City to face economic hardship with absence of UC Berkeley students

Jenny Wong/Courtesy

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The city of Berkeley is expected to face financial hardships with the loss of thousands of students from campus, according to a report released Tuesday by city auditor Jenny Wong.

UC Berkeley staff, faculty and students contribute significantly to the local economy, according to City Councilmember Rigel Robinson. Businesses that depend on income from the campus population could suffer if UC Berkeley remains closed for the fall semester, the report reads.

“As we continue to fight the immediate emergency, we have to keep our eyes on the horizon,” Robinson said in an email. “There are dark years ahead of us, and we need to brace ourselves now.”

More than 23,000 people are employed by the campus, which also brings about 43,000 students to Berkeley during the academic year, according to the report. As of April 10, about 86% of students have moved out of the residence halls, and additional students in off-campus housing have also left the city, the report states.

The report warns that the effects of losses from some of the city’s revenue contributors such as property taxes and business license taxes will not be immediate. According to the report, the first estimated impact of these losses is expected to be felt no sooner than 12 months from now.

Other revenue contributions that are collected on a more regular basis, such as sales and use taxes as well as parking and moving violations, will have an immediate impact, according to the report.

Wong is worried that, with the decreased number of students in the city, the population of Berkeley will be misreported in the census. With students leaving the city, Berkeley is at risk of losing “millions of dollars” of federal support, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

“While the report is sobering, city leaders set-aside $36 million in anticipation of a crisis, and that puts in a better position to address the long term effects of this crisis,” Arreguín said in an email. “We are developing a plan as part of our annual budget process to meet these challenges.”

UC Berkeley is also preparing for the financial impacts of students leaving campus, according to a statement released Friday from Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos. The total impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the campus is projected to be about $200 million.

Congress has promised UC Berkeley $30 million in federal funding, $15 million of which will go directly to emergency financial assistance for students, according to the statement.

“I’m a former Cal student, and I’ve known this city for a long time, and it’s a ghost town,” Wong said. “I think the loss of students and faculty in Berkeley, on campus and through Berkeley, is felt all throughout because UC Berkeley is part of the city’s cultural identity.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jenny Wong is a former Cal alumna. In fact, Wong is a former Cal student and currently a Cal alumna.