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Popular parks measures face limited resistance

John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday October 28, 2000

The Committee to Support Our Parks wants to make sure measures S and W pass on Nov. 7 and they’re not taking any chances. So far the committee has spent more money than any of the other campaigns for the various tax and bond measures on the ballot.  

Supporters say the increased revenue is needed to maintain city parks, which have been built up in the last few years. Much of the work was done by volunteer labor, through organizations such as Berkeley Partners for Parks. 

According to campaign statements filed at the City Clerk’s Office Oct. 21, the campaign for the two measures has spent about $30,000. Berkeley Citizens for a Safe and Sound Schools, promoting Measure AA and BB, is second at about $24,500. Those promoting other local ballot measures have spent about $10,000 or less.  

Currently Berkeley maintains 306 acres of parklands which include 50 parks, 80 landscaped medians, 100 pathways and 35,000 trees. 

Measures S and W are both special taxes, one is new and the other was passed in 1997. The state considers a tax special when the revenue raised by the tax is spent on a single program such as parks. A general tax is spent on any program deemed necessary by city governments. 

Voters must approve special taxes by a two-thirds majority. If a special tax passes it then must go before the voters every four years for approval to spend its revenue. The four-year approval requires only 50 percent of the vote. 

Measure S is a new special tax intended to increase the 1997 tax. 

If approved, the annual increase in parks taxes for a person with a 1,900 square-foot home will be $15, bringing the total to $169. 

Promoters of the measure said that additional money will be well spent. Campaign Coordinator Nancy Carleton said Berkeley parks are improving by leaps and bounds. “Most of the recent improvements were done by volunteers who put in thousands and thousands of hours to make the city better.” 

Even though much of the work was done by volunteers, it will take additional tax dollars to maintain the improvements. “This is a modest fee that will raise $600,000 every year which will allow the city to take care of its parks,” she said.  

Carleton said recent additions to the parks system include the Gabe Catalfo Playing Field, a new soccer field on Harrison Street, the Dreamland For Kids, a playground designed with the help of kids at Aquatic Park and the soon to be completed Bay Trail. 

“Those are just a few. There are updated play areas, recently planted street trees. Soon there will be the pedestrian bridge. All these things need to be maintained,” said Carleton. 

Measure W is a special tax passed by voters in 1997 and is now due for its four-year reapproval. If Measure S passes, Measure W, which only requires 50 percent voter approval, will not even go into effect.  

Detractors of the two measures said in printed arguments in the County of Alameda Sample Ballot that taxes are already too high and the revenue is ill spent on costly projects that always seem to require more taxes. The argument was signed by former City Councilmember John Denton, Evelyn Giardina, Martha Jones and Marie Bowman. 

Denton said he’s voting against the measure out of protest against city councilmembers who always seem to vote together when it comes to increasing taxes and spending despite deep philosophical differences. He said the dog area in Cesar Chavez Park is an example of mismanagement. “That area has the prime view of the Bay and San Francisco and they made it a dog park, which precludes anyone else from using it.” 

Measures S and W have been endorsed by eight of the nine members of the City Council, the Berkeley Democratic Club, Berkeley Citizen’s Action, the Sierra Club, the entire school board and a host of present and past public officials.  

The largest contributors to the S and W campaign are two city workers’ unions SEIU Local 790, which contributed $7,500 and SEIU Local 535, which threw in another $7,000.  

Carleton said the workers don’t stand to gain anything from the passage of the measures other than securing the means to do their jobs well.  

Carleton said taxes for city parks are strongly supported among most residents because they have such a positive effect. She said there good for kids and homeowners are usually in favor because they can raise the value of property. “It’s a win, win situation,” she said.