Measure T1 could allow issuance of $100M city bond for infrastructure repairs

Dani Sundell/Senior Staff

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Come Nov. 8, voters will decide whether to approve Measure T1, which would allow the city to issue a $100 million bond that would fund infrastructure and facility repairs, such as Berkeley’s streets, parks and senior centers.

If passed, T1 will tax a Berkeley resident’s assessed house value resulting in an average annual cost of $21 for a home valued at $100,000 or $128 for a home valued at $600,000. Over time, as home values increase, the tax cost will decrease.

The measure would support seismic retrofits to community and senior centers, deferred maintenance at park facilities and street and storm improvement projects, among other priorities. The exact projects that would be funded will be decided through citizen input should the measure pass.

The need for a bond emerged as the list of maintenance projects exceeded available city funding, according to a report from the city manager. Rehabilitation costs for parks, facilities and public works exceeds $357 million.

“For years, we have been ignoring or short-changing our infrastructure,” said Public Works Commissioner Diz Swift.

Swift said even the highest priority buildings are not in the city’s five-year plan.

According to the city manager’s report, the largest category of the more than $357 million capital needs is parks and waterfront improvements, which exceed $112 million. Facility improvements near $86 million and storm/watershed improvements are $83 million.

Berkeley is not alone in needing to invest in its infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers scored infrastructure, such as roads and wastewater, for the nation as a “D” in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

Because interest rates are less than 3 percent, the amount of interest the city would need to repay the bond accounts for less than 1 percent of its annual budget, according to Gordon Wozniak, a former City Council member and treasurer of Citizens for Better Parks and Infrastructure.

“It’s the right time to do (a bond) because money is very inexpensive right now,” Wozniak said.

There is no organized opposition to Measure T1 but Barbara Gilbert, the vice president of the North East Berkeley Association, challenged not including specific projects.

“By not specifying what would be funded, anyone can put their own wish list in,” Gilbert said.

Allocation of the bond will be evaluated according to changing demographics, equity across the city, completing current projects and projects that have impact on the greatest number of Berkeley residents, according to a City Council resolution.

As many of the parks and facilities the city needs to repair are Works Progress Administration structures, there is the opportunity to bring the structures up to current sustainability standards, according to Swift.

“We have to be able to use water better, and we have to be able to use energy better,” Swift said, adding that one deteriorating building may not really serve the community or may serve many uses.

If the bond does not reach the two-thirds vote needed to pass T1, according to chair of the Parks and Waterfront Commission Jim McGrath, city structures will continue to decline.

“On the street side, you get streets that haven’t been paved or haven’t been fixed in 30 or 40 years,” McGrath said, adding that the longer structures go without maintenance, the more expensive repairs will be.

Voters recently passed two infrastructure measures in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, Measure M, a $30 million bond that supported green infrastructure, passed by 72.7 percent. It has since funded projects such as permeable pavers that allow water to filter through the pavement, reducing storm water runoff. Though not funded by Measure M, permeable pavers on Allston Way, which have an 80- to 100-year life span and a lower long-term cost if a pipe bursts underneath, according to Andy Kelley, chair of the Public Works Commission.

Voters also passed Measure F in 2014, which increased the parks tax and went on to fund part of the Rose Garden restoration project and restoration of the James Kenney Community Center.

Contact Pamela Larson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @PamReporting.

Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article misspelled Andy Kelley’s name and failed to identify him as the chair of the Public Works Commission.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that permeable pavers on Allston Way were funded by Measure M. In fact, they were funded through other means, not through Measure M.