City Council approves ballot measures to improve infrastructure, facilities

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Francesca Ledsema/File

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Voters in Berkeley will receive the opportunity in November to approve a $100 million bond measure to improve infrastructure and facilities after City Council voted unanimously to put it on the ballot at its Tuesday meeting.

The measure was put forth by interim city manager Dee Williams-Ridley, and would provide funds to shore up crumbling infrastructure around the city, such as in its public parks and recreational facilities.

“The Berkeley pier — which is one of the only places on the East Shore that people can fish without a fishing license — broke,” said Jim McGrath, a member of the Parks and Waterfront Commission. “I feel very strongly that we need to fix those things.”

Much of the public comment for the ballot measure was directed toward public oversight of the funds, of which the council determined that the subcommittees of the Public Works Commission and the Parks and Waterfront Commission would issue an annual report. Council members did not specify how those commissions would produce these reports.

City Council also unanimously approved another ballot measure to increase business license taxes for landlords who currently have more than five units from 1.081 percent to 3.793 percent. Additionally, a campaign finance reform charter amendment, which would provide public funds to those running for office passed in a five to two vote, with Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Susan Wengraf abstaining.

“(The amendment) is projected to be $2 million for an election cycle at a time when we are projecting a budget deficit,” Wengraf said during the meeting, later adding that “we’re putting something out there that we have no way of funding.”

Wengraf, Councilmember Linda Maio and Mayor Tom Bates proposed an ordinance as an alternative to the charter amendment. Because they only require approval of City Council, rather than the voting population, ordinances are far easier to change and would give council members more control over the funds, as was noted by Councilmember Max Anderson at the meeting.

Anderson, along with three other council members, abstained from voting and the ordinance proposal failed.

“This is a step towards restoring some democracy in the city, and it has a price tag like everything else has a price tag,” said Anderson at the meeting. “But if we do something less than that and it doesn’t accomplish what we want to achieve, then it’s not money well spent, even if it’s on the cheap.”

In addition to the ballot measures, the council also adopted the first reading of an ordinance regulating short-term rentals — such as those popularized through AirBnB — defined as being occupied for less than 2 weeks at a time. The second reading will be on the agenda at the next regular City Council meeting June 14, and the council will also discuss the creation of a transport impact fee and potentially extending operating hours in commercial districts on June 28.

Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that if passed, Measure U1 would increase business license taxes for property owners who currently have more than five units. In fact, taxes would be increased for property owners who have five or more units.

The same article also stated that the measure would increase business license taxes from 1.081 percent to 3.793 percent. In fact, it would increase the taxes from 1.081 percent to 2.88 percent.

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