Street repair is one of the major deferred maintenance costs the city faces. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A ballot initiative to force the city to do biennial reports on obligations for employee and retiree expenses and for Berkeley’s physical infrastructure and capital assets appears likely to appear on the ballot in the November election, according to supporters of the plan. At the same time, at tonight’s City Council meeting a similar measure is being proposed by four councilmembers, led by District 5’s Laurie Capitelli. The council measure, however, lacks the penalties for failing to produce the report that the initiative draft contains.

The ballot initiative is called the Berkeley Fiscal Accountability, Clarity, Transparency and Sustainability Ordinance of 2012, which shortens to FACTS. It would require biennial reports on the city’s financial obligations for the next 20 years, and would prohibit the City Council or the voters from “incurring any debt financing, or imposing any new tax, assessment or property-related fee, or increasing any existing tax, assessment or property-related fee, or scheduling an election to impose or increase and tax, assessment or property-related fee” unless the report required in the ordinance has been published and certified.

“We have enough signatures,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, coordinator of Berkeley Budget SOS, which has promoted the measure. “We’re well over the minimum number required.” Alameda County officials say that it takes 30 business days to validate signatures.

The City of Berkeley’s unfunded liabilities have been the focus of a series of City Council workshops over the last year, covering areas such as pensions, streets, storm drains, and park and recreational facilities. Both Berkeley Budget SOS and Capitelli agree that the total of unfunded liabilities and deferred maintenance is around $1 billion.

“I’ve had an ongoing frustration with information not being available in a single location and not being understandable,” Capitelli said. “I agree with most of the thrust of the [initiative]. But I’m concerned about the clause ties the hands of the council. My fear is that we might be inviting litigation.”

McCormick said the council resolution would be satisfactory “if they follow through.” She pointed out that a similar resolution passed in January, 2010, requiring a 30-year study, but nothing has resulted.

“People don’t believe that they’re going to follow through,” she said. “They want to have something with teeth in it.”

Berkeley faces difficult path to funding pension liabilities [02.16.12]
Berkeley city salaries track neighbors closely [03.16.11]
City budget faces $1.8 million mid-year shortfall [02.15.11]
Council faces tough decisions on unfunded liabilities [01.19.11]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...