Berkeley has been ambitious in trying to make our city as beautiful and livable as possible. We have 52 parks, five community centers, 38 picnic areas, three camps, two pools, a marina, and 95 facilities (aka buildings). And that’s only a partial list.

That’s wonderful for a city our size. But… we don’t have the money to maintain it all. That became clear at a March 24 workshop for the City Council where the Parks, Recreation & Waterfront and Public Works departments reviewed their five-year plans for capital improvement and maintenance.

Maintenance on buildings has been deferred so long that some are now to the stage they need major investment to bring them back.

Witness the James Kenney Park facilities. Berkeley is spending around 80% of Parks and Waterfront’s major maintenance budget just on James Kenney facilities in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. And that’s just one building. Although Measure F funds help a lot, they’re not enough.

Maintenance is done by priorities. Priorities used by Public Works range from Priority 1, defined where “conditions … require improvement within one year in order to prevent imminent failure, correct a cited safety hazard, and return a facility to operation”, to Priority 5, which is a facility already in good shape. So we should do all the Priority 1 projects soon, right? But we don’t have the funds to do them all; with the current budget, some Priority 1 projects are deferred into 2020 and longer.

This situation is not because of neglect by city staff. Indeed, they have done an exemplary job in trying to make the money go as far as possible, but it just doesn’t stretch far enough. Rather this is a systemic problem. We’re very good at building new things, but then we neglect to remember we have to have funds to maintain them. Maintenance just isn’t very “sexy.”

So what do we do? We have to live within our means, like everyone else. We need an over-arching, coherent plan for maintaining city facilities. We need priorities and the realization that maybe we can’t afford to keep it all. If we just go on like this, our beautiful public spaces will gradually decay. It’s time for a plan.

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Diz Swift is founder of, a lecturer on climate change, and a Berkeley Public Works commissioner.
Diz Swift is founder of, a lecturer on climate change, and a Berkeley Public Works commissioner.