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Council Plans Budget Review; Election Fallout Still Unknown

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday May 28, 2009 - 06:56:00 PM

While Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz has scheduled an update on the city’s budget for next Tuesday’s City Council meeting, that update will probably not include the impacts of last week’s defeats of ballot measures designed to plug holes in the state’s budget deficit. 

With five of six measures defeated in the May 19 special election, California’s state budget deficit is now estimated as approaching $25 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature are expected to make up that deficit, in part, by siphoning money from local governments, including a proposal being floated by the governor’s office to “borrow” $2 billion in local property taxes. But further details of the possible hits to local governments have not yet surfaced. 

“All we know is rumors,” a somewhat glum Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates told participants in a Berkeley City Council Agenda Committee meeting on June 2. And Kamlarz added that while next week’s city budget update will try to project as much as is known about the state’s fiscal situation and its impact on Berkeley, “we’ll get a real dose of reality when the state comes down with its decisions” on how to handle its deficit. 

Berkeley has so far avoided major cutbacks during the current international financial meltdown and recession, but that may change if substantial amounts of money are shuffled out of the city’s budget and into the state treasury. 

In other notable actions scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting: 


Downtown Area Plan 

The council will conduct a public hearing on the city’s ambitious proposed Downtown Area Plan, which is designed to set the direction for downtown Berkeley development for years to come. At the conclusion of the public hearing, councilmembers are expected to give suggestions for revisions to the plan, which will be modified by staff and returned for further council deliberation on June 9. 

Last week, in a two-hour workshop preceding the regular council meeting, the council got its first formal look at two competing plans, the original one produced by the council-chosen Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee (DAPAC), and the second one, a revision of the DAPAC plan put together by the city Planning Commission. Citizens had only one minute at last week’s workshop to comment on the plan, while Mayor Bates limited councilmember comments to three minutes apiece. Next week’s full council hearing and discussion are likely to take considerably more time. 


Climate Action Plan 

The council will be asked to adopt a proposed negative declaration of environmental effects for the proposed Climate Action Plan (CAP), as well as to formally adopt the plan itself. Adoption of a Negative Declaration would make unnecessary a full environmental impact review (EIR) process of the Climate Action Plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a review that some Berkeley citizens have requested because of the long-term effects the CAP will have on commercial and residential density in the city. 

The proposed Negative Declaration has already drawn fire from Berkeley’s Committee to Minimize Toxic Waste (CMTW), which has been monitoring the environmental effects of the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). In a letter to Climate Action Plan coordinator Timothy Burroughs that she presented to Council Agenda Committee members this week, CMTW Project Manager Pamela Sihvola called the city’s study proposing a negative CEQA declaration “totally inadequate, incomplete and deficient” because it does not include the greenhouse gas effects of the nearby UC Berkeley campus and the LBNL. At the Agenda Committee, Mayor Bates called Sihvola’s letter and remarks “an interesting argument,” but made no further comment. Sihvola is expected to renew her argument at Tuesday’s full council deliberation on the CAP. 

The CAP seeks to implement Berkeley’s 2006 Measure G, which set a targeted goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the city by the year 2050. The CAP was developed by city officials to provide detailed plans through the year 2020 to get the city on track for 2050. 


Traffic calming policy and procedures 

The council has scheduled a discussion of its city Traffic Calming Policy, which includes, among other things, traffic circles and street diversions, blockages, and directions designed to funnel traffic into some streets and areas and away from others. Proposed is a resolution to establish a revised policy, which would include a standard for setting up a waiting list for traffic calming project requests and criteria for setting project priorities.