Berkeley sales tax increase takes effect after November vote

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On Wednesday, Berkeley’s sales tax increased from 9 percent to 9.5 percent because of Measure BB, which Alameda County voters passed last November with 70.76 percent of the vote.

The measure increased the general sales tax by 0.5 percent for the next 30 years. The money collected from the increased sales tax will go toward funding transportation projects to modernize and improve BART, bike safety and AC Transit.

According to BART spokesperson Jim Allison, BART plans to use the tax revenue to renovate Bay Area public transportation. $120 million will go toward making a BART stop south of Fremont, California, called Irvington, and $100 million will be used to build more Bay Fair station connectors. Another $90 million will be allocated to BART modernization plans for older stations in Alameda County, and $400 million will be used to build a BART station in Livermore, California.

Dave Campbell, advocacy director at local nonprofit Bike East Bay, said the tax increase would allow the completion of a bike network and updates to crossings for major streets.

Milvia Street in Downtown Berkeley is the first major street that needs to be addressed due to vehicle traffic and its proximity in areas to Berkeley High School, according to Campbell.

“There are many serious transportation issues in Alameda County,” said Charles Burress, assistant to Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. “We want more public transportation to get people out of cars to address problems of greenhouse gases and congested highways.”

In Berkeley, the money collected from the sales tax will go toward creating a roundabout at the Interstate 80/Gilman interchange — a situation that people are happy to get fixed, Burress said.
Some Alameda County citizens, however, have reservations about the tax increase.

“Although the politicians see the tax as half a percent, the tax erodes spending power to people with limited or fixed income — the poor and the seniors get hit hardest,” said Chris Pareja, a member of Bay Area Transportation Working Group and former Livermore City Council candidate.

He also said he doubts BART will follow through with plans for a station in Livermore, claiming that BART does not believe Livermore has the density to support a station.

“People didn’t understand what they were voting for,” Pareja said. “They believed the rhetoric of better buses, better rides and the extension of the existing sales tax — and that if you don’t do this, old people can’t ride the bus, and children can’t go to school.”

Many advocates of Measure BB see the tax as a way to invest in the Alameda County community.

“It affects everyone,” Allison said. “People who vote to approve the tax were doing something that benefits everybody, whether they ride public transportation or not.”

Contact Emily Pedersen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @epedersendc.