We’ve all read “Dear Abby” and “Miss Manners,” but now I think it is time for Berkeley to have its own “Ask Mayor Tom” column.
I may not be the best source for questions about etiquette or troublesome in-laws, but I can offer suggestions, and advice about issues facing our city. There is no doubt in my mind that offering the opportunity for the Berkeley community to present their ideas, concerns, and questions will help me do a better job and hopefully become a useful venue for people to have their concerns addressed.
If you have a question or an issue you would like covered in this column, please drop me a note (my contact information is at the bottom). I will answer as many of the submissions as space will allow. I’ll also reach out to experts and others in the community that might be able to shine some light on an issue.
As this is my first column, I’ll start off by providing a quick update on what I’ve been working on recently.
The Budget. Unfortunately, the city’s budget crisis continues to be the single most important issue facing us. We’ve taken several steps to get ahead of the problem, but there will certainly be difficult, controversial, and painful choices to be made over the next several months. On Jan. 27, the city manager will present options to the City Council for making 20 percent across the board cuts to city departments and programs. We all hope that the cuts will not be that significant, but it is best to begin planning for the worst-case scenario.
Berkeley’s Champions for Kids. This has been my top priority during my first year in office and, working with a lot of dedicated people, I think we really are making a difference. For example, we launched Berkeley Champions for Kids—a three-pronged program that includes new volunteer recruitment and coordination efforts, a city employee release time initiative, and a new workplace giving program to fund important after school and other programs. In addition, the city and the school district have worked to improve coordination on a whole range of family support and health services. My website has more information about these and other initiatives.
A Better Development Process. There are few things in Berkeley more contentious than decisions about development and land use. That is why the mayor’s 14-member Task Force on Permitting and Development surprised so many people by finding common ground in its 72 unanimous recommendations for improving Berkeley’s process for approving residential, commercial, and large-scale development. Recommendations covered everything from better notification of pending projects, to concrete timelines for city staff and commission reviews, to making it easier for new businesses to open and expand in Berkeley. The City Council will consider an implementation work plan next month. In the meantime, feel free to read the entire report on my website.
Downtown Development. Big changes are in the making for Berkeley’s downtown. UC Berkeley’s planned 200-room hotel and museum project at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue has received a lot of attention, but there are a number of other projects underway or being discussed – from Vista College to Library Gardens. As a community, we need to plan around issues of streetscape, traffic, parking, and transit. One of my top goals this year is to engage in a community process to work through these important design and transportation issues.
New Playing Fields. Pull those soccer balls out of the garage! Last month, the City Council officially joined with four neighboring cities to jointly oversee the construction and operation of up to five new playing fields off Gilman Street in Albany. Assuming state funding comes through as hoped, at least a few of the fields should be ready in the next year or two. I would like to thank the city staff, members of Citizens for the Eastshore State Park (CESP), and the Association of Sports Field Users (ASFU) for their ongoing work on this important project.
I look forward to receiving your questions, comments and suggestions.
Please send questions, concerns, and ideas that you’d like to see discussed in this column to “Ask Mayor Tom,” 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley, 94704, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Fax: 981-7199. Phone: 981-7100. Website: www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/mayor.
Editor’s note: The opinion pages are open to all contributors writing on topics of interest to greater Berkeley, and we are pleased to include Mayor Tom Bates among them. Readers may send their ideas and opinions about anything on these pages directly to the contributors, as Mayor Bates suggests, but they are also welcome to submit their comments on what appears here to the Daily Planet for publication (email@example.com).