Council discussion of ballot measures focuses on city’s aging infrastructure

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington speaks at the council meeting Tuesday evening.
Faith Buchanan/Staff
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington speaks at the council meeting Tuesday evening.

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In deciding how to contend with the city’s aging infrastructure, Berkeley City Council discussed potential ballot measures Tuesday for the November 2012 election.

The purpose of the council’s discussion at its meeting Tuesday night was to begin determining what types of projects the council should consider funding through 2012 ballot measures, a process that will rely on an upcoming survey of community members.

The discussion on renovating the city’s infrastructure made strides last fall, when the council held a series of work sessions to review the current status of the city’s camp and recreation facilities, roads, watersheds, public buildings and information technology. A report from the city manager’s office presented Tuesday called the city’s infrastructure “aging” and said deferring its maintenance would plague the city with higher future repair and replacement costs.

According to the report, it would cost more than $500 million to complete the infrastructure projects outlined by the council at the fall work sessions. The community survey is meant to inform the council about which projects the community wants.

Community input at the meeting indicated that renovating the city’s pools ranked high on the list of potential improvements.

“Warm water pool loss is causing pain and suffering for disabled seniors every day,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington during the discussion.

The warm water pool at Berkeley High School closed in December, despite much resistance from its users who said it provided unparalleled benefits for the disabled and elderly community.

Other infrastructure suggestions the council discussed included seismic retrofitting of public buildings, improving city streets and renovating parks and community centers.

Despite the suggestions for improvement, the city’s lack of finances also proved to be a major concern for community members present at the council meeting.

Berkeley resident Tim Wallace, 50, a member of Berkeley Budget SOS, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting about his concern about the “huge financial hole” he said the city has dug itself into and called for further fiscal analysis.

“We need to find out (a) full picture of city’s funds before we move on,” Wallace said. “If we don’t find out, it’s the blind leading the blind.”

But several council members insisted that renovating the city’s deteriorating infrastructure is necessary even amid economic struggles.

City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said that if certain buildings are not retrofitted, the result could be a “case of demolition by neglect.”

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said that in a community that is more than 100 years old, “we have to reinvest in infrastructure or it’s going to get worse.”

The next step in the process of determining which items to put on the 2012 ballot is to conduct the community survey in March, which aims to reach 400 Berkeley voters. The cost for an initial community survey would be $24,000, which is included in the city’s General Fund budget for this fiscal year, according to the city manager’s report.

City staff, along with the opinion research firm chosen to conduct the voter surveys, Lake Research Partners, will then present the survey findings to City Council in April. Based on the results, the council will direct staff to develop specific measures for the ballot. A second survey will then be conducted in May, after which the council will make final decisions about specific ballot measures, the report said.

Staff writer Adelyn Baxter contributed to this report.

Annie Sciacca covers city government.

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