Berkeley promotes measures on housing, homelessness at campaign kickoff

Jenna Wong/Staff

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In a promotion of Measures O and P — which focus on affordable housing and homelessness and will be voted on in the upcoming November municipal election — the city of Berkeley held a campaign kickoff at Live Oak Park on Sunday morning.

Measure O will issue $135 million in city bonds to create and preserve affordable housing for Berkeley’s low-income residents, while Measure P will raise the property transfer tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent on the top one-third of property sales to increase funds for homeless services. Measure O will raise approximately $7.5 million each year, and Measure P will generate approximately $6 million to $8 million each year.

“I am excited that we put this package on the ballot because it addresses one of the most critical issues of our time, which is the affordability crisis changing the character of our city,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

If the measures pass, a panel of experts on homeless services will advise the City Council on the allocation of funds, according to Arreguín.

Many city officials spoke at the event to endorse the measures, including District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn, District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio and Sophia DeWitt, the program director of East Bay Housing Organizations.

Judy Appel, a candidate for California State Assembly District 15, said Measure O will increase the amount of workforce housing, adding that many teachers in Berkeley schools can’t afford to live in the city and have long commutes to get to work.

I’m saddened by what’s happening to Berkeley. It’s a great place to live, so that’s driving up prices,” Appel said. “I really support having more workforce housing so that the people serving our community have a place to live in our community.”

Adena Ishii, the president of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville — which has endorsed both measures — said at the event that when she was a student at UC Berkeley, she moved farther away from campus in South Berkeley in order to find cheaper housing. She said she was one of the only students in the neighborhood when she first moved, but after seven years, the area is now full of students.

Several other community members lamented the changing character of Berkeley due to high housing prices.

Merav Walklet, an assistant manager for the Measures O and P campaign, said she wants Berkeley to remain a “colorful, eclectic mixed bag of people” with artists, the working class, educators and others, rather than just an area full of “wealthy tech people.” As someone highly involved in the artist community, Walklet said artists are “really suffering” in terms of finding affordable housing.

She also said she supports Measure P because she believes that the homeless population is overlooked, underrepresented and stigmatized in the Berkeley community.

In the coming weeks, the campaign for both measures will focus on canvassing and phone banking to inform residents of the measures, according to Walklet. A campaign headquarters will also be opened at 1625 University Ave. this week, Walklet said.

“With these two measures, we’re not going to solve everything, but we can make a big difference,” Maio said.

Contact Andreana Chou at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AndreanaChou.