equipment for RVs “to make sure that any sewage is properly disposed of instead of entering our creeks and Bay.” Separately, the mayor has proposed a $100,000 allocation to study changes to the zoning code related to “missing middle” housing in Berkeley, such as duplexes, triplexes and courtyard apartments.
On the traffic safety side of things, council is “budgeting an additional $100,000 towards pedestrian and bicycle safety projects, in addition to $1 million for ADA improvements and $1 million over the next two-years for sidewalk improvements.” Traffic-calming and infrastructure projects on the list for funding include 62nd and King streets ($50,000); San Pablo and Ashby avenues (more than $600,000); and the Solano Avenue Revitalization Plan.
The proposed transportation allocation would let the city hire more traffic engineers as well as a new planner to help with the city’s Vision Zero plan to end pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injuries.
Several other traffic-related projects are on the list for consideration in November: a new traffic light at University Avenue and Acton Street ($400,000); a new light at San Pablo and Addison Street ($100,000); traffic calming at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Stuart Street ($400,000); and a traffic study, no cost listed, for Alcatraz Avenue.
To help prepare for wildfires, the mayor has proposed “investing $180,000 in disaster response training and equipment and $233,333 in vegetation management.” He’s also asked the city manager to consider spending $1.1 million “on an outdoor emergency warning system to be used in the event of a wildfire and when the State’s early warning system is operational, to alert of an impending earthquake.” That particular allocation won’t be considered until November, either.
At the police department, the mayor’s budget includes several new community service officers and support staffers, as well as money for vehicle upgrades. There’s also $60,000 for a gun buyback program “that has proven to be an effective method of removing guns from the streets in other cities.”
One of the biggest line items on the list is $3.6 million (total) over the next two years to respond to people in mental health crisis and take them to the hospital for assessment and treatment. That money is set to come from Measure P tax receipts. The county used to provide that service but it no longer does, as of this year.
The Berkeley Marina is set to get $3.45 million to address, in part, immediate capital needs to “help rebuild dilapidated structures” that “will work in conjunction with the proposed ferry terminal and new pier.” The marina has struggled in a number of ways in recent years due to aging infrastructure and other issues. Council approved a $1.1 million contract in May — which is part of the upcoming budget allocation — for a consultant to take a comprehensive look, with a robust public process, at how to improve conditions there.
Also planned at the marina: The city has said it will move its parking enforcement officers there later this year, at a one-time cost of $250,000, according to the budget. A number of people who live on boats at the marina have taken issue with that plan publicly in recent months. The city has said it’s a staff-level decision that does not require a council vote.
Under the mayor’s recommendations, the city’s Civic Arts Grants program is set to receive $500,000, which Arreguín says he hopes to continue in the future. There’s also financial support for the Bay Area Book Festival ($50,000), among other events, and UC Theatre’s Concert Career Pathways Education Program ($40,000).
The allocations that make up the mayor’s recommendations are just a fraction of the city’s overall budget, which is approximately $520 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends in June 2020. The General Fund totals about $191 million and the balance “represents the other non-discretionary funds,” according to a staff report for Tuesday’s meeting. General fund revenues and expenses are close to $200 million each year.