The push to raise Berkeley’s utility tax to fund a climate fund appears to be losing

With eight measures on Berkeley ballots, Measure HH is the only one that voters appear to have rejected, according to preliminary counts. It would have raised utility taxes to create a climate equity action fund.

“It’s a real missed opportunity to put some resources toward climate justice in our community,” said Martin Bourque, the executive director of the Ecology Center who was a promoter of the measure.

With about half of Berkeley’s ballots counted, Measure HH is losing by 47.50% to 52.50%.

As of today, about 79,000 ballots had been issued in Berkeley, 57,000 had been returned and about 32,000 had been counted. The vote-by-mail return rate for the entire city was 67%. The overall turnout four years ago was 78% citywide, and it was expected to be much higher in 2020.

It’s hard to know why any particular measure fails, but Bourque hypothesized that the abundance of new taxes on the ballot this year contributed to Measure HH’s rejection. The language describing Measure HH also focused on the tax rather than how it would combat climate change and support renters, low-income residents and Black, brown and indigenous communities, Bourque said.

“Most ballot measures are blunt tools,” he said, but “sooner or later, we’re going to have to find ways to fund the hard infrastructure costs of preventing climate change and protecting ourselves and those most vulnerable in our community from the impacts of climate change.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said he thought Measure HH may have lost because it had a direct impact on people’s pocketbooks, particularly now while people are at home a lot. While there was a carve-out for low-income residents, others would have seen their utility rates on gas and electricity go from 7.5% to 10%. The measure would have generated about $2.3 million a year.

“We’re in a pandemic and people are facing economic challenges,” said Arreguín.

Bourque said the measure may be back on the ballot in 2022, and until then he’ll work with the Berkeley City Council to address issues like smoke, heat and power outages that disproportionately affect marginalized and vulnerable residents.

Arreguín also said that this election and the recent fires and smoky skies show that work around climate change should be prioritized even more.