Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s proposed budget for the fiscal years 2018-19 prioritizes funding for homelessness, affordable housing and a number of other city initiatives, according to an office press release issued Tuesday.
Arreguín said the main goal of his budget was to address community concerns that “the people of Berkeley strongly care about.”
Arreguín added another intention of his was to distribute geographic equity by ensuring “every council member gets at least one request funded” in his proposed budget.
“I tried to make sure that we are responding to the voters … as well that we are advancing goals of equity, economy and sustainability,” Arreguín said. “The feedback from my colleagues has been very positive.”
City Councilmember Kate Harrison stated she was “really pleased” with the mayor’s proposal, adding the budget included “a good reflection of the collective council’s priorities.”
City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said Arreguín did “a spectacular job” putting together his budget proposal, adding that he believed Arreguín’s budget was “the most comprehensive proposal since Loni Hancock,” Berkeley’s mayor from 1986-94.
“It’s 10 pages that seriously address many of the biggest issues the public is talking about — he’s putting millions of dollars into affordable housing, homelessness, infrastructure technological improvements.” Worthington said. “I think it’s comprehensive and specific. It’s an impressive document.”
Arreguín’s proposed budget awaits approval from the City Council at its upcoming June 27 regular meeting.
“It’s a great approximation of the Council’s wishes. It really hits home to the aspirations of the community – through public safety, service, addressing homeless and increasing opportunity,” City Councilmember Ben Bartlett said in an email.
Homelessness and affordable housing
The press release states Arreguín’s main priorities as mayor were to address local homelessness and the housing “affordability crisis.” In this vein, Arreguín’s budget proposal requests $100,000 to create a new “Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool,” a fund to “provide rapid re-housing resources” for the local homeless population.
Harrison said the $100,000 will aid in “filling the small gaps” of city services, adding that the fund will help the city balance the necessity of addressing chronic homelessness with providing immediate, temporary help to displaced individuals.
Arreguín’s budget also calls for $1,070,000 in appropriations to fund anti-displacement initiatives to “stem the tide of homelessness,” noting an increase in local evictions due to escalating housing prices.
Arreguín said about half of that allocation will fund services — such as housing retention programs and emergency rental assistance — to further “stem the tide of homelessness.”
“It’s the biggest investment we’ve ever made in this area — it’s a recognition of the unique crisis we are in as well,” Arreguín said. “This will go a long way to keep people housed.”
Rent Stabilization Board Executive Director Jay Kelekian said in an email he was “personally pleased that the Mayor proposed and the Council is considering these long needed protections,” adding that the Rent Stabilization Board has “long advocated that money for anti-displacement efforts be allocated and increased.”
Igor Tregub, chair of the city’s Housing Advisory Commission, said the commission broadly supports the the Mayor’s anti-displacement funding proposal, referencing an earlier, unanimous vote by the HAC to “express conceptual support to the City Council for funding anti-displacement programs up to $1.07 million.”
Tregub said the allocation was “still a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous need in the city to ensure hundreds of people sleeping in streets or vehicles can find homes,” but added that the mayor deserves credit for producing an overall “very progressive budget.”
“This is probably the most that can be done given the city’s other needs and limited resources,” Tregub said. “I see this as a start to a continued war on homelessness.”
Arreguín’s proposed budget invests in city street infrastructure in an effort to promote “traffic calming” projects at major street intersections. Arreguín also requested funding to improve street lighting and pedestrian traffic, with a particular focus around the city’s campus area. He called this investment a necessary “major public safety initiative.”
Arreguín’s requested budget also continues progress on the city’s Digital Strategic Plan to upgrade “city-owned fiber-optic infrastructure” — with an eventual goal of providing public, city-wide, high-speed Wi-Fi.
Worthington said the inclusion of the digital strategic plan in the mayor’s budget proposal was “exciting,” adding the mayor’s intention of using public and private partnerships to implement the Wi-Fi plan would help reduce costs for the city.
“We have some of the greatest geniuses here at Berkeley, and yet we don’t have high speed internet throughout the city,” Worthington said. “This is going to dramatically improve the quality of life for everybody.”
The city and the campus
Arreguín’s budget proposal also makes requests $5,000 of additional funding for the campus’s Berkeley Project, a program which “engages UC Berkeley students in community service opportunities” across the city.
Worthington said the Berkeley Project brings hundreds of student volunteers to help the city in a number of ways.
“Even though (the allocation) is a small amount, (the Berkeley Project) already (does) so many thousands of hours volunteering with a such a small budget,” Worthington said. “That extra $5,000 will generate most cost effective results than any other $5,000 in the budget.”
Arreguín said his office has already initiated conversations with incoming Chancellor Carol Christ and campus administration regarding the campus’s next Long Range Development Plan, adding both the city and campus have a shared priority in addressing the “student housing crisis.”
The campus declined to comment on Arreguín’s budget announcement and City Council’s upcoming vote on the city’s fiscal years 2018-19 budget, but did address the city and campus’s partnership.
“We greatly value our partnership with the City of Berkeley, and are grateful for the Mayor’s investments of time and resources when it comes to issues, programs, and initiatives that benefit our students and support the University’s public service mission,” said Ruben Lizardo, the campus director of local government and community relations, in an email.
Other requests in Arreguín’s proposal include additional funding to support the Berkeley Civic Arts Program, full funding for Berkeley police officer body cameras and $50,000 to fund legal defenses for undocumented community members.