Between Mayor Tom Bates’ State of the City address, a motion on the controversial Ashby BART housing project and a hearing on the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, Berkeley’s City Council will have its hands full tonight (Tuesday).
Opponents of the Ashby BART project—a plan backed by Mayor Bates and Councilmember Max Anderson—have scheduled a 6:15 p.m. protest outside the Maudelle Shirek Building (Old City Hall), timed to occur while Bates will be inside giving his annual State of the City address.
That speech will start at 6 p.m., after the council finishes a 5 p.m. work session featuring a budget update from City Manager Phil Kamlarz.
In a Monday preview for reporters, Kamlarz said following the 10 percent city workforce reduction, the secret to balancing city budgets in the years ahead would be the elimination of cost of living increases for city workers.
Contracts with city unions are due to expire over the next two years, starting with the firefighters’ compact in June.
“We’re starting negotiations this month,” the city manager said. “The generous contracts we have had in place over the last couple of years have been above the median in comparison with surrounding jurisdictions.”
Plans for the balanced budget in years ahead “would go sideways pretty fast if salary increases are given,” Kamlarz added.
Meanwhile, because of additional, unplanned revenues mostly from property transfer taxes, the city expects to chalk up a budget surplus in the current two-year budget period, Kamlarz said.
Another major issue in labor costs has been health insurance, with premiums increasing by 15 percent in the last year, he added.
Councilmember Max Anderson’s resolution calls on the council to reaffirm its commitment to seeking a $120,000 grant from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to help plan a mixed-use housing and commercial project on the main parking lot of the Ashby BART station.
Anderson’s resolution calls on the council to reject invoking state transit village legislation—a major sticking point with neighbors, who fear that the project would lead to upzoning and greater density in the surrounding neighborhood.
The resolution would also reject the use of eminent domain in connection with the project.
Neighbors have organized significant opposition to the project, in part because of fears of the project’s impact. The original proposal submitted to Caltrans by project consultant Ed Church, consultant to the South Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation, called for a minimum of 300 housing units on the site.
Anderson said later that 300 would be a maximum.
Many of the concerns arose because the council’s vote to approve the funding application came more than a month after it had already been submitted.
A neighborhood meeting last month drew a turnout estimated at 400, where most speakers spoke in opposition to the project.
Anderson has scheduled a community meeting of for 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul’s AME Church, 2024 Ashby Ave., to answer concerns about the project.
The council is also headed to a showdown over the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, pitting the preservationists like the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the city’s own Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) against developers and “smart growth” advocates, such as Livable Berkeley.
The issue for the council to decide is which of two conflicting ordinances to approve—one drafted by the LPC and the other by the Planning Commission—or whether to craft a hybrid of their own, such as a proposal floated by Mayor Bates in December.
Though tonight’s meeting was initially billed as a public workshop to discuss the ordinance, it is scheduled as a public hearing and listed on the action calendar with the notation to “adopt first reading of one of two ordinance, or a variant thereof ... or, alternatively, provide direction to staff to prepare an alternative ordinance to bring back to council.”
Developers and other critics of the ordinance charge that landmarking buildings has become a weapon of anti-development forces, and that the law as it now reads leads to extended project delays.
Supporters of the law generally acknowledge that it’s been used to challenge questionable projects, but say that delays have been largely due to city staff, and not the ordinance.
Because of one-time financial windfalls, Kamlarz is recommending that the council earmark $98,302 of general revenue funds to pay for disaster preparedness, hearing aids and the city’s Winter Shelter Program.
That sum is part of the $1.23 million in additional revenues he expects in the city’s budget for fiscal years 2006-7.
Of the immediate expenditures, the largest sum—$44,500—would be earmarked for disaster preparedness, with $38,802 budgeted for hearing aids for the Council for the Education of the Infant Deaf program and $15,000 to pay for alternative beds for the homeless after roof leaks forced the closure of the city-funded shelter at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Bancroft Way.
An additional $1.14 million in anticipated surplus funds would be earmarked for a variety of programs, many of them one-time capital improvement expenditures, said Kamlarz.
The largest share, $300,000, would be allocated to replace street repair funds that had been shifted to cover anticipated overtime costs in the fire department.
Another $292,6443 would be allocated to capital improvements in the city’s ailing stormwater system, and $200,000 would be added to the traffic calming budget.
Another $144,000 would be slated to restore shortfall in the city’s Parks Capital Improvement Project, with $126,000 for a new backstop, pathway and picnic area improvements at San Pablo Park and $18,000 for improvements at Dorothy Bolte Park on Spruce Street.
Kamlarz is asking for two $21,000 “Green Machines” to help clean sidewalks in the Telegraph Avenue and Downtown Areas in response to merchant and neighborhood complaints, and an additional $82,000 for the Community Choice Aggregation, which is a statewide program to encourage green energy, $50,000 for a bike and pedestrian gate to BART and $25,000 for special events funding.
The extra funds come mostly from property transfer tax revenues, Kamlarz said, funds which can’t be relied on in the long term because of the volatility of the current real estate market and widespread anxieties over a possible bubble in housing prices.