Berkeley City Council committee discusses tax funds, climate equity

screenshot of zoom meeting
Rina Rossi/Staff
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council Budget and Finance Committee met to discuss the city's budget.

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Berkeley City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met Tuesday to discuss the city’s budget on issues ranging from Measure P to climate equity.

Passed during the November 2018 midterm elections, Measure P increases property transfer taxes on properties worth more than $1.5 million to raise funds for services that support the unhoused community.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín was joined by Berkeley Homeless Commission member Carole Marasovic, deputy city manager David White and Berkeley Health, Housing and Community Services director Lisa Warhuus to discuss the city’s next steps for funding Measure P at the special meeting.

Marasovic requested more effective communication between the Homeless Services Panel of Experts and city staff. She said the city’s recommendations for Measure P did not reflect the panel’s direction toward housing.

White presented his recommendations for Measure P, which he noted largely align with those of the panel. The recommendations differed in some aspects, however, such as prioritizing $5 million to enable Project Homekey to acquire hotels for additional housing.

City Councilmember Kate Harrison expressed appreciation for Downtown Streets Team and said she believes it should be given more funding.

“They have been an incredibly important partner to us in terms of clean up, but also just in terms of giving people who were formerly homeless or maybe currently homeless a sense of a purpose of life,” Harrison said at the meeting. “In addition to housing first, we need dignity first.”

In response to public comments about mental health and substance abuse issues in the unhoused community, Arreguín recommended that the city increase the number of people carrying naloxone and fentanyl testing strips in order to prevent accidental drug overdoses.

Subsequently, Arreguín motioned to recommend that City Council adopt the Measure P budget, which the committee approved unanimously.

In addition to Measure P, the committee discussed a recommendation to allocate revenues from the transient occupancy tax from the Berkeley Waterfront to the Marina Fund.

Gordon Wozniak, a former City Council member who advocated for the Marina Fund, proposed that the Berkeley Marina be placed on a “long-term sustainable path” to which the city can focus on expanding recreational and open space opportunities and renovating infrastructure.

Harrison said she supported making a commitment to the marina, which she called the city’s “prize and jewel.” She suggested looking to allocate an additional $1.5 million to the marina at the next committee meeting.

Lastly, the committee discussed in detail a proposal to adopt a Climate Equity Action Fund to assist low-income households in transitioning to zero carbon buildings and transportation.

“I support creating a fund, and really, the secondary question is the allocation of general fund money to that newly-established fund,” Arreguín said at the meeting. “That’s something we should consider as part of the budget fund.”

Arreguín said he required more time to consult his staff and brainstorm additional ideas regarding the climate fund. He noted that the proposal to adopt the fund will be discussed during a meeting next Monday.

Contact Rina Rossi at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @RinaRossi8.