At a cost of $52,000, the City of Berkeley commissioned two professional polls that probed for tax-susceptible weak points in the body politic. The results were starkly clear—only one of the potential tax measures explored had majority voter support and none garnered the required two-thirds majority. With the presentation of additional favorable background information, only one target area even had the vaguest potential to reach the two-thirds voter threshold—a measure directed to streets and watershed infrastructure improvements.
For details see http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Level_3_-_City_Council/2012/05May/Item%2042.pdf
Despite these results, the Council once again succumbed to the relentless pools lobby and is now working on: a $30M bond for streets/watershed; a $20M bond to build a warm water pool and make pool improvements at Willard and King; and a $1M parcel tax to pay for ongoing annual pool maintenance. The pools measures, even with enhanced favorable information and no opposing arguments presented (as will happen in an election), according to the pollster experts still fell short of the two-thirds requirement by about 7%.
The Berkeley voter may well be puzzled—did voters not vote on and reject the same pool measure just two short years ago in an expensive Special Municipal Election on June 8, 2010? The answer is yes. For details see http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=50932
So why is the Council ignoring the expertise of a professional pollster and the expressed priorities of a representative sample of Berkeleyans to spend public money, if voters choose to spend it at all, only on streets, sewers and watershed?
In a more rational world, before asking for any more money for things residents may not even want or are able to afford, the City Council would first finalize the upcoming City labor contracts and right-size the City’s exorbitant employee costs, establish a full accounting of the $1.2B in unfunded City liabilities as called for in the FACTS measure on the November ballot, and then develop a long term plan, based on voter priorities and essential needs, to fix up the City and its finances. This plan would likely include some new taxation, but the taxes could be instituted in a rational, orderly, and defensible manner. Instead, the City is operating in the same destructive grabby fashion that helped get it into the fiscal mess in the first place. If the City wants more money to spend on important infrastructure needs, it should first dial 981-CITY and explore $40M in potential employee contributions to retirement and health care costs.
(Barbara Gilbert is a 40 year resident of Berkeley. a chronic Council watcher, and active in several community organizations including Berkeley Budget SOS, the Committee for FACTS, and Northeast Berkeley Association)