Council Raises Fees, Sets Timetable for Pools Plan

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 09:57:00 AM

Even while the votes were being counted on statewide ballot measures whose defeat will hit Berkeley’s budget hard in the near future, the Berkeley City Council was approving a series of fee increases to deal with the budget problems of the immediate present. 

As part of the necessity to close the upcoming fiscal year budget gap, the council approved increases in six separate fees, including those for fire inspections and fire permits, permit and inspection services by the Environmental Health Division, rental housing and safety programs, parks recreation programs and facilities, marina rates, and street light assessments. In addition, a new fee was created for inspection of aboveground petroleum storage tanks in the city, an action city staff said was necessitated by a new state law. 

In a brief presentation on the proposed fiscal years 2010 and 2011 budget that the council must adopt before July, Budget Director Tracy Veseley said that “there is no room for adding new programs” in the upcoming year, adding that the city’s budget situation based upon the economic recession and the state’s falling fortunes is “even more restricted than what we thought when we introduced the budget two weeks ago.” City Manager Phil Kamlarz added that “the room to move has shrunk,” and said that he has already received indications that state cuts to the city’s health care programs—not yet reflected in the current city budget proposal—will probably be forthcoming. 

With residents and councilmembers already resigned to continuing gloomy economic news, most of the fee increases went by on unanimous votes and without even a public speaker coming to the microphone to voice a protest. That was not true with the proposed $9 per unit and $4.50 per room increase (from $17 and $8.50, respectively) in fees for the rental housing safety program. 

Several rental property owners spoke in protest, including Berkeley Property Owners Association President Robert Cabrera, who said that he was “concerned about the cumulative effects” of the various property-based fee increases that was “forcing [landlords] to get the highest rents that they can.” Noting that none of the fee increases can be passed on by landlords to their current renters, Cabrera told council if they approved any decrease in any of the proposed property fee increases applicable to rental landlords, “I pledge to match that decrease dollar for dollar” with a comparable decrease in rents for his student tenants. 

The council did not take up Cabrera’s offer, instead approving the fee on a 7-2 vote (Bates, Maio, Moore, Anderson, Arreguín, Capitelli, Worthington yes, Wengraf, Wozniak no). 

In other council action Tuesday night: 

The council set a timetable for approval of its City-Wide Pools Master Plan which immediately came under criticism from warm pool advocates, who said that the proposed calendar gave little time for pool advocates to campaign for an expected June 2010 bond measure to finance the plan. 

The council approved moving forward with environmental review on two different pool plans, both of which would include four pools. The major difference between the preferred plan of the Berkeley Public Pools Task Force, which would cost $29.2 million, and the alternative plan, which would cost some $4 million less, is that the preferred plan places both of the West Campus pools indoors—a more expensive project—while the alternative plan has one of the West Campus pools outdoors. Both plans put the warm water pool indoors at West Campus. 

Complicating the city’s actions on implementing the pools plan is that it must complete negotiations with Berkeley Unified School District, where each of the four pools will be housed. 

In its timetable, city staff has proposed California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance running between May and November of this year, with council certification of CEQA and Master Pools Plan adoption in December. Council action approving a bond measure to finance the pools construction is tentatively scheduled for February of 2010, with the bond measure itself on the June 2010 ballot. 

Several warm water pool advocates urged the council to speed up the approval process in order to give bond measure advocates more time to campaign for the measure. Council and staff members said that they would try. 

A resolution supporting a card-check-only union election for the new West Berkeley Bowl supermarket complex was removed from the council’s agenda after union and management representatives announced that they had reached an agreement to hold one. 

Though a report prepared by the city’s Planning Department and a letter to the Zoning Adjustments Board from the Bowl’s architect had stated that the store would open May 14, the store has not yet opened and no specific opening date has been announced.