For my holiday wish for Berkeley, I propose a reform to put more power to the people, more accountable governance, and a more efficient and equitable collection of public revenue.
The City of Berkeley would be organized into neighborhood districts with a population of about 1,000. Each district would elect a neighborhood council. Call this the level 1 council. The city council districts would be level 2, and the neighborhood councils of the City Council district would elect a level-2 council. The members of the level-2 councils would elect the City Council, level 3. Berkeley would then have a bottom-up voting structure, power flowing up from the neighborhoods.
My fiscal reform would abolish those nasty utility taxes, transfer taxes, and taxes on improvements. All city taxes would be replaced by one single parcel tax based on the size and location of plots of land instead of, as is the practice now, of the square footage of the buildings and other improvements. Some of the city revenues would be allocated to the level-1 and level-2 councils on an equal per-capita basis. Responsibility for street maintenance, most parks, zoning, and some policing would devolve down to the level-1 and level-2 councils.
Berkeley would then have a more grassroots democracy, where money would play a much smaller role and power would be more decentralized. The reformed tax system would be friendlier to enterprise, housing, and low-income folks. There would be more local control of issues that mostly affect the local neighborhoods. For a better Berkeley, let's have more power to the neighborhoods, and to the people!
Fred Foldvary is an economist and long-time Berkeley resident.›