Page One

Final Budget Vote Sparks Public Outcry

Friday June 20, 2003

The City Council Chambers were overflowing on Tuesday with concerned parents, art-toting children and worried non-profit directors during the last public hearing on the city’s budget proposal. 

At next Tuesday’s regular meeting, the council will adopt the proposed budget after making some final adjustments. Prior to the regular meeting, the council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. to vote on increases to parking fines and the Library tax. Whatever actions the council takes during the special meeting will have a direct impact on any amendments the council will make to the proposed budget. 

The proposed budget balances a $4.7 million deficit by increasing parking fines, maintaining a selective hiring freeze and reducing spending on things like cell phones and travel. 

Complicating the budget process is the uncertainty surrounding the state’s yet unresolved $35 billion deficit. State lawmakers, currently squabbling over solutions to the deficit, are not expected to adopt a final budget until late summer or possibly the fall.  

If the state reduces money currently earmarked for cities, Berkeley will be facing a much tougher fiscal environment. The city manager estimates as many as 150 lost jobs next year if the state adopts a draconian budget. 

During the public hearing, nearly 50 people entreated the council to augment funding for a variety of services such as children’s arts and crafts programs, battered women’s legal assistance and outdoor fairs and festivals. 

About 15 children who attend the Young Artists Workshops were ushered into the chambers and displaying colorful paintings, drawings and crafts they made in the program. Brianca Rico, 6, read from a short speech she prepared for the hearing.  

“I like Janet, my instructor. She has encouraged me when I feel like throwing my art in the trash,” she said haltingly. “If the class is canceled, I would feel furious, mad and sad.” 

A contingent of parents and their teenagers to speak on behalf of the Berkeley Boosters youth programs. Melkamu Yirgu told the council how valuable the program is for his 11-year-old daughter, Gesita. 

“I can’t believe what this program has done for my daughter,” he said. “She goes white water rafting, rock climbing, sailing, all opportunities I never had in my life.” 

Albert Lee of the Downtown Berkeley Association, which represents downtown businesses, asked the council to reconsider cuts to the city’s outdoor event fund, which subsidises a variety of fairs and outdoor events such as the Solano Stroll.  

“I urge the City Council to save some funding for outdoor events,” he said. “They attract visitors to the city, which is crucial for business.” 

Other organizations that asked the council for funds included the student-run Suitcase Clinic, which provides a variety of services to the homeless, members of the Berkeley Folk Dancers and a neighborhood group upset about the cutting of funding for traffic circles on Fulton, Ellsworth, Ward and Stuart streets. 

Several councilmembers have recommended that about $1 million be taken from some programs and redistributed to others. The council will vote on the recommendations prior to approving the budget next Tuesday.