Controversial Proposals to Be Expected On Fall Ballot

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Berkeley voters will be faced with tough decisions this fall, as a number of proposed tax increases are expected to appear on the November ballot.

The local ballot measures, being presented to the City Council tonight, propose to retrofit Old City Hall, improve storm drainage and increase the stock of affordable housing. Also contenders for consideration during the General Election are measures that would shift city elections to a proportional voting system, pay for an animal shelter, increase funding to the arts and create a student council district.

All the proposals must be approved by the council by summer in order for them to appear on the fall ballot.

Among the proposals is one to improve the housing situation for low-income residents. The proposed measure would try to keep residents from becoming homeless by "providing social services and actual cash help to keep people in their homes," Hawley said.

By maintaining current affordable housing and building more, the measure would increase the stock of housing for qualified low-income residents. It would also provide subsidies for housing and incentives to landlords who rent to Section 8 tenants.

Half of the revenue generated by the proposed measure would be used to develop permanently affordable housing for low-income residents.

The additional programs would be funded by increases in the taxes on real-estate sales and rental properties.

But the ballot measure could still be changed, said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.

The City Council is also

proposing a measure to seismically upgrade both Old City Hall and the Veteran's Memorial Building on Center Street because the buildings could collapse during an earthquake.

Currently, these two buildings are the only major city buildings that have not been upgraded.

However, some city officials wonder if voters are willing to pay increased taxes for these new measures.

"I cannot see that they are going to take this very easily. The more you add onto taxes, the more you're increasing housing costs," Dean said. "You have to be careful because these costs are very high in this city."

The city is considering dedicating more money to diverting storm water so runoff is not flowing directly into the bay and into creeks.

"When it rains heavily, the water has to be funneled into the bay. We need to install pipes to drain property and streets," said Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz.

A city storm water fund currently generates $1.9 million annually to pay for expenses. The city hopes to increase the size of the fund and thereby increase the annual earnings.

But some in the city say the money needs to be spent more wisely.

"We need to better utilize the money we have now before increasing the tax," said L.A. Wood, a member of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission.

Besides clean water, affordable housing and seismic retrofitting, the City Council also proposes to install more streetlights.

UC Berkeley students have increasingly requested more streetlights, Hawley said.

Currently, money allocated for street lighting comes out of the General Fund, which is running at a deficit of $1.8 million, said Councilmember Dona Spring.

By putting the street light measure on the ballot, the city will be able to save money that can be used to meet the its other needs, according to Hawley.

As the proposed ballot measures are currently in the preliminary stages of development, the city council remains open to receiving input from Berkeley residents.

"We plan to keep our ears to the ground to hear what people find important to the city," she said.

Each of these measures would require a two-thirds vote from city residents in November.


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