The biggest challenge we face as a city is the skyrocketing cost of housing, which threatens our economic and cultural diversity. This concern was validated by over 78% of Berkeley residents who were recently surveyed, who said that affordable housing was the top priority for the city to address.
Every month rents increase; further squeezing residents who are struggling to afford their housing in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. More residents are paying a greater portion of their income on housing, creating further economic insecurity. We have also seen many working families, students and even middle-income residents priced out of Berkeley because of housing costs. Not surprisingly, there is a visible increase of people living on our streets, including people that were recently displaced due to rising rents. The median cost of a single family home has grown to over $1 million, making it impossible for long-time residents and young professionals to afford a home in our city.
While this is a regional problem, there is more Berkeley can do to keep people in their homes and make housing more affordable. Recently, I have introduced a number of proposals to deal with the housing affordability crisis including allocating surplus Transfer Tax revenue from recent property sales for low-income housing, increasing resources in our Housing Trust Fund and expanding renter protections. These and other proposals were up for discussion at last week’s Berkeley City Council meeting. Unfortunately, instead of addressing the most pressing issues our City is facing, half the meeting was spent dysfunctionally changing the order of the agenda and ignoring common sense solutions.
I want to thank everyone who showed up in person to the meeting and those who sent emails to the Council. Because of your efforts, we were able to remove several proposals that would forever distort the landscape of many of Berkeley’s unique neighborhoods without guarantees of providing any community benefits or low-income housing. This included introducing “buffer zones” that would allow large developments to encroach into single-family neighborhoods in District 4, and increase speculation at the expense of neighbors.
Some inroads were made on a few proposals. There were also votes to increase the amount of inclusionary housing in new developments from 10% to 20%, and increase the Affordable Housing Mitigation Fee from $28,000 to $34,000 (as recommended in the Nexus Study), something I have long advocated for. Unfortunately, an exemption was provided where the fee is lowered to $30,000 if it is paid early, which could prevent a significant sum of money from entering the Housing Trust Fund. I made an unsuccessful motion to increase the housing fee to $34,000 with no discounts. While we finally took long overdue action to increase our housing impact fee, many of the housing proposals were continued to a yet to be announced special Council meeting on housing. Stay tuned for information on this important discussion on affordable housing.
In addition to the housing issues, several items relating to homelessness were also brought up. After much deliberation and with strong support from the community, we secured funding for the YEAH! Homeless Youth Shelter, which enables it to remain open until July. We also took another step in moving forward with a Tiny Homes development to provide transitional housing for our homeless.
We need real solutions to our housing crisis that will help all people now. We must hold Council accountable and let them know that trickle-down economics will not solve the housing affordability crisis; rather it will intensify the crisis. I have been an outspoken advocate for housing affordability and tenants’ rights and have introduced a number of proposals to not only prevent displacement but expand affordability. I will continue to fight to keep Berkeley diverse, affordable and livable.
IN THE NEWS
Office Hours at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market: This Saturday 10 am
Councilmember Arreguin will be holding his monthly office hours at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market (Center St/Milvia St) this Saturday, April 16th from 10am-1pm, to connect with neighbors. We hope you will share your thoughts, comments and concerns at these open office hours, or just stop by to say hello. We look forward to learning from you how to make District 4 even better.
Update on the Berkeley Homeless Task Force
Thank you to all that attended our last Berkeley Homeless Task Force meeting on March 21st. For those that were unable to attend, we decided to move forward with the Tier 2 Recommendations from our Final Taskforce Report, that we focus our energies on the growing momentum in the community and City Council around Tiny Homes, while still keeping in mind a transitional shelter model similar to the San Francisco Navigation Center. For more information on the Task Force or minutes from past meetings please visit their webpage.
Our next meeting will be on Monday, April 18th from 6:30-8:00pm at the Lutheran Church of the Cross located at 1744 University Avenue. We will hear an update on the Berkeley Way Project as well as a presentation from the Public Library on the amazing work they are doing to provide additional resources around homeless services. Please join us!
The Berkeley Neighborhood Food Project: The Power of One Green Bag
In 2009, the Food Project was first founded in Ashland, Oregon. Since then it has grown to 16 organizations up and down the West Coast, including the Berkeley Neighborhood Food Project (BNFP). To date they have been able to provide thousands of pounds of healthy food to people in need. Despite their success, they are still in need of regular food donors.
In District 4 and throughout Berkeley, volunteers collect donated food every other month on the second Saturday.The BNFP encourages packaged, nonperishable food that is wholesome and appropriate for seniors or a family with children, as much of the clientele who need food are either elderly or struggling to feed their kids. Canned meats and fish, beef or bean chili, canned fruit, peanut butter and non-sugary breakfast cereals are especially good choices.
