After a spirited campaign, Berkeley voters rejected Measure L, the $650 million omnibus bond measure proposed by the City Council in the November election. As members of the No on L campaign, we have been clear that we believe investment in our city is important, but it must be done with planning, transparency and accountability. To solve Berkeley’s challenges, the way Berkeley is governed must change. We offer the below points so that existing and potential new funds are spent as effectively as possible to solve our very real problems.
Transparency, accountability and priority setting should be baked into any new funding measures, not added as an afterthought. The post-hoc measures added by the council on Measure L were a good start, but language that establishes transparency, accountability and priorities need to be included directly in the measure language so future City Councils can’t be changed it.
The council needs to provide meaningful funding from the general fund to fix our infrastructure. The general fund has been increasing by over 6% a year for a decade, but little of that increase has been devoted to infrastructure. Last fiscal year, the general fund received more than $79 million more than budget estimates, but only a small part went to our streets. The council needs to devote a significant portion of future general fund increases to infrastructure improvements.
The city needs to complete plans for all areas that may need infrastructure funds and then prioritize these needs before requesting new funds. Although Measure L promised action against sea level rise, the city has no plans for that. Measure FF was passed in 2020 before its plans and priorities were established, so the city was not prepared to deliver the wildfire prevention promised, and we still don’t have a full accounting of how these funds are being spent. Similarly, the city has only adopted a five-year paving plan, without any specific streets identified. A long-term street repair plan should include repair priorities and metrics to gauge progress and inform course corrections.
The streets need to be fixed, but without taking on debt that will outlive the repairs. A modest parcel tax of $0.15/square foot would generate about $14 million a year. Along with state and county gas taxes, that is nearly $21 million a year, which will enable real progress. We would like a comprehensive plan that includes a prioritized schedule for repairing each street and metrics for measuring progress. The parcel tax should be limited to 10 years, and the council could increase general fund contributions if more rapid progress is needed.
Homelessness is one of the biggest problems facing the city, yet little progress has been made. Any housing funds should prioritize providing shelter for the homeless. Measure P was intended to provide recurring funds for homelessness services, and these funds should not be used to backfill existing programs but to expand our city’s efforts to eliminate homelessness in Berkeley. To make meaningful progress on this issue, the city needs to continuously evaluate whether what we are doing is working, eliminating ineffective programs and expanding successful ones.
New funding measures should not be presented to the voters as omnibus packages. Voters deserve the opportunity to independently evaluate and prioritize the city’s needs.
We look forward to working with the City Council, the city manager and anyone else committed to solving Berkeley’s problems. The above ideas are meant as a beginning. Now the hard work to enact these important principles must begin.
The authors are Berkeley residents who serve on the steering committee for Berkeleyans for Better Planning, which sponsored the No on Measure L campaign.