The City is facing unprecedented challenges in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of three months, we have had to adjust our city budget for a new economic reality. Thankfully, City Council has strong reserves and strengthened the criteria for using these reserves so we are able to weather this economic storm better than many other cities. Nevertheless, we have had to address a $39 million dollar shortfall for FY2021.
As the Chair of the Budget and Finance committee for the City of Berkeley, I am committed to ensure that we can weather this economic recession.
Yesterday, with Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Davila, we were able to unanimously pass an amended Mayoral budget out of the Budget and Finance committee which Council will be weighing in on tonight. Please write [email protected] if you’d like to provide input.
Because of the current economic recession, all departments were asked to propose deferrals of up to 15% so we could meet the budget shortfall. In addition to these deferrals, the Budget and Finance committee was able to reduce or defer ~3.4 million in expenditures and reallocate monies from a variety of sources, including the police department, previous Council and Measure P allocations that were never realized or will not be realized due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City Auditor Jenny Wong also offered approximately ¾ million dollars from her office to be donated back to the City’s General Fund.
With these expenditure reductions and deferrals, the Budget and Finance committee was able to recommend reinvestment in a variety of areas for Fiscal Year 2021, with our biggest investments directed towards health, race and equity.
Even though COVID-19 has had dramatic implications for the economy, this budget recommendation ensures our Health, Housing and Community Services staff can continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by conducting extensive COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, case monitoring and outbreak prevention management.
City staff have also engaged in an extensive education campaign and have distributed hand sanitizer, masks and food/hot meals to community members in need. The City is also offering unhoused residents assistance through a shower programs and laundry services. Additional port-a-potties and handwashing stations have been distributed throughout the City to encourage proper sanitation. Through housing retention grants the City has assisted 214 households and expanded shelter opportunities to include 18 RVs, and a house for vulnerable populations.
This budget recommendation also ensures that Berkeley continues to provide nutritional assistance to families and seniors, housing and assistance for our unhoused population and youthworks programs.
In addition to these programs, the Budget and Finance committee voted to reinstate four Health, Housing and Community Services positions to better equip our community for the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and support the Berkeley High School Health Center.
Mental Health Services and Homelessness
The Budget and Finance committee’s recommendation ensures that mental health services will continue with increased usage of telehealth, mobile crisis services, and expanded homeless programs. The City’s mental health system provides comprehensive treatment for low-income families, adults and children with major mental health concerns. Additionally, the Mobile Crisis Team responds to mental health emergencies and crisis situations. This budget also includes funding for the Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team (HOTT) program, an expanded and more coordinated outreach effort to engage people experiencing homelessness in Albany and Berkeley and connect them to services. It also includes funding for the Crisis Triage Line to help those in crisis.
The Budget and Finance committee also recommended the reallocation of close to a million dollars of Measure P homeless expenditures to a homeless solutions fund to prepare our unhoused community for the ongoing pandemic.
Investments in Affordable Housing, Anti-Displacement Programs, and Community Services
Creating affordable housing and ongoing support services for our most vulnerable community members is one of my top priorities. The City is moving forward to implement Measure O, a community approved bond measure to expand affordable housing options. The City is working diligently to oversee the initial six projects, including one located at 1601 Oxford St. which is scheduled to start construction this year which will include 34 affordable units for seniors. This budget also includes ongoing support to implement the expansion of our Shelter+ Care program through the addition of 53 new housing vouchers.
The Budget and Finance supported additional investments in housing retention, the creation of the African American Holistic Center and an undocumented basic needs fund. We also ensured that two community agencies dedicated to the health and wellness of Black families and an organization dedicated to our deaf community were not going to lose their funding for the fiscal year.
Protecting Our Community
Cities throughout the nation are having important conversations about systemic racism within our communities and there is great interest in reforming policing to address these biases. A key element of this budget proposal is to reallocate a portion of the Berkeley Police Department’s budget (a portion of overtime costs and asset forfeiture funding, and three vacant officer positions), to construct an African American Holistic Wellness Center and a community wide public safety reimagining to help ensure public safety. Community members and the Chief of Police have both expressed interest in shifting the mental health calls from the police department so they can focus on addressing serious crime in the City. Council will also be discussing a proposal to reorient traffic enforcement to ensure a racial justice lens as well. Additionally, we are recommending funding for the award-winning Auditor’s office to conduct a police call audit so we can ensure that our police response is efficient, effective, and equitable.
