The community should be alerted to the fact that with almost no warning, City Council is currently considering cutting funding for people with disabilities and seniors. On the chopping block at the next Council meeting is $149,000 that is appropriated for the warm water pool and almost $346,000 for new curb cuts. These cuts would be in addition to approximately $212,500 (one third of the overall allocation) that was already cut from this year’s budget for compliance with the federally mandated American Disabilities Act (ADA). No other community group is being targeted with cuts of this magnitude.
Even though there are many repairs needed for the warm water pool (used by many disabled and seniors for doctor-prescribed physical therapy) this funding has languished. City staff has not wanted to use this allocation because of the voter approved bond money to build a new pool. Unfortunately, it is unknown if and when this bond money can be spent because the school district is half a decade or more away from making a decision as to the future of the old BHS gymnasium building which houses this pool. Taking the funds away now will leave the warm water pool in its current inaccessible and dilapidated condition with no future assistance since the bond money cannot be used for repairs.
The $346,000 proposed cut would kill the installation of up to 30 curb cuts. Over 212 (unfunded) curb cuts have already been identified as needing replacement. The funding has accumulated because curb cuts are a low priority for the city. In addition, last year, the city staff and council rejected my initiative to require that new curb cuts be located inside of the crosswalks so that wheelchair users would not have to endanger themselves while crossing the street. The response was it is too expensive because it requires bigger crosswalks or two ramps, one at each corner. Many of the city’s curb cuts are dangerously steep and unsafe for electric wheelchair users, which forces them onto the street where they get injured or killed by automobiles.
The City of Berkeley spends very little general fund money on people with disabilities compared to other constituency groups. The money allocated is mainly for making buildings and facilities accessible. The city will increase its susceptibility to lawsuits under the ADA if it does not make a reasonable attempt at improving accessibility.
At the last Council meeting, I pleaded (to no avail) with the mayor and council to take these funding allocations off the chopping block so that panicked disabled people would not have to pay for personal-care assistants so they can come out in the cold rainy weather to protest these cuts. These cuts will not solve the structural budget deficit problems connected to employee cost-of-living increases and retirement benefits.
At the same meeting, Council increased the city manager’s authority to spend (without Council approval) contracts of up to $50,000 for services and $100,000 for capital improvements. In addition, $90,000 was approved for a consultant to just study parking signs—the cost of these signs will be up to an additional $1.4 million—all money that could be shifted into the general fund. At this time the council is currently spending millions of dollars on new city buildings, furnishings and facilities. This council does not need to balance the budget by going after the small funding allocations of the most vulnerable.
In the memory of Fred Lupke and Ed Roberts (who are no doubt turning over in their graves) members of the community should call and come to the Tuesday Dec. 16 meeting where there will be a 10-minute public comment period around 6 p.m. and a 30-minute public comment at 7 p.m.—not much time given the gravity of the cuts. If the Berkeley City Council cuts the under funded disabled what chance to they have fighting the draconian cuts proposed by the governor?
Dona Spring is a Berkeley City Councilmember. Anyone interested in more information can contact her at 981-7140.