Dear District 5 Neighbors,
Every June the City Council winds up its budget process with some last-minute wrangling, a final public hearing and a vote to approve. Whether adopting a full two-year budget, or merely approving adjustments in the second year cycle (as we are doing this year), it is always a challenge to balance the needs of a vibrant community with the hard realities of stagnant if not shrinking revenues.
The good news: Every year since my initial election in 2004 we have approved a balanced operating budget. We will do so again this year. The bad news: long-term employee obligations have become increasingly unfunded since the 2008 economic downturn, and our infrastructure — roads, sidewalks, storm drains — needs attention. (See Frequently Asked Questions: The City Budget, Employee Compensation and Unfunded Liabilities.)
Many of you have expressed deep concerns to me about these long-term financial obligations. How are we going to figure out how to manage both our aging infrastructure and the promises made to employees in the boom years of the late 90's? True, we have acknowledged the problem. Getting the complete information on the table in a workable and useful format is our next step.
On May 15, the City Council will be considering my proposal to require a biennial report to Council five months prior to adopting a new biennial budget. The report will include a spread sheet detailing employee and retiree benefit costs over a 10-year horizon, a summary of current active employee costs, a summary of all current City obligations, a summary of City of Berkeley capital assets and infrastructure needs, including: public buildings, conditions of streets and roads, sewers and storm drains and parks. The goal is to have all the information consolidated and as easily accessible to the public as possible and available in February every other year as the Council begins their biennial budgeting process.
To see the item, go to City Manager's Report of Future City Liabilities.
I acknowledge and appreciate the work of Berkeley citizens who have been advocating for a similar report. They are right that this information is important for sound decision making. But it needs to be done in a way that is feasible, collaborative and that does not become a "condition" for future Council action.
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Also on the May 15 Council Agenda, as a Special Council workshop at 6:30 p.m., is the presentation of a survey done by two of my office interns. The "Affordable Housing Survey" attempted to assess the satisfaction of residents of some of Berkeley's affordable units; those in affordable developments as compared to those whose units are included in market rate buildings. The research is meant to inform Council's decision later this year about allowing housing mitigation fees from market rate housing developers in lieu of including affordable units within their developments. (Those fees would go into the Housing Trust Fund and would be available for affordable developments.) Here is a link to the Affordable Housing Survey.
In short, the survey demonstrated little difference in comparative satisfaction levels. If that is a given, then Council can focus on what fee will maximize the City's housing resources. (The incidental take away from the survey, illustrated by an overwhelming 40% response rate, was that residents in these units were honored and happy to be asked about their experiences.)
I want to thank my interns Beth Gerstein, long-time Berkeley resident and anthropologist, and Gimin Shon, UC Berkeley undergrad and Cal Corps volunteer. They did an outstanding job of contacting and surveying local residents, interviewing many of them and collaborating with representatives from our nonprofit housing community.
Last week our office was honored to receive an award from the Cal Corps Public Service Center. The "Certificate of Recognition" recognized our District 5 office as the Cal Corp Program's "Site of the Year" for its "demonstrated commitment to improving the local East Bay and the lives of those living within these communities."
It was a pleasure to work with Gimin and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors. (Pictured below from left to right: me, Gimin Shon holding our award, and District 5 aide, Pam Gray.)
Berkeley City Council, District 5
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