Voter Jenny Vallecer assists son Liam in depositing her ballot at St. Ambrose Church in Westbrae, Northwest Berkeley. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
Pre-COVID-19, Jenny Vallecer assisted her son Liam in depositing her ballot at St. Ambrose Church in Westbrae, Northwest Berkeley. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

There are eight measures on the November ballot and one of them has attracted four-and-a-half times more money than the rest.

Measure FF is titled the Fire, Emergency Services and Wildfire Prevention Tax and it requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

The measure would raise property taxes at a rate of $0.1047 per square foot of improvements and is estimated to generate $8.5 million a year. The money from the special tax would go into a fund to improve firefighter and emergency response by “hiring and training personnel, and upgrading safety equipment and facilities,” according to an impartial analysis prepared by the city of Berkeley. The funds would be used to upgrade and modernize the 911 system, to improve programs that will make Berkeley better prepared to respond to earthquakes and to increase vegetation management to make Berkeley better prepared for wildfires. People who qualify as “very low-income,” would not pay the increased tax. The City Council could increase the tax rate annually, according to the impartial analysis appearing on the ballot. The city’s disaster and fire safety commission would serve as the citizens’ oversight committee that recommends to the City Councl how the funds would be used.

Opponents contend that the measure, as worded, would not necessarily spend the funds in the way they are promised.  They argue that taxpayers already funded the fire department in 2008 when residents voter for Measure GG.

Berkeley firefighters and their colleagues are behind this measure in a big way. To date, the Keep Berkeley Prepared for Emergencies Yes on FF campaign has raised $40,400, including a Friday donation of $7,000 from the (Nancy) Skinner for Senate Campaign. The Berkeley Firefighters Association Local 1277 paid $24,500 to conduct a poll, and that is considered an “in-kind” donation. The local also contributed $5,000 in cash, the Alameda Firefighters’ Association gave $2,000 and the Santa Clara Firefighters Local 1165 gave $1,000. City Council member Sophie Hahn contributed $900.

No money has yet been raised to fight the proposed measure.

The latest campaign finance reports were due on Sept. 24. Unlike City Council and mayoral campaigns, there is no cap on contributions to a ballot measure campaign.

Those who want to create a new strengthened police review commission have raised $3,600 to convince voters. Measure II, which needs a majority vote, would amend the city charter to create an independent police accountability board “to provide oversight of the Berkeley Police Department policies, practices, and procedures; obtain access to records; investigate complaints filed by members of the public against sworn employees of the Department; and recommend discipline of sworn employees of the Department, based upon a preponderance of the evidence,” according to the impartial ballot measure. The new body would have greater authority to investigate complaints made against Berkeley police officers.

The independent expenditure group Campaign for a Safe Berkeley, Yes on Measure II received a $200 donation from John Selawsky, a rent board commissioner, president of the Board of Library Trustees and a Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner (although he made the contribution as a private citizen). The Wellstone Democratic Club chipped in $250. Becky O’Malley, the publisher of the Berkeley Daily Planet, loaned the group $600, according to campaign finance records.

No one filed a ballot argument against the measure and no one has yet raised funds to fight it.

Measure HH would increase the utility users’ tax on electricity and gas from 7.5% to 10%. An exemption would be made for low-income users. It would raise about $2.4 million a year. The City Council would be given the authority to raise the tax an additional 2.5%. The money would be placed in a Climate Action Fund and any other fund the City Council decides upon, according to the city’s impartial analysis. A citizen’s group called the Climate Action and Energy Commission would make non-binding recommendations to the council on how to spend the funds. The funds would be directed “to address environmental justice, climate equity issues, and the impact of climate change on the City’s low income and most vulnerable populations,” according to the city’s analysis. Low-income residents would not have to pay the additional tax.

Opponents, who haven’t raised any money yet, argue that this is a “forever” tax that will go into Berkeley’s general fund and can be spent however the council wants, rather than what the measure specifies.

Proponents of this measure have formed Campaign for Berkeley Climate Equity Action and have raised $6,140. The biggest donor is Nicholas Josefowitz, a former BART director who now serves as the director of policy at SPUR in San Francisco. He gave $2,500. Dave Margulis, a co-founder of Quizlet who lives in Berkeley, gave $1,000 and City Councilmember Kate Harrison donated $200, among other donors.

There were no other donations to either side of the various ballot measures.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...