Berkeley’s homeless encampments and the neighborhoods around them are poised to see biweekly cleanups in the upcoming fiscal year under the mayor’s proposed budget, which was just released Monday.
The recommendation is part of a $2 million package put forward by Mayor Jesse Arreguín as part of an effort to cull through $10 million in council asks to determine the most pressing needs. In addition to $500,000 in homeless cleanups, the package includes $600,000 to fund a climate equity program for low-income residents; $200,000 in planning work designed to revive Berkeley’s Civic Center; $150,000 to improve traffic safety around Cragmont Elementary; and $100,000 for a new ambassador focused on Willard Park.
See the entire proposed budget book for FY22 (some things have changed since it was published)
The mayor’s proposals are just one small piece of the city’s overall $600 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year (FY22), which begins July 1. Council is scheduled to adopt the FY22 budget on Tuesday night.
Approximately two-thirds of the budget is made up of revenues related to grants, special funds, bonds and other sources, while more than one-third, the $220 million general fund, is composed of taxes collected from property transfers, utilities, business licenses, sales and soda taxes, and more. The bulk of the general fund — almost 70% of it — goes toward staffing costs, leaving about $70 million in program costs and other non-personnel needs.
On Monday morning, the mayor presented his recommendations to his colleagues on the Budget & Finance subcommittee, which agreed to hold one more Zoom meeting, on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., before the final council vote. Councilmembers Lori Droste and Kate Harrison, the other two members of the subcommittee, said they appreciated having extra time to digest the mayor’s proposal before voting on a recommendation to give the full council Tuesday night.
Download the mayor’s budget spreadsheet as an Excel file
Prior to this week, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley put forward her proposed FY22 budget, totalling about $28 million in needs, such as $2 million for the city’s pension trust fund; more than $2 million in IT costs, including stepped-up cybersecurity for telecommuters; and more than $2 million to begin rebuilding municipal budget reserves, which were partially drawn down over the past year to help Berkeley stay afloat amid COVID-19.
Williams-Ridley has also proposed adding more than $2 million to the city attorney’s office budget due to anticipated legal settlement costs and the fees for outside attorneys the city has hired to handle a number of these cases.
This year’s budget proposals also include about $15 million in Measure P spending on homeless services and programs, including $5 million for Project Homekey, a state program to help local jurisdictions buy hotels and motels; $2.4 million in estimated costs to take people to the hospital when they are in mental health crisis; $1.6 million in housing subsidies and other support to keep people from losing their homes in the first place; and $1.5 million for the Pathways Center on Second Street.
The Berkeley Police Department’s $73 million budget has been of significant concern this year following the City Council’s pledge last year to reimagine policing.
In light of those ongoing police reform efforts, council voted last year to hold vacant 23 officer positions and seven civilian positions at BPD. The city is planning to keep those positions vacant in FY22 for a savings of $6.6 million that will be used to balance the budget and pay for programs including $150,000 in anti-bias training for police officers, $40,000 in open data portal improvements, $35,000 in outreach for the new Police Accountability Board and more.
The city manager has also proposed spending $7 million in federal money on a new Specialized Care Unit that would respond instead of police to people who are in crisis. She has also suggested giving police $400,000 to hire two crime analysts and $600,000 to develop a more data-driven policing unit, on top of regular patrol operations, to tackle more focused crime problems around the city.
CopWatch and other community members have continued to speak out at budget meetings over the past month to urge the city to move faster with reform efforts by cutting the policing budget more aggressively and investing in alternatives.
Officials have said they stand by the commitments they made last year to rethink policing in Berkeley, but that they need to wait until the community recommendations are complete — which is expected to happen later this year — before deciding what sorts of broader changes might be possible.
Throughout the budget process in June, officials expressed appreciation for the nearly $70 million Berkeley is slated to receive over the next two years from the federal American Rescue Plan. The city is also expected to get about $20 million in transfer tax revenues from property sales over the past year, which officials have said will help fund more programs when they revisit the budget in November.
Watch the council worksession on Berkeley’s unfunded needs
As a result of these revenues, as well the reserves Berkeley had in place before COVID-19 hit, officials and staff have said the city is in a better place now than many other jurisdictions. But the long-term horizon is not without serious challenges: For the first time this year, staff reported that Berkeley has more than $1 billion in unfunded infrastructure needs and a “significant pension liability that is anticipated to grow due to recent financial losses experienced by CalPERS.”
In March, staff provided a 62-page overview of both of those commitments, writing that “the City’s pension contributions for all City employees are anticipated to increase more than $40 million over the next ten years putting a strain on resources and services.”