Supporters filled the more than 200 seats in the City Council Chambers Tuesday evening for the annual State of the City address, applauding Mayor Tom Bates as he touted accomplishments over his three years in office and addressed the challenges of the coming year.
These measures were put in place despite a lack of support on the state and federal level, the mayor said.
“The state has eliminated nearly all funding for city infrastructure, cut funding for our health department and cut the safety net,” he noted. “Despite these challenges, it is important to acknowledge that we’ve accomplished a lot this past year.”
Bates lauded his child and youth projects through which young people participate in after-school tutoring and sports. And he said children have gained access on their school sites to a public health nurse and mental health services as a result of endeavors he has supported.
His efforts, the mayor told the crowd, have resulted in a balanced budget and a more civil City Council.
Bates praised the agreement through which UC Berkeley development downtown must be planned with the city and through which the city will eventually get $22.3 million in payments over the 15-year period of the plan.
“We did not solve everything, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But we hope it has turned the corner on a very difficult and complex relationship.”
He spoke of his efforts to address homelessness, emphasizing the importance of local projects.
“I believe that what we do in this city will make a difference,” he said, pointing to the development of new housing for low-income people and efforts being made to house foster-care youth after they turn 18.
He also listed his environment-friendly enterprises, including the city’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the conversion of the city’s vehicle fleet to biodiesel (vegetable oil) fuel and the new playing fields to be built on a little-used parking lot at Golden Gate Fields.
Over the last year, many infrastructure needs were addressed, Bates said. The city repaired 100,000 square feet of sidewalks and 10 miles of streets, patched 2,300 potholes and repaired 58,000 feet of sewers. “But this is a city with an aging infrastructure and every year our list of needed repairs grows longer,” the mayor said.
Bates also spoke to the future, noting that his staff was still working on a “sunshine ordinance”—rules that help citizens gain access to government—that would be ready by spring or summer. He also promised to curb a rise in property crime in South Berkeley.
He pinpointed six specific areas that he would prioritize over the next year:
• Supporting youth: improving city-school coordination to expand after school and summer programs.
• Environmental leadership: making Berkeley the first “zero greenhouse gas” city in the country.
• Ending chronic homelessness: addressing the challenge of homeless youth by linking homeless youth with services they need to gain permanent, supportive housing. Bates said he believes “homelessness is not a problem to be managed but rather a problem to be solved.”
• Investing in infrastructure: a long-term approach is needed to adequately address the city’s need to protect and rebuild the city’s aging infrastructure.
• Preparing for disaster: increasing the city’s investment in community outreach and training programs.
• Sustainable economy: building an economy that focuses on growing the green business sector, neighborhood business districts and cultural arts.
Natalie Leimkuhler, a co-founder of YEAH!, Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel, was in the audience listening to Bates, who had cited YEAH!’s work in his speech.
“I think he’s starting to get the message,” she said, noting the efforts her organization had made to gain council support for the project.
Calling the mayor’s speech “thorough” and “comprehensive,” Councilmember Max Anderson said people need to know about the city’s efforts, particularly in promoting green businesses and creating social safety nets. “It’s easy not to see,” he said.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington was more critical, admonishing the mayor for not prioritizing low-income housing, public safety and traffic calming measures when addressing future plans.
Worthington, however, applauded the mayor for admitting he was mistaken in not including the community in the planning process for developing the Ashby BART station and promising that the citizens would be included.
Demonstrators protested outside the Maudelle Shirek Building/Old City Hall during the speech, demanding a role in developing the project.
Bates will address the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce on the State of the City Feb. 16, 11:30 a.m. at a luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel. Entry is $30 for members, $50 for nonmembers. A question and answer session will follow the speech, emphasizing, according to the chamber website, the possibility that Bates will introduce new tax measures during his re-election campaign.›