The City Council Tuesday formally kicked off a drive to welcome UC Berkeley into its “tax paying family.”
In a four-hour session filled with lots of talk and few concrete actions, the council also bandied about ideas to soften planned budget cuts for city nonprofits, fine-tuned tax measures expected to go before voters in November, passed a series of fee hikes, unanimously approved the long-awaited Hills Fire Station, and adopted a resolution calling for the state and federal governments to amend their constitutions to limit the rights of corporations.
Tuesday marked the council’s first chance to discuss a city-commissioned report released last week that put an $11 million price tag on UC Berkeley’s exemption from city taxes and assessments.
UC contests the fiscal impact report’s findings and methodology. Speaking to the council Tuesday, Vice Chancellor of Capital Projects Edward Denton questioned how the report could conclude that UC costs to the city rose over 600 percent for sewer services, 300 percent for fire services and 200 percent for police services since a previous study in 1989, when the consumer price index (CPI) during the past 15 years rose only 48 percent.
Jason Moody of Environmental Planning Specialists, Inc., the consulting firm that prepared both reports, replied that costs to the city have increased by more than the CPI and that the new report is more comprehensive than its predecessor.
While Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said hosting UC definitely costs the city money, he agreed with university officials that the city study used flawed methodology.
“Some of the assumptions in this model are not justifiable at all,” Wozniak said. “We need to get a bottom line we can seriously defend.”
One of the more glaring inconsistencies Wozniak said he found was that in estimating the cost of UC commuters to the city, the report assumed they would be on campus 365 days a year, but in determining the tax revenue they would provide, the report assumed they would come to Berkeley only 250 days a year.
Other councilmembers praised the report as a good starting point for negotiations.
“You can quibble with a few things, but you can’t contest that the city is subsidizing the university,” Councilmember Miriam Hawley said.
Assistant City Manager Arrietta Chakos said both the city and university have selected negotiating teams that will start meeting next week to hammer out an agreement for university mitigations.
The city’s fiscal impact study was timed to coincide with the release of UC Berkeley’s 2020 Long Range Development Plan, which, much to the city’s chagrin, projects large increases in new buildings, parking lots and student dorms.
City Planning Director Dan Marks said Berkeley’s formal response to the UC Plan wouldn’t be available until Friday, June 18, the deadline for submitting comments to the university’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) that accompanies the plan.
Mayor Tom Bates, who has urged the city not to take too hard a line against the university, asked to view the city’s response before Friday, but was told by Marks and City Manager Phil Kamlarz that it wouldn’t be ready and that past mayors haven’t been given an opportunity to sign off on similar documents.
Marks said he believed the city had raised enough valid concerns in the report to force the university to recirculate its DEIR for the plan prior to bringing it to the UC Board of Regents for approval it in November.
On the budget, the council will leave the final wrangling over cuts to community nonprofits for next week when it’s scheduled to adopt a budget that will erase a $10.3 million shortfall.
A proposal from Mayor Tom Bates that would use one-time money to partially restore funding to numerous nonprofits for six months appears likely to be approved. Councilmember Dona Spring urged adding to the mayor’s proposal with money for creek restoration, traffic circles and more nonprofits.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington called for more money for independent arts groups and street festivals. He also wanted a report on how much overtime expenses the city would face if it follows through on its plan to cut 88 vacant positions.
At its 5 p.m. work session on Tuesday, the council moved forward with four tax measures for the November ballot. As they stand now, the measures include a 1.5 percent increase in the Utility Users Tax (projected to add $2.7 million for general fund programs over four years), a $1.9 million increase in the Library Tax to erase the deficit in the library fund, a $2.2 million increase in the property transfer tax to fund youth-related programs, and a tax of either $1 million or $1.2 million to erase the deficit in the city’s paramedic fund. The extra $200,000 would pay for enhanced life support capacity.
The council also approved fee hikes for ambulance use, fire inspection, marina use, false alarms for burglaries and holdups and animal adoptions. In all, the fees will add about $300,000 to the city’s general fund, most of which has already been budgeted.+