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City Council to Receive Proposed $300 Million Budget By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 10, 2005

Required to close an $8.9 million shortfall, city leaders today (Tuesday) are scheduled to present a proposed budget to the City Council at a 5:30 p.m. work session. 

The fiscal year 2006 budget proposal was not available at press time and is not scheduled for council approval until late June.  

When the council convenes its regular 7 p.m. session it will consider proposals to make it less expensive for long-term tenants to buy their homes, for teaching-related home business owners to get a city permit, and to help homeless people recover their impounded vehicles. Also, the council is scheduled to vote on a Precautionary Principle ordinance, a model for making proactive environmentally-sensitive decisions in city purchasing, contracting and other activities. 



With roughly 75 percent of the city’s $300 million budget tied up in employee salaries, the council has little flexibility to tinker with the budget. The big debate appears to be shaping up over how to spend an estimated $4.5 million in unanticipated revenues available for the coming year.  

City Manager Phil Kamlarz has proposed allocating most of the funds towards capital projects like street improvements, but the council is also facing pressure to use some of the money to restore city services. 

Community nonprofits, facing an average cut of 9 percent, are demanding that the council restore their funding. Also demanding relief are city swimmers, who are facing the closure of all three city pools this winter, as well as arts advocates who are calling for the city to restore art grants and reject the city manager’s proposal to cut the hours of Civic Arts Coordinator Mary Ann Merker. 

Senior citizens and disabled residents have called a protest outside Old City Hall before the meeting to oppose a proposed $18,000 cut from the city’s paratransit budget. Also, animal shelter advocates are calling on the city to withdraw a proposal to eliminate a shelter employee, which they say would force the shelter to reduce hours. 

Rising labor and benefits costs and declining revenues plunged the city into the red three years ago, and appear likely to dent next year’s budget as well. City officials project a $1.6 million deficit in fiscal year 2007, but anticipate a balanced budget by 2009.  

City unions have also pushed for Berkeley to use a portion of the unanticipated revenues to abandon a plan to shut city offices a day each month for a year starting in July. The closures would save the city $3 million. As an alternative, City Manager Phil Kamlarz has proposed that unions affected by the planned closures instead agree to forgo their contractual right to carry over vacation time beyond 320 hours and have the city buy back excess vacation days. The proposal, if accepted by the unions, is anticipated to save $3 million over the course of three years. 


Condominium Conversions 

Councilmembers Betty Olds and Laurie Capitelli have proposed exempting long-term tenants who have formed tenancies in common from paying condominium conversion fees. Only tenants who have lived for at least 10 years in buildings with fewer than five units would be eligible to have the fees waived under the proposal. 

Olds said her proposal was in response to four long-term tenants at 1501 Oxford Street who bought their building as a tenancy in common last year, under the impression they said they received from city officials that Berkeley would waive the condo conversion fee. 

“I think they have a right to convert to condominiums without a penalty,” Olds said. 

Tenancies in common, a way for two or more people to own property together, is often thought to be a less desirable form of ownership than condos. TICs are considered a risky investment because shareholders do not hold title to specific units as they do for condominiums and owners can have more trouble obtaining financing. 

The council is scheduled to vote on the second reading of a proposal to eliminate the regulation of tenancies in common and limit fees for the conversion of rental units into condominiums to 10 percent of the sale price of the unit. The fees were initially designed to prevent condominium conversion to protect the quantity of Berkeley’s rental housing supply. 

The drive to ease restrictions on condo conversions stems from a state appeals court ruling last year that struck down a San Francisco law regulating tenancies in common. Berkeley officials say the ruling, which the state Supreme Court declined to hear, requires the city to end its strict regulations on tenancies in common. 


Teaching-Related Home Businesses 

Councilmember Capitelli is calling on the council to lower the costs for teaching-related home businesses to register with the city. In March, the council approved the first reading of a bill that would have required home-based tutors to obtain a $1,364.70 administrative use permit, rather than a $2,600 use permit, as was then the practice. 

Concluding that most tutors would chose not to register with the city rather than pay the less expensive administrative permit, Capitelli is calling on the council to refer the matter back to the Planning Commission and consider allowing home-based tutors to receive a cheaper and less complicated over-the-counter zoning certificate. 


Aid for Homeless Woman 

Two months ago city officials impounded the truck belonging to Elizabeth Gill, a local homeless woman, who had failed to pay parking tickets dating back several years. The city also impounded her two German shepherd-mix dogs at the animal shelter, with her approval, because without her truck, she couldn’t care for them. 

Now councilmembers Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington want the council to spend $6,000 in city money to pay Gill’s outstanding fees and pass a law allowing homeless people to perform community service as payment for fines, regardless of the amount of time that has passed from when the tickets were issued. 

Currently the city allows low-income residents to perform community service only for tickets received within the previous year. 

“What good does it do to have the car impounded when the owner can’t afford to get it out?” Spring said. 

But Councilmember Betty Olds said she wouldn’t vote to pay for Gill’s costs. “You can’t make legislation for one person,” she said.