Council voted to put a pools measure on the ballot. Willard Pool, which was filled with dirt in 2011, is top of mind. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Council voted to put a pools measure on the ballot. Willard Pool, which was filled with dirt in 2011, is top of mind. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A comparatively quiet City Council meeting sprang into life late last night as councilmembers discussed whether to prioritize street repair over watershed improvements in a November ballot bond measure. The council also approved unanimously to put a $19.4 million pools bond measure on the ballot, along with a parcel tax to pay for pools’ operational costs.

Public comment focused exclusively on the long-running campaign to restore the Willard Pool and the city’s warm pool. Although pools supporters were cheered by the unanimous support for the measure, many expressed concern about the need for a second tax measure. The measures are linked — both need to pass for either to be brought into effect.

“Just getting a bond measure is not enough. We need a bond measure that can pass,” said pools supporter Donna Mickleson. She described the “poison pill” of the linked measures as “disastrous.”

While the pools measure sailed through the council, a proposed $30 million bond for watershed and streets proved contentious. Mayor Tom Bates proposed an amendment raising the bond to $50 million so that more street improvements could be included, but that failed to attract support. Councilmembers were divided about the total amount of bonds that should be included on the ballot, the politics of the measure, and the importance of watershed improvements.

Councilmembers with constituents in the flats were generally supportive of the plan to integrate watershed improvements with some street projects. But Susan Wengraf, whose district is in the hills, questioned the allocation of funds, and Bates said stressing watershed over streets was wrong. Kriss Worthington cautioned that adding money for streets on top of the $30 million was “fiscally irresponsible.”

“You can’t be greedy and go for the big dollar amounts,” he said. “We’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to be reasonable. To go forward with two Lexus-quality bond measures doesn’t make sense.”

“The streets are so bad, I don’t see how we can ignore that problem,” Mayor Bates said at last night’s Council meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor
“The streets are so bad, I don’t see how we can ignore that problem,” Mayor Bates said at last night’s Council meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Linda Maio, who had moved the $30 million bond, said councilmembers should remember that Alameda County’s Measure B — for street improvements — was going to be on the ballot. She questioned whether voters would support two different revenue measures for streets.

“Keeping [the bond measures] as limited as we can is the most effective,” Worthington said.

“Not in my book,” shot back Bates.

“If this is going to work, I think we need a unanimous council,” said Gordon Wozniak, joining the meeting by phone from New York, where his daughter was married yesterday. “I’m concerned about telling the voters we’re going to make things a little bit better. It would be really nice if we could say we’re putting enough on the bond that we’re really making the streets better.”

“The streets are so bad, I don’t see how we can ignore that problem,” Bates said. “It’s absolutely pathetic to go back to the voters and say we didn’t bother to fix it. If you guys want to do it without me, that’s fine.”

Councilmembers agreed to hold any decision on watershed and street measures to the July 10 council meeting. City staff have been instructed to bring back the $30 million watershed and streets bond and a proposal for a new, streets-only bond.

Bates pointed out that there are likely to be 10 city measures on the ballot, and he didn’t think an 11th for streets would make a difference for voters. “People will pick and choose,” he said. “Nobody is a sage and can say if you do two they’ll both go down.”

The 10 measures on the ballot will be the two pools measures, the likely watershed bond, the West Berkeley plan, redistricting, the sunshine ordinance, a utility users tax, a GANN override (which renews already approved spending), the FACTS initiative on unfunded liabilities, and the sit-lie ordinance. A streets measure would bring the total to 11.

Other City business

An armored vehicle of the type being considered by three police departments, including Berkeley

The City Council unanimously approved Kriss Worthington’s request for information about the proposed city purchase of an armored vehicle for Berkeley Police Department, together with the UC Police Department and the Albany Police Department.

“With the wars winding down, this is a new way to keep the weapons producers rich and fat and happy,” Maio said. “I’m really sorry we got involved in this. It’s a big misstep. It’s inconsistent with our culture and our values.”

“I know that having weapons means potentially using weapons,” said Max Anderson. “Certainly we want police officers to be protected when they carry out their duties, but a weapon like this is designed to overwhelm civilian populations.”

Jesse Arreguín said the problem was a lack of information to both the council and the public about the purchase, which is partly funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). He suggested that the council develop a policy for use of the vehicle.

Consolidation of commissions was also considered by the council last night. Discussion of all of the proposed consolidations were deferred until December, but the idea of combining waterfront, parks & rec and early childhood development into two commissions was taken up and passed. The proposal now goes back to city staff to draw up the details, which will be debated by the council later this year for possible implementation no earlier than late 2013.

Funds of $64,733 were found to be available in the budget for one-time grants to local organizations. Mayor Bates proposed $29,484 to Berkeley Youth Alternatives, $9,828 to Japanese American Services of the East Bay, $4,990 to Bay Area Community Land Trust and $20,431 to Life Long Medical Acupuncture Clinic.

“To package them together in one page is quite an effort,” Worthington said. “Thank you very much for pulling it all together in a short, sweet, intelligent proposal.”

A proposal from the Fair Campaign Practices Commission to require disclosure of loans and contributions on campaign communications for ballot measures passed the council, but arguments by Worthington and Arreguín to make the measure effective for the November, 2012 election failed.

Approval of the fiscal year 2013 biennial budget update passed without comment. The proposed City expenditure budget for all funds in FY 2013 is $364,920,134 (gross appropriations) and $313,563,163 (net appropriations). The General Fund total is $149,377,267. A $1.8 million projected deficit in the General Fund is being covered by having the Workers Compensation Fund cover a $1.6 million loan to the Refuse Fund rather than the General Fund, and a one-time use from the General Fund Reserve for the balance.

The council also decided to stay in Old City Hall — formally the Maudelle Shirek Building — for its meetings when the Berkeley Unified School District moves to West Campus. Up to $350,000 in capital improvements will be needed, although there will not be a complete seismic upgrade of the building as some have recommended.

Finally, a proposed street name change from Harold Way to Dharma Way was sent back by the council to the Public Works Commission. Berkeley Historical Society’s Steve Finacom described the staff report recommending the name change “an amazing piece of non-reasoning.”

City, citizens debate substandard streets, a closed pool [05.31.12]
Comment: Save our pools, invest in people, close the opportunity gap [05.29.12]
Community rallies to get pool measure on November ballot [04.30.12]
More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront [09.29.11]
Willard swimming pool now filled with mud [01.05.11]
Comment: Voting on Measure C shows a city split [07.01.10]
Swimmers lament today’s closing of Willard Pool [06.30.10]
Pools majority falls short: closures expected [06.09.10]

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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...