Council Looks at Budget, Approves Garbage Hikes

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 23, 2006

The draft budget Mayor Tom Bates presented to the council on Tuesday picked up only $900,000 worth of council and community wishes, leaving much of the rest of the $4.4 million potentially available—beyond approximately $300,000 in fixed costs for parks, police, planning and the like—to the city manager’s plan to allocate the funds to street and storm-drain repair. 

About half of the funding in Bates’ spending plan comes from an anticipated augmentation of 25 cents per hour in parking meter fees. The council will vote on the fee hike next Tuesday as part of the final budget vote. 

Preceding the council budget discussion, citizens lined up for a public hearing, asking for funds for their pet projects and then it was the councilmembers turn to ask the mayor to add their wish lists to the pot. Bates said in an interview on Thursday that he’s already begun making changes in his proposed budget to fund some of the items advocates spoke for at the meeting. 

For example, a number of individuals from the Peace and Justice and Labor commissions asked to fund implementation of a “sweat-free” ordinance, mandating that the city purchase goods from companies whose products are not made in sweat-shop conditions. Funding would help the city identify which products are “sweat-free” and which should be avoided. 

“Getting suppliers to disclose their sources raises consciousness,” Peace and Justice Commissioner Diana Bohn said. Bates said Thursday that he is planning to add partial funding to the project. 

Robbin Henderson, executive director of the Berkeley Arts Center made a plea for more funding than the $11,000 the Bates’ budget allocated, noting that she is about to retire and that attracting a director may take a salary increase. 

“We’ve had a job listing since March,” Henderson said. “We can’t afford competitive salaries.” Bates said his new budget will reflect an increase. 

The mayor said he is dropping funding for a pilot train-whistle project, advanced by Councilmember Linda Maio in response to some citizens who objected a year or so ago to the whistling sound.  

The budget Bates put forward at the council meeting also includes: 

• additional funding so that the Fire Department can be fully staffed during high fire season; closures of one fire station per day will continue during the rest of the year, despite a plea from the BudgetWatch group. “We need fully-staffed fire stations year round,” Barbara Allen told the council; 

• a part-time watershed coordinator, requested when the Creeks Ordinance was discussed; 

• Rubicon vocational training, that aims to place disabled—mostly mentally challenged people—in jobs after appropriate training; 

• police, mental health and beautification on Telegraph Avenue; 

• a youth services coordinator; 

• the Center for Accessible Technology; 

• the Ashby BART community process 

Among the items not making the cut were funds for: 

• the warm-water pool; 

• landscaping for traffic barriers;  

• an additional senior planner.  


Parking in Side Yards 

A proposal to allow parking in side and back yards “by right,” that is with an across-the-counter permit, was scaled down to allow one car to park “by right” in the side yard only, as long as there is two feet of landscaping protecting the neighboring property. 

The council first rejected 4-2-3 a proposal by Councilmember Kriss Worthington to make the process more difficult by demanding a use permit, which would mandate notification of neighbors, with Capitelli and Bates voting in opposition and Maio, Councilmember Darryl Moore and Councilmember Max Anderson abstaining. 

The ordinance was approved conceptually 6-3 with Councilmembers Dona Spring, Betty Olds and Kriss Worthington opposing. 


Refuse costs rise 

Nobody came to council public hearing to protest an 8 percent refuse rate hike, which the council approved unanimously. 

When it came to raising residential sewer fees, however, the council majority refused 5-0-4 despite the city manager’s warning that the piper would have to be paid in future years. Commercial users will have their bills increased by 1 percent and public agencies will see a 3.5 percent increase. Spring, Worthington, Maio and Bates abstained on the matter.  


Citizen appeal denied  

LA Wood lost his appeal on the permit for Pacific Steel Castings carbon adsorption filter 9-0, with Maio promising “continuous monitoring” of the plant. 

Speaking at the public comment period Christopher Kroll of the West Berkeley Alliance for Clean Air and Safe Jobs called for more study of the issue. “The community does not trust the settlement agreement” with PSC, he said. 

In other matters, the council: 

• voted unanimously to take no action on the question of a threatened eviction of artists from the Nexus workspace, owned by the Humane Society; 

• turned down putting a measure on the ballot or using certificates of participation to fund a new warm pool for disabled and elderly people; Spring’s motion failed for lack of a second.