Berkeley City Council approves streets and watershed bond measure for November ballot

Julia Clark-Riddell/Staff
Berkeley City Council voted to place a streets and watershed bond measure on the November ballot.

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Following last week’s contentious meeting, Berkeley City Council voted to place a streets and watershed bond measure on the November ballot at its meeting Tuesday night.

The streets and watershed bond aims to appropriate $30 million toward improving street quality through green technologies — rain gardens, swales, bioretention cells and permeable paving — and improving watershed infrastructure such as overwhelmed storm drains and breaking pipes, with the end goal of mitigating flooding in South and West Berkeley and purifying water runoff into the bay.

The council voted 6-3 — with Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin voting no and Max Anderson abstaining — to amend the ballot language to mention the cleanup of “the creeks and bay,” after much deliberation over mentioning the specific proposal to clean up Berkeley Aquatic Park.

“Whenever you put a specific thing in (the measure), you are requiring where you can and can’t spend the money for the years to come,” said City Attorney Zach Cowan.

The council decided to use more general language on the ballot to stay eligible for potential grant opportunities from local, state and federal governments that could match or subsidize the bond’s $30 million amount.

The proposed city projects at both Berkeley Aquatic Park and Codornices Park fit the model of what state and federal governments are looking to award grant money, according to Deputy Director of Public Works Phil Harrington.

“If we’re going to go for grants, we have to be as general as possible,” said Mayor Tom Bates.

However, some council and community members expressed concern for the chance of the measure passing without informing the voters where the bond money will be spent.

Toni Mester, a member of Citizens for East Shore Parks, said she will not support the measure because it lacks specific language and focuses too much on North Berkeley over South Berkeley.

“I want to know specifically what this money is going to go for,” Mester said. “Otherwise, people are going to reject this bond because it is divisive geographically. Citizens of Berkeley really want to know what they are voting for.”

As a bond measure, the streets and watershed bond measure needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

The measure will be joining nine others on the November municipal ballot, including the controversial pools measure, the West Berkeley Project and the civil sidewalks measure.

Worthington said he believes the streets and watershed bond will be negatively affected next to the more contentious items and may not reach the necessary two-thirds majority.  “I think the atmosphere is already being poisoned with the West Berkeley Project rushed to the ballot,” Worthington said. “The council has already poisoned the voters’ mood with very controversial things.”

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, however, said the public will nonetheless vote for the streets and watershed bond because it is a problem the public can see needs to be fixed. “We have to trust the voters,” Wozniak said. “I think they’re sophisticated. We have smart voters in Berkeley.”