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Council Hears Budget Pleas, Approves Development

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 22, 2007

A packed council budget hearing at the Tuesday evening City Council meeting brought out people with requests ranging from homeless services to arts to emergency road access. 

“I’m really amazed that you want to cut funds that support me and my sister,” said 9-year-old Xavier Wilson, one of a dozen or so children and adults who called on the council to restore cuts for services to families and individuals at Harrison House in West Berkeley. 

On the council agenda was a public hearing on the city budget and continued discussion of commercial development at Ashby and College avenues. The council approved designation of transit corridors as “planned development areas” and a pilot project designating one side of the street as residential parking in the south-of-campus area. 


Council considers budget 

While there are about $230,000 in proposed social-service cuts, the mayor pointed out that some programs are being funded at a higher level than in previous years.  

In a memo released Friday, Bates proposed his own $1.4 million supplementary budget, which was, with some minor changes, an addition to the city manager’s budget released in May. Most of that $350 million budget is already committed to personnel and projects. 

After the hearing and council comments on Tuesday, Bates said he would take funding requests into consideration as he rewrites his budget proposal for June 26, when the council is slated to vote on the budget. 

While horse-trading between the mayor and council is likely to take place during the week, Bates’ Chief of Staff Cisco DeVries said Bates would not violate public meeting laws by speaking about the budget with more than three of the councilmembers. 

“We are wandering out of the budgetary wilderness,” said Coucilmember Max Anderson at the Tuesday meeting. “The social safety net that we took so much pride in has become quite tattered. We need to begin to repair it.” 

“Isn’t it possible to make none of these homeless service cuts?” Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who had prepared a request asking for restoration of all social service cuts, asked his colleagues. The budget reduction for social services “doesn’t make sense.” 

With the city manager’s help, Bates identified about $1.4 million that had not been expended in the manager’s budget or that was new money.  

The additional revenue includes $700,000 in funds the city manager had set aside to leverage new funds; $200,000 from correcting misidentified business license tax categories; $60,000 from the school district payments to the general fund for city services; $300,000 from the city manager’s budget, set aside for street repairs from windfall transfer taxes; $190,000 realized from beginning street sweeping in mid 2008, while it was budgeted for the entire year, and $200,000 from the public works budget. 

Bates’ memo proposes spending the funds in a number of ways. He would hire a number of consultants, who would: study West Berkeley zoning, plan transportation, study gaps in services provided by agencies for youth employment; study gaps in health and development services to children 0 to 3; fund a second year for the already-funded greenhouse gas emission reduction consultant, and fund a consultant to write the laws for Bates’ Public Commons for Everyone initiative.  

The council did not discuss any of these proposals, some of which were before the body for the first time. 

The mayor is also recommending expenditures to plan/engineer a Center Street plaza, University Avenue lighting, streetscape on San Pablo Avenue and Piedmont Avenue landscape rehabilitation.  

The mayor also includes direct services to people in need in his proposals: youth jobs, drug and alcohol recovery and various food and shelter programs for homeless people. 

After hearing from dozens of people explaining their needs or the needs of their clients or neighborhoods, councilmembers addressed their funding priorities. They had, over the last few months, created a list of projects that grew to an $8 million price tag. (Many of Bates’ proposals are in addition to that package.) 

Councilmembers chose from their lengthy wish lists to highlight some of their choices. 

Anderson called for funding for the Berkeley Drop-in Center, a peer counseling and respite center for individuals with mental health needs, and a youth arts program, YaYa California. 

Councilmember Dona Spring called for funding for a program for disabled youth in west Berkeley and restoration of funds for a detox acupuncture clinic. 

In addition to calling for funds for nonprofit housing developer Resources for Community Development and the drop-in center, Councilmember Linda Maio asked for UN Run For Peace funding. 

Councilmember Betty Olds spoke out for Piedmont Avenue landscape rehabilitation, something also on the mayor’s list and, along with other councilmembers and the mayor, called for funding for Options for Recovery. Councilmember Laurie Capitalli said he wants to see beat police on Adeline Street and Shattuck and Telegraph avenues. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak called for matching money (the university may fund half) to plan an emergency road in the Panoramic Hills neighborhood, where there is currently only one way in and out; he also asked for a Berkeley Booster intern. 

The council will vote on the budget June 26. 


Priority Development Areas designated 

The Priority Development Areas approved by council 6-0-2 on Tuesday are not truly designated for development, planning staff told the council. Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring abstained and Councilmember Darryl Moore was absent. 

Approving specific projects will come later. 

The purpose of the designation is simply to make the areas—Telegraph, University, South Shattuck avenues and Adeline Street and downtown—eligible for bond funding, which may or may not become available, Planning Director Dan Marks said.  

A quick designation is critical so that the city can submit an application for the funds by June 26, Marks noted. 

Opponents commenting from the public argued that the designation lacks specifics and the streets cited have not gone through a public process regarding future development. State legislation implementing the designation and its funding has not been passed and the city doesn’t know precisely what the law will say, if it is passed.  

“I wanted to be sure we’re not committing ourselves,” said Councilmember Maio, adding she understood “we’re not committing ourselves to anything.” 

“It makes perfect sense for me,” Anderson said. “It creates options.” 

But Worthington said the legislation could require, for example, less affordable housing than Berkeley requires.  

In a letter distributed to the City Council, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) called on the council to commit to a public process on the issue. 

“It is premature to apply for funds, which may force Berkeley to comply with conditions that we, as citizenry, do not accept or agree to,” said the letter, signed by BAHA President Carrie Olson. 

But Maio argued, “We have an opportunity. We don’t know exactly what it is.” 


City attorney in China 

Sitting in the city attorney’s chair during the council meeting was Betsy Strauss, introduced by City Manager Phil Kamlarz as “a very experienced” city attorney who would be taking the place of the vacationing City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque.  

Documents obtained from the city manager’s office show Strauss is paid $200 per hour. The council meeting took four hours. Preparation time would likely have cost the city several more hours. 

Citing the heavy end-of-the-council-year workload and the transition in governance in the housing authority, the Daily Planet asked City Manager Phil Kamlarz on Thursday why the city would have approved this particular time for a vacation. 

But Kamlarz said the city encourages staff to use their vacation time and that “this is not a critical time in the city attorney’s office.” 

Asked about the expense to the city, Kamlarz sidestepped the question, saying the city encourages staff to take vacation leave. There are seven attorneys in the City Attorney’s office in addition to Albuquerque. 

An email from Human Resources Director David Hodgkins notes: “The maximum accrual [for vacation hours] is 320 hours and all top management employees must be at or below that level by the end of the second payroll period in February in each calendar year. Vacation leave is a vested right and is liquidated to cash when any employee leaves the city.” 

In a memo to the council, Albuquerque—under heavy criticism from some quarters (no staff has agreed to speak on the record) for her apparent role precipitating the forced resignation of former Housing Director Steve Barton—wrote:  

“I will be out of the office from June 15 through June 26, on a trip with officers of the National League of Cities and League of California Cities to visit China and confer with its officials. (I will be going at my own expense and accompanying my husband who some of you know is the Executive Director of the League of California Cities but will be included in all discussions because of the fact that I am also a local official.)” 

Strauss, who has an open-ended contract (up to $20,000) with the city, is, according to the Albuquerque memo, “a very experienced city attorney who is special counsel to the League of California Cities and an expert in municipal finance and has been city attorney of several different cities.”