Berkeley City Council to move forward with midyear budget process

Josh Kahen/Staff

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Berkeley City Council is moving forward with a midyear budget process that will decide the fate of millions of dollars in leftover revenues, which will be doled out after a prolonged deliberation continued from Tuesday’s regular meeting.

During the meeting, council members discussed several budget items, many of which will be addressed again at a meeting Dec. 3. A budget for the Capoeira Arts Foundation, or CAF, to keep its space in the Casa de Cultura was approved during the meeting, however.

“The Casa De Cultura and the organizations it houses, CAF and BrasArte, is a cultural and community anchor providing world class education in dance, capoeira, arts and music,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a grant referral. “Their celebrations, like the annual Levagem, bring the culture and spirit of Brazil to the streets of Berkeley.”

Facing a property sale, Casa de Cultura’s landlord came to an agreement that would allow CAF to keep the building by buying it. CAF said without the funding, it would have been priced out of Berkeley. The $150,000 grant will ensure the organization can stay in Berkeley, according to Arreguín.

Looking at millions of dollars worth of budget surplus rolled over from the previous fiscal year, council members are choosing how to allocate funds between emergency reserves and community projects and programs.

Budget referrals seeking funding include a public restroom on Telegraph Avenue, services for the homeless population, street improvements and wildfire mitigation prevention — which total at least $5.6 million. Approval to fund such efforts would give teeth to recommendations brought forth by council members throughout the past year. 

The item to approve allocation of excess funds, however, was deferred to the Dec. 3 City Council meeting. In the meantime, the city Budget & Finance Committee chaired by Arreguín and council members Rashi Kesarwani and Kate Harrison — will iron out details of the plan at a Friday meeting before sending the item back to the council. 

Also included in Friday’s meeting will be a discussion of how to allocate Measure P funds, an added tax to property transfers which will go toward services for the city’s homeless population. The city’s panel of experts on services for the homeless community recommended that the council spend most of the funds on permanent housing and shelter.

In time for the budget allocation process, Arreguín switched seats from the Land Use, Housing & Economic Development Committee to the Budget & Finance Committee, citing the need to streamline the process wherein the city’s mayor has historically provided input on surplus fund expenditure. At the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, Councilmember Cheryl Davila, who previously sat on the Budget & Finance Committee, alleged that Arreguín forced a last-minute seat change. 

“I should have an opportunity to continue and it wasn’t my choice,” Davila said at the Nov. 12 meeting. “A messenger came into my office and said I was being removed.”

A Budget & Finance Committee meeting held Monday was the first Arreguín has attended as part of the committee. After receiving more information about how much excess equity will be available, Arreguín said the committee will have a better idea of exactly how much money there will be to spend. 

Arreguín also stressed the need for emergency reserves, emphasizing the need for reserves as especially pressing with a potential economic downturn in the near future. Currently, however, the city’s excess funds  are a product of the booming economy in the Bay Area.

The biggest contributor is the property sales tax, which exceeded the previous year’s revenue anticipation by $7.5 million. 

“We are fortunate over the past years we’ve had a robust economy and more revenues coming in historically,” Arreguín said. “We need to focus on key things and also make sure we are also setting aside money for some things we need to plan for.”

Contact Robson Swift and Brandon Yung at [email protected].