City Council discusses potential ballot measures, community survey Tuesday

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Berkeley City Council discussed possible ballot measures for the upcoming November municipal election at a special meeting Tuesday evening. Additionally, it considered which issues should be included in a community survey that will be conducted in March to gauge the public’s interests.

City Council also discussed the possibility of increasing a general obligation bond, which is voter-approved and secured by the local government’s pledge to use legally available resources, such as tax revenues, to repay the bondholders.

The city previously proposed several GO bonds capped at $30 million, which would be used to fund capital improvement projects such as affordable housing and repairing senior centers, but now the city has plans to expand the bond beyond its proposals because of a recent low interest climate.

According to former City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who was present at the meeting, interest rates have been very low during the last decade, making this one of the best times for the city to hold a new bond debt.

“We have a big infrastructure problem,” Wozniak said. “So the city can go on and borrow $100 million for 103 percent, and that’s a pretty good deal. We’re in the sweet spot.”

Many council members voiced agreement about issuing a larger new bond to address a substantial portion of Berkeley’s infrastructural needs.

“We’ve got a rose garden that’s collapsing, we just closed our pier and this afternoon, we just received a letter from the city manager that it’s going to cost us an estimate of $150,000 just to fix the pier,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli at the meeting. “I think we’re kidding ourselves for asking for $30 million.”

During the public hearing, a significant number of speakers directed the council toward having the issue of affordable housing included in the community survey.

Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, said she supports a comprehensive solution to deal with affordable housing that will help projects that are currently stalled because of a lack of funds.

“We don’t feel that increasing (the) business license tax on a small group of property owners will be sufficient,” Gulbransen said. “We encourage the council to think much larger than that, the $100 million bond. We would support something like that that might therefore support affordable housing.”

Chris Yamas, ASUC housing affairs manager, also urged the council during the meeting to include certain characteristics on ballot measure related to instituting a business license fee for rental property. He proposed to separate the potential ballot measures into two — one to raise taxes for the general fund and one to require the city to spend additional and identical amounts of money on below market rate housing annually.

City Council will survey 400 Berkeley residents regarding possible measures in March and will return with results in April.

Jennifer Kang covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenni_kang