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Council Gives Nonprofits Temporary Reprieve

Friday June 11, 2004

Mayor Tom Bates Tuesday proposed a temporary reprieve for some community nonprofits slated for budget cuts in hopes that come November Berkeley voters will bail them out indefinitely. 

The mayor’s proposal—presented two weeks before the City Council is scheduled to adopt its 2005 budget—would allocate $192,000 to partially restore funding to an array of community agencies for six months.  

If voters end up passing two tax initiatives on the November ballot—an increase in the Utility Users Tax that would bolster the general fund and an increase in the tax on property sales that would be earmarked for youth service programs—the funding would be restored permanently, Bates said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved a ballot measure that would make Berkeley the first city to publicly finance elections and backed a Transportation Commission proposal encouraging BART to charge parking fees at Ashby and North Berkeley BART stations. 

To temporarily increase funding for the nonprofits, Bates proposed using $66,000 in unallocated community agency funds and $126,243 from a Public Utilities Commission rebate. City staff will review the proposal and return it to the council next week. 

Last month, city staff proposed roughly $400,000 in cuts to community nonprofits to help the city plug a $10.3 million shortfall in its general fund.  

Among the programs slated to receive funds include civic arts grants, the Berkeley Art Center, the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, the Youth Homeless Shelter, Housing Rights Inc., the Community Gardening Collaborative, the Ecology Center’s Farm Fresh Choice program, the Berkeley Guides, BART escorts, and twilight basketball. 

Most of the funding restorations were given to agencies that had suffered cuts larger than the city’s target of three percent. 

In addition to preserving programs, Bates’ proposal could pay political dividends for the council’s campaign in support of the November ballot tax measures. With the money still flowing to the agencies, the council and nonprofits would be able to argue that failing to pass the tax measures would kill some programs that have been temporarily spared. 

Bates’ plan would also restore $88,560 for full funding of the Berkeley Drop-In Center. The program was to have lost its funding this year. 

Councilmember Dona Spring offered an alternative plan that would have given more money to the Quarter Meal program to feed the homeless, provided $50,000 for more traffic circles, restored funding to the Habitot Children’s museum, and included funding for a design conference on a plan to unearth Strawberry Creek at Center Street. 

Spring said the new spending would have to be paid for by unspecified cuts elsewhere in the budget. 

One other key ingredient to balancing the budget remains unresolved. After a closed door meeting with city unions for the third consecutive week, the city has still not won agreement on its demand that the unions defer three percent of their salary increases until next year. The move would save the city about $1.2 million and if the unions don’t agree, the City Council has threatened to close city hall one day a month to recover the savings. 

With little debate, the council referred to the city manager a recommendation from the Citizens Budget Commission that the city take a far stronger position in negotiating with city unions. The commission recommended that the city require its workers to pay their share of contributions to the state pension system, withdraw its policy to limit layoffs, and demand that unions reopen their contracts before November. 

Amid concerns raised from citizen groups and homeowners at recent public budget meetings, City Manager Phil Kamlarz announced the city would hire summer interns to study the city’s tax burden and services in comparison to other Bay Area cities. 


Public Financing 

By a vote of 7-2 (Olds, Hawley no) the City Council approved placing a measure on the November ballot to replace private money in campaigns with a system of public financing paid for by the city. Under the system, candidates who qualify for public financing and accept the funding would be barred from accepting any private donations or any other financial assistance.  

Similar systems have been adopted for statewide races in Arizona and Maine. 

The council had been tinkering with the initiative for weeks under pressure from the Berkeley Fair Election Coalition, which threatened to put a similar proposal on the ballot. 

The measure—if passed by 50 percent of the electorate—would require the city to put aside $498,000 annually from the general fund to finance elections for mayor, council, city auditor and school board director. Elgible candidates would receive $160,000 for mayor and $20,000 for the City Council.  

The council can delay implementation of the program until the city’s budget outlook improves and can, by a two-thirds vote, suspend or reduce the funding in times of fiscal emergency. 


Transportation Commission Recommendations 

Parking fees could soon be coming to BART parking lots in Berkeley. Moments before the council unanimously approved a resolution from the city’s transportation commission urging BART to charge parking fees, BART’s new Director of Planning Kathleen Kelly told the council that the transit agency was set to review its parking policy and give recommendations this summer. 

BART parking was the one issue on which the council and Transportation Commission agreed Tuesday. The council turned aside a commission recommendation that it receive all transportation-related items.  

Mayor Bates said the proposal amounted to a “carte blanche” and that “the red tape would be ridiculous.” 

Transportation Commission Chair Dean Metzger insisted that the commission didn’t want to circumvent other city commissions, but only assume its role as the initial public body to study transportation-related policies. 

The council voted to send the item back to the commission to work with Councilmember Worthington on a more clearly worded proposal.