City Council Ponders Governator-era Budgeting

Friday December 12, 2003

A decidedly glum Berkeley City Council took the first tentative steps Tuesday night toward budgeting in the Schwarzenegger era, squirming through a complicated revenue-cutting presentation by Budget Manager Paul Navazio, then putting off any decision until next week’s council meeting. 

At issue is what to do with close to $43 million in already-budgeted but uncontracted unspent funds carried over from fiscal year 2003. The city manager’s office has recommended that some $40 million of that money be spent as Council originally budgeted it, leaving an extra $2.8 million to put towards relieving the deficit. 

At Mayor Tom Bates’ suggestion, council postponed deciding what to cut and what to keep of the 13 pages of carryover budget line items in the city manager’s report—but an emotional protest by Councilmember Dona Spring demonstrated how difficult those choices will eventually be. 

Included in the manager’s proposed cuts was approximately $150,000 for improvements at the Warm Water Pool at Berkeley High. Arguing that the proposed improvements were earmarked for making the pool more accessible to Berkeley’s disabled, Spring said that the pool funds hadn’t been used not because they weren’t needed, but because they were not high on the list of staff priorities. 

Spring’s motion to leave the money in the budget died for lack of a second, while the rest of council looked dejectedly in other directions without saying a word. 

“You’re forcing me to make telephone calls to everyone in the disabled community to come out to the meeting next week to lobby to keep these funds in,” she said. 

“I’m not forcing you to do anything,” Bates answered, more in anguish than in anger. He added that he expected complaints from representatives of any of the city’s constituencies facing cuts. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak also called the city manager’s suggested ratio of $2 million cuts from operating funds and $800,000 from capital expenditures unbalanced, and asked staff to come back with suggestions for $2.5 million to $3 million more in capital cuts. 

Council has scheduled budget discussions for its Dec. 16 meeting both at its 5 p.m. working session and at its regular 7 p.m. meeting time. At that time, City Manager Phil Kamlarz is expected to make a presentation on how the city will make up for a $3 million cut in revenue stemming from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lowering of the state’s Vehicle License Fee (VLF). 

The VLF action automatically lowered legally mandated payments from the state to city and county governments. The governor has said it’s the responsibility of the state legislature to figure out a way to make up the lost money to local governments. 

This week, the state provided less than a third of the monthly approximately $330,000 payment due the City of Berkeley. If state cuts continue, Berkeley will lose $4.6 million in state funds next year. 

Later in the week, Mayor Bates issued a press statement blasting Schwarzenegger. “I am absolutely outraged that the governor would make these unilateral cuts,” Bates said. “Cities throughout the state rely on this funding for police, fire, and other important services.” 

A statement from the mayor’s office said that Schwarzenegger’s action “breaks [his] promise to protect funding to local governments; it also violates the law.” Bates has already asked City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque to investigate Berkeley’s joining other local governments in a lawsuit against the governor’s actions. 

In other action last Tuesday night, Berkeley City Council: 

• Gave the city manager increased authority on his own to purchase supplies up to $50,000 and for construction up to $100,000 (Spring and Worthington voting no). 

• Supported Senator Don Perata’s March 2004 bond referendum to raise local bridge tolls to $3 to support a variety of local transportation projects. (In protest that many of the projects—including the fourth Caldecott Tunnel bore and the extension of BART to Warm Springs—are not supported in Berkeley, Shirek, Spring, Hawley, and Olds all abstained.) 

• Voted down the appeal of neighbors to stop construction at the city’s Corporation Yard. Council also adopted several mitigation requirements authored by Councilmember Margaret Breland, including a ban on Saturday morning construction and requiring street sweeping of the yard three times a week during the construction period. Several councilmembers expressed the desire that the Corporation Yard should eventually be moved out of a residential neighborhood and into an industrial area, but conceded that the present budget difficulties made that impossible at the present time. 

• Approved the formation of the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District (Olds voting no), to join BIDs already established downtown, on Telegraph Avenue, on North Shattuck Avenue, and in West Berkeley. BID fees are mandatory for businesses operating within the districts, collected automatically through the Alameda County treasurer’s assessment bill. Several professional businesses had sought exemptions from the association. Council rejected that appeal, but cut their fees by one-third. 

• Accepted a check for $27,224.98 from the United Pool Council, which the organization gave “in expectation that the city’s pools will remain open.” Members asked that council not freeze out the currently vacant position of Aquatics Pool Coordinator. The United Pool Council also announced formation of the Fred Lupke Pool Fund to raise money for pool access for “disabled and underserved children of Berkeley.” The fund is named for the longtime Berkeley disabled activist who was killed earlier this year when his wheelchair was struck by a car on Ashby Avenue.