Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín started several new initiatives in 2022: the completion of the Hope Center to provide support for homeless people, a public safety task force, proposals for the 2023-2024 budget and more. While faced with obstacles such as a decreased budget and labor shortages, Arreguín looks forward to seeing the effects of these new initiatives. Key issues to be developed in 2023 include affordable housing, homelessness, public safety, budgeting and infrastructure development.
“We have a slate of new projects breaking ground that will help make Berkeley more affordable by adding thousands of new units,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in 2021. According to Measure O projections, a 2018 bond to allocate another $135 million to housing, roughly 1,900 affordable units were expected to be built by 2023. The 2022 November ballot featured a $650 million bond for additional infrastructure improvements, $200 million of which was designated to affordable housing. However, it failed to pass. The city is currently faced with backlogs of several million dollars, leaving it necessary to seek different funding sources, or pause some current projects. In January 2023, the 2023-2031 Housing Element Update is planned to be approved, setting up the conditions to create 8,934 units in Berkeley. This year, Arreguín’s next steps will be to prepare new funding proposals to be voted on in 2024 elections.
According to a profile by the San Francisco Business Times, Arreguín was proud of completing the Hope Center. Built from land previously used as a parking lot, the Hope Center features permanent supportive housing, transitional beds and community spaces. In development since 2003, it is one of the largest homelessness projects in the city’s history. 2023 will be the second year of Alameda County’s “Home Together 2026” plan for affordable housing. At the same time, the development of People’s Park sparked controversy over relocation of its residents. According to the Home Together plan, 2023 is predicted to see a 10% decrease in homelessness, following a 20% increase in 2022. Compared to 2019, 2022 saw the amount of people living in the streets drop by 14%. In addition to creating affordable housing, there is call for additional focus on homelessness prevention.
In May 2022, Arreguín passed a public safety initiative for systemic restructuring. Citing the revitalized Black Lives Matter movement in response to George Floyd’s death, the Public Safety Task Force aims to “keep our community safe while addressing racial biases,” according to a city press release. In addition to promoting safety, it also aims for more efficient use of financial resources. Under the task force are specialized subdivisions, such as for traffic control, 911 responses and mental health services. Overall, key goals include reducing the amount of armed responses and more vigorous enforcement of officer standards, into a vision of “community centered safety.”
2023 will be the start of a new budget, with fiscal years now reverting to its regular two-year cycle. During extenuating circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, budget plans were made each year. The 2023-2024 budget was settled June 28, after input from the public. Predicting an economic downtown, the Biennial Revenue Budget decreased by $2.8 million compared to last year, while planned expenditures increased by $15.4 million. In addition, the Capital Improvement Program Budget will also begin in 2023. This large scale five-year plan, compared to the Biennial Budget, takes into account funding for ongoing projects. The 2023 Adopted Capital Budget is $99.3 million, and is planned to gradually decrease in the four years following.
In 2018, “Vision 2050” was approved, setting a 30-year plan for “climate-smart” infrastructure improvements. By 2050, Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan’s goal is to reach zero net energy consumption of all buildings. Since 2021, much work has been on public transportation accessibility. A 0.75 mile long bicycle lane finished construction, allowing safe bicycle access to downtown Berkeley locations. The public draft of Berkeley’s Bicycle Plan was open to community feedback, and will be implemented in 2023. Building projects by Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations would allow 3,600 units and 465 jobs, increasing the density of living surrounding public transport. In addition, new construction projects will be held accountable to use sustainable methods using GreenPoint Rated or LEED certification standards. “Berkeley residents have consistently ranked housing, climate resiliency, and infrastructure as major priorities,” Arreguín said in a press release.