The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night on how to spend $5 million in extra revenue that came into the city’s General Fund coffers this year.
See the full #berkmtg thread for meeting highlights
The priority spending list, put forward by Mayor Jesse Arreguín in consultation with his colleagues and city staff, focused on public safety and infrastructure projects around Berkeley. The largest single allocation on the list? A proposal from council members Terry Taplin and Rashi Kesarwani, projected to cost $1.2 million, to install new security cameras in four council districts that have struggled with violent crime this year.
“Imagine what it’s like to wake up and not know whether today could be the day that you, your child, your loved one is struck or killed by a bullet,” Taplin said shortly before the vote. “I want us all to imagine what it’s like for your home, your neighborhood, to be at the center of shootings that have increased for three years.”
It was the final council meeting of 2021.
Other big-ticket public safety items on the mayor’s list included $200,000 to launch a new Berkeley Ceasefire program and $100,000 to continue to study the BerkDOT proposal to remove armed police from traffic stops, pending changes in state law.
As per Tuesday night’s vote, security cameras will be installed in Districts 1 and 2 (northwest and West Berkeley), District 3 (South Berkeley) and District 8 (the Elmwood). Other than South Berkeley, where cameras would be installed at 62nd and King streets in response to community demand, locations will be determined at a later date in collaboration with BPD.
Before the new cameras can be activated, however, city staff will need to craft a policy outlining how they can be used. The policy will address privacy concerns, data retention and the types of crimes they can be used to investigate, officials have said. Arreguín asked staff when that work might be done.
“We are going to bring it very quickly,” said City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley. “We’ll bring it back as soon as possible.”
As for traffic safety, the vote earmarks nearly $324,000 to improve the Dwight-California intersection where drivers struck two children who were riding their bikes; $220,000 for traffic calming at George Florence Park on 10th Street; $100,000 to improve pedestrian safety in areas without sidewalks; and nearly $80,000 to hire four new school crossing guards, in addition to smaller projects.
In the realm of social services, the list sets aside $100,000 each for a homeless outreach coordinator in South Berkeley, a food program to feed low-income seniors at Strawberry Creek Lodge, and a program to help Habitot Children’s Museum; more than $80,000 for a public restroom near People’s Park; and more than $50,000 to continue developing an African American Holistic Resource Center in Berkeley.
The vote also funds about $600,000 in stepped-up cybersecurity related to telecommuting; $250,000 for the city attorney’s office in anticipation of expected litigation costs; nearly $270,000 for a deputy finance director position; and nearly $70,000 for the license needed to run Berkeley meetings on the Zoom platform.
There’s also $500,000 for West Campus pool improvements the city says are needed to avoid “indefinite closure” and allow summer programs to proceed.
All of these projects are in addition to the overall city budget council already approved in June.
In May 2022, officials will again review Berkeley’s “excess equity” — the revenue that comes into the General Fund above the projected amount, once expenses and other needs are taken into account — to see what other projects it can fund.
At the top of that list, the mayor promised, is some portion of a $1.5 million proposal from council members Kate Harrison and Ben Bartlett to forge ahead on the city’s building electrification plans, which council approved in 2019.
Multiple council members thanked Arreguín for his work putting together an equitable budget package with a focus on key priorities.
“I’ve been quiet tonight because I’m extraordinarily happy about the budget,” Bartlett said shortly before the unanimous vote. “All the energy came together to really deliver for my constituents.”
Councilmember Susan Wengraf called the mayor’s list “a really smart and balanced and fair budget,” adding: “It certainly addresses my concerns about public safety citywide.”
Several council members — Wengraf, Kesarwani and Sophie Hahn — brought up the city’s financial reserves, which are still out nearly $10 million due to pandemic-related loans used to cover municipal operations and avoid layoffs.
In response to questions from Hahn, staff said reserves now make up almost 14% of the General Fund. Prior to COVID-19, they made up 20%. And officials have pledged to build up city reserves to 30% of the General Fund over the next decade.
“We need to put that money back in so that, if we’re in this position again, it will be there for us to use,” Wengraf said.
During public comment, a number of speakers said security cameras are not effective and won’t make Berkeley safer, and that there will be disparate impacts on minority communities if the city proceeds.
Read more about shootings in Berkeley in 2021
But other residents pleaded with officials to approve the cameras, which they said worked to curb crime at San Pablo Park following a brazen shooting there in 2019.
Still other speakers told officials more money should be spent to address climate goals including building electrification, as well as infrastructure to improve the safety of Berkeley’s streets.
The city has had no homicides this year, but eight people have died in traffic collisions and others have sustained serious injuries in crashes. Four others died on the freeway and in solo cyclist collisions. The city is working to end traffic fatalities and severe injury crashes by 2028 through a program called Vision Zero.
Featured photo: Police investigate a shooting on Prince Street, Oct. 27, 2021. Credit: Citizen reporter