Election 2012 Endorsements: City ballot measures

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Click on the links below to jump to a measure.

Measure M | Measure N and Measure O | Measure P | Measure Q |
Measure R | Measure S | Measure T | Measure U | Measure V |

Yes on Measure M

The city’s streets are in dire need of repair. Deteriorating pavement, riddled with potholes and other forms of disrepair, plagues Berkeley’s infrastructure. The city cannot afford the full cost of maintenance, so it’s up to voters to fund repairs.

Measure M will give the city the resources it needs to make necessary improvements to streets. If voters approve the measure, the city will be able to issue general obligation bonds of up to $30 million to improve streets and provide new green infrastructure. Fully functional streets are a fundamental need for any city, and Berkeley is behind on maintaining that basic element of local life.

If residents do not fund repairs to city streets now, they will continue to fall into disrepair, making the cost for fixing them even greater in the future. Prevent the street situation from worsening even further. Vote yes on Measure M.

Yes on Measure N and Measure O

Berkeley has reduced the number of public pools it operates from four to just two. Willard Pool closed in 2010 due to insufficient funds, and the Warm Water Pool at Berkeley High School shut down last December in preparation for the building’s demolition. The elimination of these facilities has left many Berkeley residents without sufficient access to an invaluable public amenity — a problem that Measures N and O can fix.

Measure N will fund construction to replace the closed pools by issuing bonds of up to $19.4 million, which are also intended to finance repairs and renovations at the city’s other pools. Measure O will levy a $0.00779 per square foot tax on land improvements to fund the upkeep of the new pools approved by Measure N. Since the closure of Willard Pool, community members have made it clear that pools are an important priority, and they deserve this service.

Pools are not a luxury — they are an irreplaceable community asset. Aside from recreational purposes, they provide a space for children and adults to learn the skill of swimming, which can save lives. Elderly residents and children with special needs can also benefit tremendously from a warm pool.

Restore Berkeley’s pools to their proper state. Vote yes on Measure N and Measure O.

Yes on Measure P

Some version of Measure P comes before voters every four years because of a state-imposed ceiling on city expenditures. The measure does not constitute a tax increase; voters simply need to reauthorize tax expenditures for basic city services that have already been approved. Voting yes on the measure will give city departments room to continue providing for the needs of Berkeley’s growing population. If it does not pass, steep cuts will be made to services like landscaping, paramedic and physically disabled services and fire safety.

Vote yes on Measure P.

Yes on Measure Q

Measure Q is purely technical. It updates Berkeley’s existing utility users tax, which has been levied on telephone users since 1984 and funds city services including police and fire protection, infrastructure and public health services. But since the tax’s creation, the definition of “telephone services” has changed with the advent of cellphones and other changes in communication technology. Additionally, supporters say the measure will make low-income taxpayers in Berkeley eligible for a federal exemption.

This initiative should be a no-brainer. Vote yes on Measure Q.

Yes on Measure R

A student has not sat on Berkeley City Council for 20 years. Yet UC Berkeley students make up around a quarter of the population in Berkeley, so having a student council member would undoubtedly be in the city’s best interest. Measure R can make that happen.

If passed, Measure R will allow the council to approve the creation of a student supermajority council district, which is not allowed under existing regulations. Currently, the city charter dictates that redistricting must adhere closely to the way the original district lines were drawn in 1986. This measure deletes that requirement so the council is free to redraw district lines in a way that encompasses most of the area where students live near campus.

Opponents argue that the measure leaves too much up to the council’s discretion. True, the council will determine the final lines after receiving proposals from the community, but if voters approve Measure R, their intentions will be clear. Voters will signal to the council that they want districts that protect communities of interest, including students. Measure R was put on the ballot precisely to allow a student district to be created, so there will be an unspoken mandate that those intentions are followed through.

A student supermajority district will elect a council member who, as a student, experiences the issues faced by the UC Berkeley community and will take steps to solve them. This ballot initiative is the only way for that kind of representation to occur. Vote yes on Measure R.

No on Measure S

Homelessness is ubiquitous in some parts of Berkeley. For UC Berkeley students, the scene is especially familiar on Telegraph Avenue, where panhandlers oftentimes aggressively seek spare change and other transients loiter near storefronts. Measure S supporters claim the measure will make commercial districts more welcoming and help get homeless people off the streets. But Measure S is not the right way to solve this problem.

The homeless people in Berkeley’s business areas should receive help, not punishment. While proponents of Measure S, which would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., claim it will get homeless people to the services they need, the measure will more likely push them even further into the margins of society.

What the city needs is improved homeless services. Measure S could arguably allow for that to happen since its delayed implementation would encourage the city to find ways of bolstering its programs. But the cost of getting there — trampling on the right of free people to sit down and ostracizing a minority community — is too high.

Instead, the local community should continue the conversation started by Measure S to investigate how we can meet the needs of homeless people. The failure of Measure S would not be a victory for anyone; homelessness will still afflict city streets. Rather, if the measure does not pass, residents should use it as an opportunity to find a better solution. City officials need to determine more clearly what the characteristics of our homeless community are and what resources are needed to get them off the streets in a more responsible way.

Stand up for human rights and constructive solutions to homelessness. Vote no on Measure S.

No on Measure T

The process of putting Measure T before voters seems backward. Part of the measure — which would alter development regulations in West Berkeley and increase the maximum building height there from 45 feet to 75 feet — stipulates that new projects allowed under its provisions must include community benefits. But the City Council has yet to vote on a package that will solidify what those benefits must be. All the details should have been worked out before the measure was voted on.

Once the city allows for such dramatic changes to the character of West Berkeley, it will initiate a largely irreversible process. Measure T will bring permanent alterations to the area, which makes it critical that the process is executed appropriately. City officials have labored over an updated plan for West Berkeley for many years — to leave such a huge part of Measure T open-ended is unacceptable at this point. This is not to say that development in that part of town is a bad idea; supporters of Measure T accurately point out that new development rules will facilitate more economic activity. But the community needs to know what it will get in return.

Berkeley officials need to put this up for a vote in a future election when nothing is left up in the air. Vote no on Measure T.

No on Measure U

Does Berkeley really need more bureaucracy? Under the guise of increased transparency, Measure U — the so-called “sunshine ordinance” — would add a new layer of red tape around City Hall.  If approved by voters, the measure will enact new requirements for posting meeting agendas and handling public records that will apply to all elected officials and city commissions.

The measure’s goal is noble, but its approach is flawed. It will cost an estimated $1 million to $2 million annually. And aside from new cumbersome requirements, the measure would create another city commission that would have the ability to take action against the city if it does not comply with the measure. Unelected leaders should not have that much power.

Furthermore, the city passed an Open Government Ordinance last year that accomplishes a similar goal in a less bureaucratic manner. Berkeley has already taken care of this. Vote no on Measure U.

No on Measure V

Measure V is a risky bet. Its fundamental purpose is to mandate that the city prepare biennial reports of its unfunded liabilities, but its vague terms leave too much open for dispute. If the city were doing nothing to take action in this field, the measure might make sense, but Berkeley City Council approved an ordinance earlier this year that requires similar reports. Proponents of the measure are understandably concerned about Berkeley’s fiscal standing; however, this measure is more likely to tangle bureaucracy even further instead of actually solving the predicament. Vote no on Measure V.