Ignoring commission advice, the Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday not to place public financing of local elections before the voters in November. The Fair Campaign Practices Commission had voted 7-1 last week to support putting “clean money” on the local ballot.
Among the concerns expressed by the mayor and council was the large number of Berkeley residents who would have to give $5 contributions to demonstrate candidate viability—600 for the mayor and 150 for councilmembers.
“It’s a huge barrier,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who nevertheless supported public financing for the mayor’s race.
The council voted twice, first defeating a motion to use public financing for only the mayor’s race at a cost of $308,000 annually, and second defeating a motion to finance the council races, at about $190,000 per year.
Councilmember Linda Maio said collecting the large number of $5 contributions would be time-consuming and create one more hurdle for a candidate to face. There’s already little interest in running for office due to the low salaries (about $25,000 annually), she said.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak objected to the measure being put back on the ballot, after having failed just two years ago: “In a way, you’re disrespecting the voters,” he said.
And Councilmember Laurie Capitelli looked at the cost: “If I have $400,000 to spend, I wouldn’t spend it on this tonight,” he said.
But Councilmember Darryl Moore pointed out that the city today is in better financial shape than it was in 2004 when the council was “cutting thousands and thousands of dollars out of the budget.”
Also the League of Women Voters, which sat out the measure in the last election, is on board this time, he said.
The vote to use public money to finance the mayoral race was defeated 4-2-3 with Councilmembers Moore, Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Mayor Tom Bates in favor, Councilmembers Capitelli and Betty Olds in opposition, and Councilmembers Wozniak, Max Anderson and Linda Maio abstaining. In a second vote on public financing for the council only, Spring and Worthington voted to approve; Capitelli, Olds and Wozniak voted in opposition; and Maio, Moore, Anderson and Bates abstained.
There were few surprises in the 2006-2007 budget, which the City Council approved unanimously. Despite some 20 advocates of full $60,000 funding to monitor an ordinance that mandates that the city not purchase goods and services from companies that do business in sweatshop conditions, the city allocated only $25,000 to the program.
The council did, however, restore the Berkeley Arts Center full supplemental funding of $20,000, put in $250,000 to restore full fire station coverage for the high-fire season, added $12,000 funding for an intern to inventory artists in West Berkeley and $220,000 for Telegraph Avenue Area improvements.
The budget included $2.8 million for affordable housing, street and stormwater system repair. Another $200,000 was allocated to traffic calming. Traffic-calming priorities will be determined in the future.
Most of the $300 million budget reflects fixed costs for city services. Approval of the budget includes a 25-cent per hour increase in parking meter fees.
Approval of the Telegraph Avenue budget item sparked comment by Worthington, who called for adding $50,000 to eliminate the motorcycle parking and return automobile parking on Telegraph south of Dwight Way. Assistant City Manager for Transportation Peter Hillier said he thought he could find the funds in the Public Works Department budget.
While she voted to support the budget, Olds expressed reservations.
“Let’s not forget the warm water pool,” she said, noting that the pool used by the elderly and disabled people got no funding this year, but should be a priority for future funding. Olds also said the task force working on Ashby BART should be a volunteer effort, rather than by costing $40,000.
In other matters:
• The council critiqued UC Berkeley’s proposed southeast campus development projects so that its comments could be included in the Draft Environmental Impact Report. The proposed development includes retrofitting Memorial Stadium, building a new High Performance Center for student athletes, a 911-space parking garage and more. Councilmembers were highly critical of the project, especially disapproving the large number of parking spaces, with a two-lane road access and building on the Hayward fault.
• Fearing the union workforce could be fired when new ownership takes over the Doubletree Hotel at the Marina—similar to what happened originally to workers when new ownership took over Berkeley Honda—the council asked staff to write an ordinance that would protect non-management employees of large hotels when hotels change hands. Similar ordinances are in effect in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere, according to Worthington, who authored the proposal.
• Discussion of cultural uses at the Allston Way Gaia Building was delayed until the July 11 council meeting.