If ballot measures are the true measure of citizen voter participation, and citizen voter participation is the true measure of democracy, then the Nov. 2 election would seem to confirm the City of Berkeley as the democratic (small “d”) capital of the East Bay.
With 12 municipal ballot measures, Berkeley will have only one less by itself than all of the cities in Contra Costa County put together. Of the 21 municipal ballot measures in Alameda County, more than half of them will take place in Berkeley, and of the 34 municipal ballot measures in Alameda and Contra Costa counties combined, 35 percent of them will take place in Berkeley.
Four of the Berkeley ballot measures are tax increase measures designed to address Berkeley’s continuing budget problems. And these figures do not include Measure B, the ballot measure sponsored by the Berkeley Unified School District. Unless otherwise noted, all of the measures need only a majority vote to pass. For good or ill, here they all are:
Measure B — Berkeley Unified School District Measure For School Financing
Would levy a two-year special tax of 9.7 cents per square foot for residential buildings, 14.7 cents per square foot for commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings, and $50 per parcel for unimproved lots. Sixty-eight percent of the money would go towards reducing class sizes and expanding course offerings, 16 percent would go toward school libraries, seven percent would go towards music programs, seven percent would go towards teacher training and evaluation, and two percent would go towards parent outreach and translation services. A citizen’s oversight committee would monitor the use of the funds. Two-thirds majority approval needed to pass.
Measure H — City of Berkeley Charter Amendment For Public Financing of Elections
Would authorize public financing of elections for mayor, City Council, school board, and auditor candidates who voluntarily agree to spending limits. Such public financing would only go into effect when the City Council figures out where to get the projected minimum of half a million dollars in annual funds to pay for it.
Measure I — City of Berkeley Charter Amendment To Change Year of Mayoral Elections
Berkeley mayors are presently elected in the four year election cycle opposite the presidential elections (the recent presidential election years are 2000 and 2004; the recent Berkeley mayor election years are 2002 and 2006). Measure I would conform the Berkeley mayoral elections so that they take place the same year as the presidential elections. To accomplish this, the term for the mayor election in 2006 would only be for two years, with the term extended back to four years from 2008 on.
Measure J — City of Berkeley Utility Users Tax
Would increase the utility tax rate from 7.5 percent to nine percent for a four-year period from 2005 through 2008. The tax increase would expire automatically in 2008. For a Berkeley resident with a combined monthly utility bill (gas, electricity, cable, house telephone, and cellphone) of $300, Measure J would mean an increased utility tax of $4.50 per month (from $22.50 to $27.00). The tax money would be added to the general revenue of the city, with no special restrictions on how it could be appropriated by the City Council.
Measure K — City of Berkeley Youth Services Special Tax
Would increase the current 1.5 percent property transfer tax exclusively for the purpose of supporting certain youth services and youth safety programs in the city. If passed, 0.5 percent would be added to the transfer of all property worth between $600,000 and a million dollars, bringing the total transfer tax to two percent (that means a total transfer tax of $12,000 for property worth $600,000). One percent would be added to the transfer of all property worth over a million dollars, bringing the total transfer tax to 2.5 percent (that means a total transfer tax of approximately $25,000 for property worth slightly over one million dollars). The text of the proposed tax gives a broad list of “youth services and youth safety programs” but does not specifically define the term “youth.” The tax increase would automatically expire at the end of 2010, at which point the transfer tax would return to 1.5 percent. Two-thirds majority approval needed to pass.
Measure L — City of Berkeley Library Special Tax
Would increase the library parcel tax on improvements from 13 cents per square foot to 15 cents per square foot for residential real property and 20 centers per square foot to 23 cents per square foot for commercial, industrial, and institutional real property. It would also make adjustments to the inflation rate upon which the library tax is also based.
The formula is complicated, but for 2005-06, the city attorney’s analysis estimates that passage of this measure would mean no more than a $41.47 per year library tax increase on a 1,900 square foot home (from $250 to $290) and no more than a $330 increase on a 10,000 square foot commercial building (from $2,000 per year to $2,330 per year). Because the base tax rises with the inflation rate, the tax amount would also rise in later years. The tax money would go for public library services. Two-thirds majority approval needed to pass.
Measure M — City of Berkeley Paramedic Special Tax
Would increase the existing paramedic services special tax rate from 2.5 cents per square foot to four cents per square foot on all improvements to real property. It would also make adjustments to the inflation rate upon which the paramedic services tax is based. The city attorney’s analysis estimates passage of this measure would mean no more than a $29 per year paramedic services tax increase on a 1900 square foot building ($50 to $79) and no more than a $154 per year increase on a 10,000 square foot building ($263 to $416). Because the base tax rises with the inflation rate, the tax amount would also rise in later years. The tax money would go for paramedic services. Two-thirds majority approval needed to pass.
Measure N — City of Berkeley Appropriation Limit Approval (also called the Gann Override)
The California Constitution requires that even after voters approve special taxes by a two-thirds majority vote, the city must return to the voters every four years to ask continuing permission to spend that money. Measure N is not a new tax or a tax increase, but merely asks permission of City of Berkeley voters to continue to spend tax money from certain previously-passed special taxes. In this case, it is for the Parks Maintenance Tax, the Library Relief Tax, the Emergency Medical Services Tax, and the Emergency Services for Severely Disabled Persons Tax. If this measure fails, the previously-approved tax money would be returned to the taxpayers.
Measure O — City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Base Rent Ceilings
Would change the manner in which legal rent increases are calculated under the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Presently, the Rent Stabilization Board makes its annual rent increase calculations by preparing a cost study and taking in public testimony. Measure O would change that to an automatic process, where the legal rent increase each year would be calculated based on the increase in the prior year’s Consumer Price Index in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose area. The ordinance would also cap that possible rent increase at seven percent, and would ensure that the annual adjustment would not be used to lower rents.
Measure P — City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization And Eviction Ordinance Adjustments
This measure makes nine separate adjustments to Berkeley’s rent control and eviction law, far too many to explain in the present summary. The only thing most of these adjustments have in common is that they have something to do with residential renting in Berkeley.
The adjustments include placing certain Section 8 units under Rent Stabilization Board regulation, exempting low-income units rented by non-profit housing corporations from Rent Stabilization Board regulation, exempting transitional housing from most provisions of the Rent Ordinance, allowing information in the Rent Board files to be used for enforcement of other city ordinances, eliminating most criminal penalties for landlord violation of the Rent Ordinance, and eliminating a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant merely because the tenant replaces a roommate.
Measure Q — City of Berkeley Prostitution Enforcement
Would make enforcement of the prostitution laws the lowest priority in Berkeley and would instruct the city government to support efforts toward the repeal of state prostitution laws.
Measure R — City of Berkeley Medical Marijuana Dispensary Permits
Would make it mandatory for the city to issue permits to organizations qualifying as medical marijuana dispensaries regardless of zoning, would establish a Peer Review Committee in order to certify new medical marijuana dispensaries, would raise the amount of growing and processed marijuana that could legally be in the possession of medical marijuana users and cannabis clubs in Berkeley.
Measure S — City of Berkeley Tree Board
Would create a new “Public Tree Act” ordinance for Berkeley which would, among other things, generally prohibit the alteration, topping, or removal of non-hazardous public trees. Would require the city to annually plant the same number of public trees as were planted in 2003. Would establish city tree contractors’ licensing requirements. Would create a City Tree Board and hire a two-member staff to oversee the new tree ordinance.