City Council approves poll of residents about potential ballot measures

Chris Cox/Staff

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Berkeley City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to conduct a community survey next month polling residents about potential measures to be added to the November 2016 municipal General Election ballot.

Lake Research Partners — a public opinion and political strategy research firm based in Berkeley and Washington, D.C. — will survey 400 city residents in March about potentially including ballot measures to adopt a business license tax that is allocated toward affordable housing and the public financing of elections.

Additionally, residents’ positions on measures such as creating an educational enrichment tax for the Berkeley Unified School District and a general obligation bond to be allocated for parks and recreational facilities and care and shelter centers will also be polled.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf stressed the citizen survey needs to account not just for the outcomes that these taxes will ultimately achieve, but for the financial impact it will have on Berkeley residents.

“People need to know the cost and how difficult it is,” Wengraf said at the meeting.

City staff created priorities for potential ballot measures based on safety, maintaining assets, benefiting the community, promoting geographic and racial equity, and leveraging funding.

City Council will use the survey’s findings to narrow ideas and develop specific measures to be included on the November ballot. Lake Research Partners is expected to conduct an additional survey by May of these more focused measures, allowing City Council to be ready to vote on definite ballot measures by July.

In an informational report, city staff estimated that the city’s capital needs for street, storm, transportation, facility, parks and waterfront improvements amounts to be about $358 million.

City staff presented options for general obligation bonds sizes ranging from $25 million to $100 million. Such bonds are voter-approved and paid back to bondholders overtime through legally available resources, such as tax revenue. At the low-end of the spectrum, the bond would cost residents an average of $24.70 per year and at the high-end it would cost $95.92 per year over the course 35 years.

According to Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, the city’s taxes are expected to decline in the next five to six years as the city pays off previous bonds. As such, the addition of a general obligation bond can be expected to balance the upcoming decreases in taxes.

City Council also discussed an agenda item that, if passed, would allocate $300,000 from the city general fund to several city arts programs, as well as separate funding for Youth Engagement Advocacy Housing, or YEAH!, a youth homeless shelter in Berkeley.

Around 50 board members, staff, volunteers and alumni attended the meeting in support of the organization, according to YEAH! executive director Jaclyn Grant.

The motion, however, was ultimately pushed to City Council’s next meeting. Grant expressed hope that council members would further discuss — and pass — the item at its March 15 meeting.

City Council will reconvene March 8 to discuss various agenda items — including changes to a municipal medical cannabis ordinance, as well as an audit report of the city’s emergency rainy day fund.

Staff reporter Jennifer Wong contributed to this report.

Jessica Lynn is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.