Berkeley’s Fire Department needs to continue its COVID-19 emergency response, which includes staffing our Emergency Operations Center and tracking exposure and staffing test sites. Our firefighters will continue to provide fire, emergency, hazardous waste, vegetation management, and water rescue response in addition to fire and EMS training. Additionally, our Fire Department will be able to continue its annual wildfire prevention inspections, annual park maintenance, and its evacuation planning and exercises.
The Budget and Finance Committee also approved additional fire prevention, evacuation and safety funding that are especially important during this high fire risk season.
COVID-19 has challenged our business community in several ways and the Budget and Finance committee recommended additional investments into our businesses, arts and special events. Since business closures must comply with shelter in place orders and ongoing public health orders to maintain social distancing, our retail, restaurant, and services sectors have been deeply impacted. To assist local business owners, the Office of Economic Development oversaw the distribution of over $3 million for emergency relief grants to small businesses, nonprofit arts organizations, and residential tenants that are hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff will continue to assist commercial district organizations, merchant groups and other business networks to foster a sustainable, dynamic, and locally based economy.
Strengthening Berkeley’s Built Environment
Berkeley’s open space is a unique feature of our City. Our parks and waterfront are widely used for recreation and community gatherings. This budget includes funding for seismic upgrades to the Live Oak Community Center, planning for improvements to the Willard Clubhouse and Frances Albrier Community Center, a visioning process for Berkeley’s Civic Center, and tennis court/playground upgrades in San Pablo park. These projects help the City meet our goal of providing state of the art infrastructure and amenities. In addition, the Budget and Finance Committee recommended dedicating $550,000 towards meeting Berkeley’s waterfront capital needs.
In line with the City’s zero waste goals, this budget supports the renovation of our Transfer Station in West Berkeley, where waste materials are sorted. This will include a robust public participation process. By reconstructing and updating this site, the City will be able to recover additional material for recycling and reuse, thus minimizing what is sent to landfills.
Encouraging Alternative Modes of Transportation
Berkeley residents are deeply concerned about climate change and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This budget allocates funding to major bicycle improvements along Milvia St., one of Berkeley’s major bicycle boulevards. Through its commitment to Vision Zero, the City will continue to utilize a safe systems approach to transportation planning and improvements so that we can eliminate traffic related fatalities and injuries.
In a City with a strong tradition of pedestrian travel, we need to ensure that our intersections, sidewalks, and streets allow users to enjoy our neighborhoods, shopping districts, schools, and pathways. Berkeley’s last Pedestrian Plan was developed in 2010, and this budget funds an update to that plan, which guides City efforts to make walking in Berkeley safe, attractive, easy, and convenient for people of all ages and abilities.
In closing, I’m confident that the recommendation from the Budget and Finance Committee balances the needs of our City within this challenging financial landscape. I want to thank the Mayor for his thoughtful proposal and thank Councilmember Davila for her critical role on the committee. I’m pleased we could reach a consensus at the committee.
As pandemic conditions allow more stores to open up, the City will start enforcing parking meters on July 1 to ensure turnover and create available parking for customers.
The price of meter parking remains at 50 cents an hour in most areas, though high-demand areas such as downtown and the south side of campus are priced at $1 per hour.
Pairing parking regulations with demand has long been part of Berkeley’s strategy to create more available spaces, reduce congestion and more efficiently use the large amount of public space dedicated to parking. As conditions change, City staff will continue to monitor demand and adjust hours and prices.
Enforcement continues for safety and access violations
We will continue to issue citations for parking violations that impact public safety or impede access to essential services, as these issues become even more important during a public health emergency. This includes:
- red curbs and fire hydrants
- disabled parking blue zones
- street sweeping
- yellow zones in commercial areas
- double parking
You can pay for or contest any citations online. Appeals outside of the process outlined on that page, such as emails to the City Manager, will not be accepted. Residential parking permits renewals are expected to start on August 1, with existing permits valid until Oct. 1.