Office of Economic Development releases 3 publications on city’s finances

At its biannual workshop Tuesday for the review of Berkeley’s economic profile, the city’s Office of Economic Development introduced three new publications to City Council that organize and share Berkeley’s economic data with the public.

The Berkeley economic dashboard, commercial district dashboards, and Berkeley demographic and economic profile were published on the city’s website Tuesday, and will provide information on city employment, real estate, development, and sales tax trends.

The dashboards and profiles will also make information about shifts in commercial economic performance, population and business sectors available.

Michael Caplan, city economic development manager, and Jordan Klein, city economic development project coordinator, presented the publications’ information at the meeting. Caplan noted during the presentation that Berkeley is currently experiencing an “economic boom.”

The number of jobs and businesses within the city is increasing, and Berkeley’s unemployment rate has fallen below its pre-recession low-point in 2006, according to the economic dashboard. Additionally, sales tax revenues are increasing and construction has reached record levels, with a high volume of housing units in development.

“The Berkeley economy is strong and getting stronger,” Caplan said.

Councilmember Max Anderson, however, voiced concerns about the lack of available data on economic disparity among minority groups. He added that black communities typically have two or three times the unemployment rate of the general population.

“If we’re going to construct and craft policies that get at these issues, then we need to have the data in a disaggregated form so it can inform how we focus these policies,” Anderson said.

The Office of Economic Development could not include these figures because of the unreliability of available data, according to Klein. He expressed, however, that the office will look into obtaining more in-depth community surveys conducted by UC Berkeley in order to include these figures in the future.

During the meeting, Caplan also identified challenges that still exist amid the city’s economic growth, namely economic inequity and lack of affordable housing. He suggested the formation of a workforce development program, the encouragement of local hiring and the creation of internship opportunities to combat these issues.

Council members at the meeting stressed the need for more funding from the state government in order to fix the affordable housing crisis. They directed these concerns to Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), who were attending the special meeting to discuss their work at the state capitol and address community concerns.

Thurmond said he would like to create an emergency action committee in the state Legislature to efficiently address the issue of affordable housing on a state level.

“The framework and the template is there and we’d like to use this new select committee … to entertain a conversation about regional action, about housing issues and homelessness services,” Thurmond said. “We’d like the city of Berkeley to be front and center in that conversation.”

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected].