The California ballot is filled with initiatives this November, many of which have a direct bearing on health, transportation, water and other issues affecting our daily lives. One measure I hope you will not overlook is Berkeley’s Measure F, a modest tax increase to fund the maintenance of our city’s 52 parks, four community centers, several playing fields and 35,000 trees.
As an undergraduate, I served as chair of the Berkeley Waterfront Commission, which has since been consolidated into a joint Parks and Waterfront Commission that oversees facilities both at the marina and in the entire city. Many of the people I worked with on the commission are still serving and played a pivotal role in placing Measure F on the ballot. Their leadership, coupled with the endorsement of those I trust in local government, compelled me to support Measure F, too.
Berkeley is fortunate to have ample parks and open space, serving every corner of the city. When I was quite a bit younger, I went to Live Oak Park to play. In middle school, my class made regular trips to San Pablo Park. The Rose Garden has always been a special place for me and remains so to this day.
Over the last 40 years, Berkeley has doubled the total acreage of its park space, but we have not seen a sufficient increase in funding or staff. In fact, the city has been forced to reduce staff in recent years due to budget constraints. Measure F will help to stem the tide. Measure F does not invest in new facilities or projects but simply commits to upkeep. To allow our aging parks and tree canopy to be undermaintained will result in an enormous loss for the community and higher costs down the road. For some perspective, the city had 63 staff members devoted to park maintenance in 1976. This number is now at 44 filled positions, yet Berkeley has more space for which to care and a significantly larger population.
If passed, Measure F would generate $1.7 million per year beginning in 2015. This represents an increase in the overall city budget of only 0.5 percent. People often wonder why Berkeley has so many special tax assessments as opposed to funding more services through the general fund. Much of this dynamic is due to the legacy of California’s Proposition 13, which made it much more difficult for local governments to raise revenue. Voters want to know where their tax dollars are going before agreeing to a hike.
Several criticisms of Measure F have emerged in the course of the campaign. Some residents are disappointed that Berkeley City Council did not pursue a bond-financing option, which would allow for capital projects such as the rehabilitation of Willard Pool. I join many Measure F supporters in sharing this frustration. Some of the most passionate voices for putting a measure on the ballot this year were Willard Pool advocates. The longer we wait to rebuild the pool, the tougher the task — politically, logistically and financially. The fiscal conservatives opposing Measure F raise legitimate points as well. We do need a plan for our city’s unfunded liabilities — both personnel and infrastructure — but defeating Measure F will not advance those goals. We also need to be careful not to overstretch our already highly taxed homeowners, a sentiment shared by many supporters of this modest increase.
Parks have always been central to neighborhood quality of life and are increasingly a determining factor of where people choose to live. The Arbor Day Foundation, my former employer, is a leading champion of the numerous benefits of trees and open space: cleaner air and water, reduced energy use and improved public health, among many others. Peter Calthorpe, a Berkeley resident and leading expert in urban design, has cited urban trees as central to the fight against climate change. When prioritizing a city’s investment, this ought to be near the top of the list.
We’re fortunate to live in a community that values investments in public spaces for all to enjoy. Please vote yes on Measure F to keep these resources available for the next generation of children, students, neighbors and all of us who call Berkeley home.