Measure F aims to raise parks tax to better fund public spaces

Amanda Hart/Staff
Measure F passed early Wednesday morning with 75% of cast ballots in its favor. Measure F will raise the special parks tax to fund staffing, maintenance and improvements for public spaces such as the Berkeley Rose Garden and children’s play areas.

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Its campaign might not have the advertising budget of Measure D, the proposed “soda tax,” but Berkeley voters will vote on another tax Tuesday — one that will decide the future of funding for the city’s parks.

If approved, Measure F will raise the special parks tax to fund staffing, maintenance and improvements for public spaces such as the Berkeley Rose Garden and children’s play areas. The measure would represent about a $40-per-year increase for a 1,900-square-foot home. UC property, including campus-owned student housing, would be exempt.

The measure has been endorsed by Mayor Tom Bates and all members of Berkeley City Council, along with several political and environmental organizations. According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, Measure F touts one of the most impressive lists of endorsements of any ballot measure.

City parks, he added, are where residents “go to renew their spirit — their soul.”

“One of our goals in Berkeley has always been that everyone should be in walking distance of a beautiful, safe, shared community open space,” said State Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, who is also a supporter of the measure. “This is our way to make sure we can do that in the future.”

According to Jim McGrath, chair of the Healthy Berkeley Parks Committee that was formed in support of Measure F, city parks now face additional strains not accounted for in the current parks tax. Proponents say wear and tear caused by weather and a growing Berkeley population, the cost of bringing park facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and heightened inflation beyond the current tax’s built-in inflation factor have all contributed to the deficit.

Annual expenses for operating the parks exceed the current allocated tax revenue by a structural deficit of $500,000 per year, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko.

Though McGrath said the Healthy Berkeley Parks Committee initially wanted legislation that would have included improvements such as the reopening of Willard Pool, City Council felt a more modest measure would be more likely to pass.

Critics of Measure F, including Barbara Gilbert — treasurer of the Committee for Fiscal Accountability, Clarity, Transparency and Sustainability — see the new tax as a diversion from larger issues, namely the large benefits for parks employees and alleged financial mismanagement on a broader scale.

“The city has a tremendous budget problem and no plan,” she said. “It’s very hard to get our officials to address this or to get the public to understand it, and one way to get their attention is to not approve tax measures until they come up with a viable plan.”

David Wilson, director of Berkeley Budget SOS, a local fiscal accountability organization, said that while letting parks lose funding is not a solution, until the city fixes its structural budget deficit, taxes such as the one Measure F proposes “will be nothing but Band-Aids” that detract from the “real nature of the issue.”

Because the tax would serve a designated purpose and would be raised by a local government, it must earn two-thirds of the vote to pass under Proposition 13.

G. Haley Massara covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @BylineGraph.