Opinion: 10 priorities to move Berkeley forward

From housing and homelessness to improving public safety and infrastructure, I am committed to meeting the community’s needs. These 10 projects are just some of many initiatives my office and the Council are working on.

Over the past year, I have met with residents throughout the city to gather ideas on how to address the challenges and opportunities facing our community. With the Council recently returning for our fall legislative session, I am pleased to share 10 initiatives my office is working on in the coming months.

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act

In this housing crisis, we are looking for ways to keep residents in their homes and build equity and stability. For several decades, Washington DC has implemented a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) allowing hundreds of tenants to collectively get the first opportunity to purchase their buildings when the landlord puts the building on the market. We are developing a similar policy which will give tenants the first right of refusal to purchase their building, and allow nonprofit affordable housing developers to have the opportunity to purchase as well. Preservation of existing affordable housing is key to keeping Berkeley a diverse city.

Vision 2050

With Berkeley’s infrastructure in need of major repair, we need a long-term plan for how to improve our public realm that looks at new technologies and integrates our many goals for resiliency and durability. Over the past two years, a Berkeley citizen task force has been developing the Vision 2050 Plan. The voters of Berkeley also endorsed this effort through passage of advisory Measure R in 2018. This plan will provide a framework and policy recommendations for how Berkeley can plan for and develop climate-smart, integrated and efficient infrastructure for a safe and resilient city. The task force will release their report in December, and next steps involve the Council developing an implementation plan which will guide future capital investments.

Promoting worker cooperatives

Berkeley has long been home to cooperative business models. More recently we made national headlines for our city government’s support of worker cooperatives and providing incentives and technical support for workers to collectively take the mantle once an owner retires. Building upon these successes, we are developing a city contracting preference for locally owned businesses and cooperatives. This is just another way that we are empowering employees of local businesses, while providing a boost to our economy and sustaining Berkeley’s small businesses for the future.

Vision Zero

In February 2020, the Vision Zero task force will present its action plan to the City Council. This is in response to the City Council’s adoption of a Vision Zero Policy in 2018 to address the growing safety crisis of pedestrian and bicycle collisions on city streets. The Vision Zero Action Plan will focus on education, enforcement and engineering with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and injuries. As someone who relies on walking and biking as my primary modes of transportation, making our streets safer is personal for me. While we wait for the completion of the Vision Zero Action Plan, the City Council has allocated $2.5 million over the next two years for traffic calming, creating Complete Streets, and staffing to implement our new Vision Zero initiative.

Improving community policing

The Berkeley Police Department, like many departments across the country, has recently experienced a staffing shortage. But we have been investing in our department and after an extensive campaign, the number of sworn officers has increased from its low of 153 in May 2018 to 168 in September 2019 and rising, with recruitment doubling over the past year. Once we are fully staffed we can deploy a more robust community policing program.

Wildfire safety

Climate change has increased the risk of major urban fires, as we saw here in Berkeley in 1923 and 1991. In response to recent wildfires across the state, we have made our biggest investment in vegetation management and emergency response training, launching our first major wildfire evacuation drills. We are currently advocating to state officials on increasing funding for urban wildfire prevention.

Marina Plan

Exciting new projects are moving forward at the Marina. Planning is underway to redesign and repave University Avenue as well as the replacement of the pier that will potentially double as a future ferry terminal. Earlier this year Council approved a contract to develop the Berkeley Marina Area Specific Plan. In the coming months, we will be working closely with stakeholders in visioning a Marina that will be a world-class destination for generations to come.

Adeline Corridor Plan

Over the past four years, the City has been working with the South Berkeley community in developing a vision for the future of the Adeline Corridor. This community-driven process has resulted in the creation of a draft plan that focuses on equity and sustainability, including a goal of 50% affordable housing along the corridor. In the coming months, staff will be completing the plan with the latest public input, and Council will vote on the final plan in early 2020.

Future of Ashby and North Berkeley BART

Recent state bills have given us an opportunity to transform acres of underutilized parking lots into vibrant spaces and to enhance and support our diverse neighborhoods. Transit-oriented development is essential in addressing our housing and climate crises. We are moving forward with a public process to create appropriate zoning at both sites and working with BART to ensure that development reflects the needs of the community, with an emphasis on affordable housing.

Measure O & P Implementation

I am thankful to Berkeley voters for their support of Measures O & P in 2018, which provides funding for affordable housing and homeless services. Citizen commissions have been established to provide recommendations on funding, with their reports expected by the end of the year. We are moving forward with various affordable housing projects, including 142 units at the city Berkeley Way parking lot, as a result of funding from Measure O. Measure P will play a crucial role in addressing our homeless crisis, allowing us to continue to expand programs and fill in the gaps with funding for additional services that are greatly needed.

These 10 projects are just some of the many initiatives my office and the City Council will be working on in the next six months and beyond. From addressing housing and homelessness, to improving public safety and our infrastructure, we are committed to delivering on the needs of our community. I look forward to working with you to move these ideas forward and continue to advocate for bold solutions.

Jesse Arreguín is Mayor of the City of Berkeley.