At its regular Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council discussed potential measures to include on the November 2020 ballot as well as whether to prioritize certain items in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the meeting, City Council reconsidered items to be listed on the ballot, including revisions to the city charter and several new taxes to cover certain expenses. In light of the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the question for council members then became whether and how to survey citizens about what should remain a priority come November.
“As we are facing a deficit, the more we can save costs, I think, the better,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “We really need to think about what needs to move forward now and what needs to wait until 2022.”
Among revenue items discussed were a parcel tax to help fund emergency services, a residential vacancy tax and a user tax on ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
The discussion centered around the questions of how voters would respond to a survey under such distressing circumstances and whether measures on tax increases remain feasible given the economic fallout created by the pandemic.
City Council ultimately voted to refine the number of items on the survey and to include a proposal from Arreguín to add language about funding the city’s response to future public health emergencies to the emergency services items.
Later in the meeting, City Council discussed the possibility of adding a charter amendment regarding the full-time status and salaries of council members and the mayor — all of whom are currently considered to be only part-time employees — to the November ballot.
“This is a full-time job and the expectation is that it’s a full-time job because that’s what it takes to run a city like Berkeley,” said City Councilmember Kate Harrison at the meeting. “We have to encourage young people and people of color to go into this field, otherwise the dais is going to continue to look like me.”
The item was ultimately moved to City Council’s June 2 meeting.
An item related to funding case management services for Youth Spirit Artworks’ Tiny House Village was also postponed to another meeting after concerns were voiced over whether the organization would be able to make use of the money during the pandemic.
Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks, reassured City Council during public comment, although the item was ultimately continued.
“We have not stopped in any way the work that we have been doing as a result of COVID-19,” Hindman said at the meeting. “I would be extremely disappointed if there was any reason whatsoever for the funding for this to be delayed or slowed down.”