There will be eight Berkeley measures on the Nov. 3 ballot, ranging from increasing pay for the mayor and city council members, establishing a new, independent police board, rescinding residency requirements for firefighters, placing a 50-cent surcharge on Uber and Lyft rides originating in Berkeley and raising other taxes to create a climate action fund and to increase funding for firefighting, emergency medical response, 911 communications services and wildfire prevention.
The City Council voted to put the last of measures on the ballot last week after two back-to-back meetings before its summer recess. The last day to add measures to the ballot is Friday.
Here’s what Berkeley voters will see on their ballots:
Increased pay for mayor and city council members
Currently, by convention, city council members and the mayor are considered part-time workers, even though many of them work more than that. Their salaries, set in 1998, reflect that. Currently, the mayor is paid $61,304 a year and council members are paid $38,695. The proposal to make the change pointed out that the mayor’s salary approximates that “of a very low income households of three persons.” Council salaries approximate those of “extremely low-income households.”
The ballot measure states, “Shall compensation for the offices of Mayor be set at Alameda County’s median three-person household income from the California Department of Housing and Community Development and that of Councilmembers maintained at 63% of the Mayor’s compensation?”
If adopted, the mayor would be paid $107,300 and council members would be paid $67,599. Their salaries would be adjusted based on changes in area media income.
Establish independent police accountability board and director of police accountability
Berkeley voters established the Police Review Commission in 1973 to “participate in setting Police Department policies, practices, and procedures and to provide a means for the investigation of complaints against sworn employees of the Police Department,” according to a staff report. Commissioners over the years have complained about the commission’s limited powers to investigate incidents regarding the conduct of officers, among other concerns.
The ballot measure would replace the PRC with a new independent board that has defined roles in hiring any new police chief, and to provide oversight of the department’s policies, procedures and practices. The new board would be able to do deeper investigations of officers, according to a city staff report.
The proposed ballot measure would also redefine the standard of proof needed in deciding whether an officer can be charged with misconduct. Currently, “clear and convincing” evidence is needed. If changed, the less stringent “preponderance of the evidence” standard will be applied.
The new director of police accountability and the new police board will also be able to recommend whether or not an officer should be disciplined. The proposed charter amendment will allow the board access to police personnel records and will allow it to “issue subpoenas to compel the production of records and testimony,” according to a staff report.
The current nine-member board has three staff members assigned to it and has an annual budget of $778,000. The costs for the changes proposed in the ballot measure would add $300,000 to $500,000 annually to that, according to a city staff report.
Require partially exempt rental units to register with the Rent Board; limit rent control exemptions to certain ADUs
This proposed measure would bring the ordinance in compliance with new laws, extend rent control to certain ADUs and require houses and units that are rented out but not subject to rent control to register and to pay fees.
The changes would prohibit the eviction of tenants for not paying their rent during state or local emergencies, such as the current one in effect because of the coronavirus. Berkeley has already passed this law so the changes would update the rent control ordinance. Two years ago, Berkeley voters decided to exempt permitted accessary dwelling units, ADUs, from rent control. The state of California passed a law, however, that says whenever an ADU is built on a property with multiple units, like an apartment complex, all the units on that property would no longer be covered by rent control. This proposed change to the ordinance would limit that exemption to “owner-occupied properties with a single-family home and one accessory unit.’
Currently, apartments in the new complexes that have sprung up in Berkeley in recent years are not subject to rent control. Tenants living there are covered by just-cause eviction laws. The proposed changes in the ordinance would require owners to register those properties and pay an annual fee to the Rent Board. This would allow the rent board to develop a better inventory of rental properties in Berkeley. People renting out single family homes would also have to register. Exceptions would be made for people going on sabbatical or an extended vacation for a year.
Establish a transportation surcharge lasting 20 years for rides originating in Berkeley
This ballot measure would tax people hailing rides from services like Uber or Lyft an extra 50 cents. People taking pooled trips would pay 26 cents a ride. The new tax would generate $910,000 a year which would be used for general municipal services.
Increase utility users’ tax on gas and electricity consumption
This measure would increase the tax on gas and electricity consumption from 7.5% to 10%, for all but low-income customers. That could generate $2.4 million a year that could be used to help low-income residents reduce their production of greenhouse gases. “Programs may include building electrification, weatherization, low-carbon shuttles, and other low-carbon transportation and mobility subsidies,” according to a city staff report. The money would go into a Climate Equity Action Fund. The Energy Commission would be renamed the Climate Action and Energy Commission and would make recommendations to the City Council on how to spend the money.
Increase property taxes to pay for firefighting, emergency medical response, wildfire prevention
This measure would increase property taxes at the rate of $0.1047 per square foot of improvement, or about $199 a year for a 1,900-square-foot home, according to a staff report.
The tax would generate about $8.5 million a year and the money would help pay for firefighting services, emergency medical response, 911 service, hazard mitigation and wildfire prevention and preparedness. This tax would continue until voters repeal it. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
The cost of providing emergency services has gone up, according to the staff report. Calls to the fire department have increased 130% since 1995. The paramedic tax is not covering the cost of ambulance services, so the deficit is taken from the general fund. Alameda County is no longer paying the cost of transporting 5150 patients (those who pose a threat to themselves or others) to a psychiatric facility. Berkeley’s 911 communications center is in dire need of investment. For these and other reasons more funding is needed, according to the staff report.
Authorize Berkeley to continue spending funds collected from various taxes
Voters in Berkeley have approved various taxes over the years, including taxes for park maintenance, street lighting and storm drainage service, library services, emergency medical services, fire protection and emergency response services, emergency services for severely physically disabled persons, the business license tax, the utility users tax, the sugar-sweetened beverage products tax, parking and transient occupancy taxes, and the real property transfer tax.
A state law, known as the “Gann Appropriations Limit” only allows cities to spend the amount it spent in the previous year, adjusted for changes in population and the cost of living unless voters deem otherwise. In 2016, Berkeley voters approved the expenditure of these tax proceeds through June 30. This measure asks voters for another four-year extension. “Unless the voters do so, half of any amount collected in excess of the appropriation limit must be refunded to the taxpayers within the next two years,” according to a staff report.
A four-part measure to rescind residency requirements for firefighters, take out gendered language from the city charter and replace it with gender-neutral language; change requirements for those on the redistricting commission so they comply with state law, and add position and duties of the city attorney to the charter
Currently, sworn firefighters must live within a 40-mile radius of Berkeley; this ballot measure would rescind that requirement. It would remove 77 instances of gendered language (he, she, workman, chairman, etc.) and replace it with gender-neutral terms. This ballot measure would remove the requirement that applicants to the redistricting commission had to have voted in the last two general municipal elections. California law now prohibits this. The City Charter makes no specific reference to the role of the city attorney. This measure would delineate the role and responsibilities of that office in the charter.
Update Aug. 6: This article has been corrected to remove the statements that the city charter defines the mayoral and city council positions as part-time and a revised charter would state the positons are full-time. The charter does not speak to the issue although it has become a given in Berkeley that those officeholders are working part-time. We are trying to track down if that is written anywhere.