Berkeley to vote on taxes, police accountability measures

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In November, voters in Berkeley will be weighing in on a variety of local measures, including a tax on users of ride-sharing companies and an amendment to form the Police Accountability Board.

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Berkeley voters will be weighing in on a variety of local measures in November, from a tax to aid emergency response to a review board to increase police accountability.

Measure FF, the first ordinance on the eight-item ballot, is a proposed increase in property tax of $0.1047 per square foot of human-made construction. The funds would be used to bolster firefighting and emergency medical response, upgrade the 911 dispatch system and increase wildfire prevention activities.

The new tax would generate $8.5 million annually, according to the city’s report, and it requires a two-thirds vote to pass, which stands in contrast to the simple majority required to approve the other measures.

Measure GG also aims to levy a tax, specifically on users of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The purpose of the tax — 50 cents for a private trip and 25 cents for a pooled trip — is to encourage would-be riders to use public transportation instead, thereby cutting down on carbon emissions, according to a recommendation by the Berkeley Energy Commission.

If passed, the tax would remain in effect for 20 years, or until 2041.

The final tax on the agenda, Measure HH, is an increase in the electricity and gas tax from 7.5% to 10%, with an exemption for low-income users. The measure would also create the Climate Equity Action Fund to which the tax revenue would be funneled.

In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for police reform, Measure II proposes an amendment to the city charter to form the Police Accountability Board, which would replace the existing Police Review Commission and establish new methods of oversight for the Berkeley Police Department.

The board would have the power to advise the BPD on its operations, review complaints against officers and recommend disciplinary actions as well as access records or issue subpoenas when necessary.

Furthermore, the amendment would establish formal processes by which members of the public could submit police misconduct complaints. The Police Accountability Board would determine the degree of misconduct, according to the city’s report, with a “preponderance of the evidence” being sufficient to act.

Measure JJ would increase the salaries of the mayor and City Council members, introducing an amendment to the city charter that would set the former to the median income for a three-person household in Alameda County and the latter to 63% of that sum. According to the city report, this would result in the mayor’s compensation rising from $61,304 to approximately $107,300, and council members’ salaries rising from $38,695 to approximately $67,599.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín called the measure a “matter of equity,” stating that the current salaries put running for office out of reach for low-income residents, families and those not independently wealthy.

“Serving our community in public office is indeed a great honor but should not be a financial burden,” Arreguín said in an email. “In order to ensure that our City government reflects the diversity of our community, we need to address the issue of Council compensation.”

Measure KK, another charter amendment that groups miscellaneous items, would eliminate the requirement for Berkeley firefighters to live within 40 miles of the city, remove gendered language from the city charter, allow noncitizens to serve on the redistricting commission and add duties to the position of city attorney.

Measure LL would authorize the city to continue spending tax revenue that is already approved. State law only permits the city to spend the same amount of tax as in the previous year, adjusted for population growth and cost of living, and an increase in the spending limit approved by Berkeley voters in 2016 expires next fiscal year.

Finally, Measure MM would ban evictions during a state or local emergency, bolstering the city’s current COVID-19 “eviction moratorium.”

Additionally, the measure would allow the city to charge a registration fee to owners renting out single-family homes and condominiums, whose units are not subject to rent control. The measure would also limit the rent control exemption for Accessory Dwelling Units — secondary housing on a homeowner’s property — to properties with a single-family home and only one Accessory Dwelling Unit.

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.