Berkeley residents going to the polls Tuesday will only find three local measures on the ballot, along with county tax measures and candidates running for president, Congress, the state senate, the assembly, and other positions.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. and Berkeleyside will report on the preliminary results when they are released.
Many Berkeley residents, however, won’t be walking from their homes to their local polling places, as the number of permanent vote-by-mail voters has reached 74.1% of the local electorate, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website. Berkeley has 79,869 registered voters (the majority are Democrats with the next highest group stating No Party Preference) with 59,153 registered to vote by mail. Those numbers follow a county-wide trend, said Tim Dupuis, the registrar for the county.
“We have a high number of permanent vote by mail voters, higher than we’ve ever had,” said Dupuis. “We’re close to 80% (countywide). But what we have seen in past elections, is that even though they may be permanent vote-by-mail, a very large number of voters drop off their ballots on election day.”
For the first time, people who have not registered to vote can vote on Election Day. The state legislature recently voted to allow same-day registration. All a person has to do is show up at a polling place with identification, said Dupuis. They can vote and their ballot will be marked as conditional. The registrar of voters will check that ballot against ballots throughout California, he said.
Voters also can drop their ballots off in a box in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Building, 2180 Milvia St. The secure box is open until 8 p.m. Tuesday. People can also deposit their ballots at any polling place. No postage is necessary for ballots returned to the dropbox or placed in the mail.
Three measures by Berkeley Unified on the ballot
The Berkeley Unified School District is asking voters to approve three separate measures to fund everything from plumbing fixes to theater renovations to science teacher salaries (see the full story). Two of the measures — the maintenance tax and facilities bond — will look familiar to longtime Berkeley residents. For all voters, the third measure — a teacher and staff salary tax — will be brand new. The two taxes require a supermajority vote (66%) to pass, while the bond measure needs a 55% of the vote.
The two taxes and general obligation bond would all affect property owners in Berkeley, who also pay another much larger BUSD tax supporting small class sizes and school programs. The total cost of all four measures to a Berkeley homeowner would vary dramatically, depending on a property’s size and assessed value, but most taxpayers could expect to owe the district several hundred dollars or more each year. The largest chunk would still go to BSEP, the existing parcel tax last approved in 2016.
Here is a brief rundown:
Educator recruitment and retention tax (Measure E)
It is a new parcel tax to raise $10 million a year for all staff salaries.
Most of the revenue would go to compensating teachers and classified staff (positions like bus drivers and administrative assistants). A small chunk, 5%, would be used to recruit hard-to-hire teachers. As with all the measures, some funds are set aside for audits and oversight.
This 12-year tax would cost property owners 12.4 cents per square foot. That’s $186 a year for the owner of a 1,500-square foot house. The rate would change based on cost-of-living adjustments. Some groups — very low-income seniors, people on SSI or SSDI – would be exempt.
Facilities safety and maintenance tax (Measure H)
The 10-year maintenance tax is expected to rake in $7.3 million per year. The majority of the revenue (64.5%) would go toward compensating maintenance and grounds staff, and the rest would be divided among supplies, contracts and other costs. That’s about 9 cents per square foot, or $135 each year for a 1,500-square-foot property.
Savvy voters might notice that the last maintenance tax, Measure H — passed in 2010 but first levied in 2013 — is still very much in effect. What the district is proposing is an early “sunset” of Measure H, with the new higher tax usurping it. The current maintenance tax rate is 7 cents per square foot. Staffers said they proposed this approach because costs, including retirement contributions, have risen, and because of new tax rules prohibiting higher rates for commercial properties.
Facilities bond (Measure G)
Berkeley Unified has plans to spend around $422 million on its facilities in the next decade for a variety of projects from seismic retrofits to solar paneling. It is asking voters to approve a 380 million facilities bond. That works out to $45.21 per $100,000 of the assessed value of a property.
The district has engaged in an extensive facilities master planning process in anticipation of this bond measure, drawing up a long list of projects the money could go toward. There’s the full seismic retrofit of Berkeley High’s Little Theater. There’s the replacement of the high school’s tennis-courts-turned-parking-lot with a multi-level tennis-courts-and-parking-lot. There’s the construction of a new center for career technical education, a program in which the state and district have already invested heavily. And there are numerous other improvement and construction projects, addressing classroom space, libraries, labs and more. Measure G needs 55% of the vote to pass.
Natalie Orenstein contributed reporting to this article. The story was updated after publication.