Mayor Presents Plan to Reduce City's Deficit

Photo: Mayor Tom Bates (right) speaks with Hotel Durant General Manager James Lim after presenting his seventh State of the City address.
Skyler Reid/Staff
Mayor Tom Bates (right) speaks with Hotel Durant General Manager James Lim after presenting his seventh State of the City address.

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With the Berkeley City Council poised to tackle an overall projected $16.2 million deficit and further state budget cuts looming, Mayor Tom Bates addressed the city's concerns and possible solutions in his State of the City address Tuesday.

In order to reduce the deficit, the city will eliminate 77 positions, 30 of which are currently filled.

"For the first time in the history of Berkeley we're looking at people leaving," he said at the luncheon to an audience of 50 city officials and community members at the Berkeley Marina Doubletree Hotel.

Although the city is facing its worst deficit in years, rating agencies concluded that it is consistent with past ratings and ranks in the top half percent of cities in the nation in terms of fiscal management.

Bates said city officials hope to overcome the deficit through a new enterprise zone in West Berkeley and the Downtown Area Plan in an effort to increase revenues and maintain the city's financial status.

Bates said the newly established enterprise zone, which was extended through Emeryville and Berkeley from Oakland, may provide an opportunity for new companies to expand and remain in the area.

One such company, Bayer Corporation, will spend $100 million in new research and facilities, providing the possibility for the creation of new jobs.

"This gives us a whole new arm," he said. "It gives us an opportunity to provide tax incentives for people to hire locally."

Bob Canter, president and CEO of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, said the city is considering extending its free shuttle service, Emery Go-Round, into Berkeley in a joint effort to improve the local economy. Canter said Berkeley and Emeryville have collaborated in the past to develop the Gilman Street Playing Fields with three other cities in Alameda County.

Hoping to invigorate Downtown life with 5,000 new residents in the next 10 years, Bates said he hopes to continue implementing the controversial Downtown Area Plan to make the area more sustainable and safe.

"We want to keep working to make it a place people will want to go to live, shop and be," he said. "We want to make it a vibrant place."

Although some Berkeley residents are concerned with Downtown Berkeley being "Manhattanized," Bates said the plan takes into account building height limits with only five buildings exceeding 75 feet and none exceeding 180 feet - the height of the city's tallest building.

John Caner, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said the association hopes to increase services for a clean and welcoming environment in the area.

"We see the opportunity to bring more people to live, work and play Downtown," he said. "It's important to get diversity, folks who can support the art district, shops and restaurants."

He added that the association is working with the city to revitalize public spaces such as the Downtown Berkeley BART Plaza, Shattuck Avenue and University Avenue. The plan includes redesigning outdated architecture, planting new trees and creating performance and public art space.

Bates said another concern is working with the Berkeley Unified School District to close the disparity gap, which ranks highest in the nation. Through the 2020 Vision program, the council and Board of Education will attempt to close the gap by working with families and implementing a community engagement process.

"We want to make sure that academic success is achieved by all of our students, not just some," he said.

He added that although there are many new opportunities to improve the city and create new sources of revenue, further state cuts will present severe financial challenges.

"What we unfortunately have to look forward to is this state budget," he said. "The situation with the city is that we're at the mercy of the state of California ... They're going to come after us again."


Contact Allie Bidwell and Matt Burris at [email protected]

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