Berkeley City Council to place parks tax increase on November ballot

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Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to put a measure on the November ballot to increase the existing parks tax, rather than a broader ballot measure that sought to renovate Berkeley public spaces.

The tax would put more money toward maintaining Berkeley’s community parks, pools and buildings, such as the Berkeley Rose Garden, playgrounds and sports fields, at an added tax of about $40 for average-sized homes, for a total of $1.7 million annually.

Previously, the council had considered a larger $25 million bond ballot measure that would have made major repairs and reopened Willard Pool and part of the Rose Garden, among other Berkeley landmarks. It would also have implemented a $2 million operations tax, putting an extra tax burden of about $58 annually on owners of average-sized homes.

“I am still a fan of (the bond measure) but I had to put my prudent hat on and vote for the most conservative approach,” said Councilmember Linda Maio.

For the last few decades, the city of Berkeley has underfunded the maintenance and operation of the park system, resulting in more than $12 million’s worth of unfunded maintenance, repairs and seismic retrofits, according to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak.

Wozniak said that the parks department budget is running an annual deficit of about $500,000 and that park facilities will inevitably close without a substantial increase in funding.

“I believe that it is important to first repair and make safe existing park facilities before seeking funding for new capital projects,” Wozniak, who voted in favor of the $1.7 million tax instead of the $20 million bond measure, said.

The smaller parks tax measure received the required two-thirds majority vote, with Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington voting against it.

Worthington said the council voted on a new tax measure that had not been previously introduced and should have solicited more public feedback. He called the increased parks tax a “sort of status quo that doesn’t repair the things that need to be repaired.”

George Beier, a proponent of the bond measure and current candidate for City Council’s District 8 seat, believes that the $20 million bond measure would actually be more likely to pass in November than the maintenance tax, even though it would raise taxes for Berkeley voters.

“You have to put something in every measure that looks appealing to the general public,” he said. “Willard Pool, the Rose Garden and Aquatic Park are marquee items that appeal to people and get them to vote.”

Worthington agreed that it would be easier to get the public to vote and volunteer for the measure if it had a “specific vision.”

“It’s penny wise and pound foolish,” he said. “If we don’t do the real repairs, it looks like we’re saving money, but we’re actually making it more expensive in the long term.”

Contact Madeleine Pauker at [email protected].