Berkeley City Council will discuss possible ballot measures for the November elections at a special meeting Tuesday.
Among the proposed measures are affordable housing solutions and a new process for public financing of elections. After City Council’s consideration, these issues may appear on a survey planned for March meant to gauge the Berkeley community’s interests.
Two years ago, City Council proposed a program for public financing of city elections. The program would match each individual citizen’s contribution with government funds in an attempt to increase the impact of small citizen donations.
“The problem is when there are structural imbalances and (when) one idea has a lot more money than an opposing idea,” said Larry Rosenthal, a campus professor and program director at the Center on Civility and Democratic Engagement. “The campaign would be a vote about the money.”
The original proposal would cost the city $4 per person but would not necessarily require new taxes or an increase in taxes, though the logistics of the plan are still being debated.
“Democracy costs real money to operate,” Rosenthal said. “Better democracies cost more money.”
Another pervasive issue in the Bay Area, including in Berkeley, is the lack of affordable housing. City Council hopes to address this by potentially raising extra funds for the Housing Trust Fund.
According to Igor Tregub, vice chair of the city Housing Advisory Commission, these funds would be raised through a 2 percent increase to the business license tax for property owners, bringing the overall business license tax to 3 percent.
Tregub said this would amount to a cost of $32 per unit per month for property owners, which he said is probably less than average rent increases when a new tenant moves in.
“The last time we had a survey like (the one in March), we asked the citizens of Berkeley what their highest priorities were,” Tregub said. “Housing and the concern for affordable housing won by a long shot — over 70 percent.”
For the first time in recent memory, Tregub said, a person with area-median income in the East Bay is unable to find housing in Berkeley. The additional funds to the housing trust would go to developing new housing projects and rehabilitating old ones.
Because of widespread community support for affordable housing projects, Tregub feels “quite confident” that the tax proposal has the opportunity to fare well, despite its price tag.
Other issues that may be present on the November ballot and March survey include retrofitting several care and shelter sites in need of seismic upgrades. While the centers are meant to provide resources if a major earthquake strikes, a report found none of the buildings would be able to perform their shelter capacities in the event of a natural disaster.
Contact Anderson Lanham at [email protected].