Berkeley votes to give its mayor and City Council members significant pay raises

Berkeley residents were in a generous mood on Election Day, voting to give 75% pay raises to Mayor Jesse ArreguĂ­n and the City Council.

While not all the ballots have been counted, Measure JJ, a City Charter amendment, was leading with 64.5% of the vote, a hard lead to overturn.

The City Council raise ballot measure will boost the mayor’s salary from $67,599 to $107,300. Council members will see their pay go from $38,695 to $67,599 a year. The raises will go into effect as soon as the city files its charter changes with the state, which will probably happen in January, according to City Clerk Mark Numainville.

The current salary amounts were set in December 1998 and have been increased as the cost of living for the San Francisco Bay Area has gone up. The new amount sets the mayor’s salary at the same rate as the median income for a three-person household in Alameda County. The salaries for council members’ salaries will be set at 63% of the mayor’s salary,

Proponents said the raises will allow more people to run for public office.

“It will certainly make my life easier,” said Mayor Jesse ArrreguĂ­n. “I won’t have to scrimp and save to live in this community.”

ArreguĂ­n has said that Berkeley has always had a part-time mayor and council, in theory, and this vote should change that. However, it is not written in the charter that the positions are part-time.

“We should have a full-time council,” he said. “We should remove those barriers (of income) so more people can serve. You shouldn’t have to be independently wealthy or retired to serve on the city council.”

The current compensation system pays the mayor and council members for each meeting they attend. If they miss a meeting, they don’t get paid unless they have been formally excused.

The current compensation plan does not recognize that the mayor and council members oversee a $450 million budget and “develop policy with colleagues through policy committees, represent the community at regular and special City Council meetings and serve constituents,” according to the ballot argument in favor of the City Council raise ballot measure. It was authored by former Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, Khin Chin, the president of SEIU Local 1021 Community Services Chapter, and Daniel Newman, who authored Berkeley’s public campaign finance law, among others.

Opponents said that a pandemic is not the time to raise politicians’ salaries by 75%.

“Raises should reflect performance,” reads the ballot argument against Measure JJ, which was signed by Ted Edlin, the former chair of the Housing Advisory Commission and Eric Friedman, a 20-year resident, among others. “Are your streets better paved, cleaner and safer? Are your parks, marina and waterfront more vibrant? Are local businesses thriving? No, they are not.”

The next update from the Alameda County registrar of voters office is scheduled to come Thursday at 5 p.m.