Becoming a donor is easy. A BNFP neighborhood coordinator will email donors a reminder in advance of the collection date. Most donors buy an additional shopping bag of food on grocery day from their favorite local supermarket, such as Andronico’s, Costco, Grocery Outlet or Trader Joe's. They will then transfer their donation to a BNFT green cloth bag. On collection day, donors can either leave their donation on their porch for pick-up, or place it in the coordinator’s drop box the day before. Pick-ups begin at 9:30am. Food is then delivered to the Food Pantry at the Friends Church at Cedar and Sacramento, where it is sorted and distributed to Berkeley and Albany residents.
Please consider becoming a donor and contributing to their collection date on Saturday, June 11th. By spending just a little bit of money and time every two months, you can drastically improve the lives of fellow community members that are struggling to put food on the table each day. It's an especially good activity for families with children to participate in: children acutely understand the importance of helping others and are eager to be part of the solution. For more information, including a list of most-needed items, or to participate visit the Berkeley Neighborhood Food Project website or call 510-525-2280.
Help Shape Berkeley's Transportation Strategy
The purpose of the Berkeley Strategic Transportation (BeST) Plan is to prioritize improvements to our transportation infrastructure - streets, sidewalks, bikeways and intersections. The BeST Plan team has organized all of Berkeley’s existing goals, policies and guidelines into a series of project evaluation criteria, and now would like what criteria Berkeley residents value the most. Projects can then be prioritized, funded, designed and constructed in an organized fashion that reflects the needs of everyone.
How people move through a community has a powerful impact. A city's transportation system can strengthen neighborhoods. Better pedestrian spaces can spur economic vitality. Transportation design can help achieve environmental and equity goals, such as reducing greenhouse gases and improving mobility for low-income residents. Please share your vision for what Berkeley should be by taking the BeST Plan Transportation Survey.
AN OP-ED BY BERKELEY HIGH STUDENT ABBY STECKEL
On March 23, 2016, the Berkeley School Board unanimously approved a resolution to support two pieces of legislation that lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for school district governing board elections. Assembly Bill 2517, authored by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, would permit the city to amend its charter to allow 16 year olds to vote on district positions. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, put forward by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, would go a step further in automatically lowering the state voting age to 16 for all school board elections. Both bills are backed by the national student-motivated campaign known as Vote at 16, and both would mean huge steps toward student enfranchisement in Berkeley, in California, and in the United States.
Vote at 16 Berkeley is led by a 12 member Steering Committee of Berkeley High and Berkeley Technology Academy students. Simelia Rogers, a member of the Steering Committee and a sophomore at BHS, described the initiative as “a student led fight for a student cause.” The group has adult advisors, she said, but it is students who have collaborated with the assemblymembers to write and rally support for the legislation.
According to Rogers, lowering the voting age would encourage board members to communicate with students more effectively because we would become their constituents. “I think this bill gives a greater need for the school board to reach out to the students, and a greater need to directly meet the needs of the students,” she explained. Moreover, she said that the new voting age would increase voter turnout and encourage student civic engagement. She expressed confidence that 16 and 17-year-olds are willing and capable of giving their input on a governing body whose decisions affect them every single day.
BHS Juniors Renee Revolorio-Keith and Dewi Zarni represented Vote at 16 during Public Comment at the March 23 School Board meeting and urged the importance of 16 and 17-year-olds being heard. Revolorio-Keith said that when students are not taught that their voice matters at a young age, they lose empowerment to vote throughout their lives. Zarni continued, “[Voter apathy] is a huge issue in the United States and in California as well, and we should be teaching students that their vote does count and is influential.”
She closed, “At 16 and 17 years old, we’re old enough to drive, to work, and to pay taxes. We should be old enough to decide who represents us in terms of our education.”
Jesse’s Office Hours at the Downtown Farmers Market
Saturday, April 16th, 10am-1pm
Center Street between Milvia Street and MLK Jr Way
Councilmember Arreguin will be holding office hours at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Market each month, to connect with residents on a regular basis and hear what they care about. We hope you will share your thoughts, comments and concerns at these open office hours, or just stop by to say hello. We look forward to learning from you how to make District 4 even better.
Berkeley Homeless Task Force
Monday, April 18th, 2016, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Lutheran Church of the Cross, 1744 University Avenue
Please join their next meeting to hear presentations from the Berkeley Way affordable housing development, and the Berkeley Public Library on ways they are expanding their resources to address homelessness. All are welcome.
Senior and Disabled Affordable Housing Forum
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016, 1pm-4pm
South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street
The California Alliance for Retired Americans is hosting a forum on affordable housing to address the housing crisis in Alameda County. Renters, people in subsidized housing, mobile homeowners and homeowners are facing huge challenges in order to stay in their homes. The over-priced housing market and lack of funding for new truly affordable and accessible housing is putting pressure on an already tight housing market. Learn how to protect your housing, advocate for more housing options, and join the fight to make housing a right for all of us.
BAHIA 5K Camina Y Corre
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016, 8am-2pm
Cesar Chavez Park, 11 Spinnaker Way
Enjoy the beautiful day at the 4th annual walkathon while celebrating BAHIA’s community and promoting the health of families and children! After the 5K, there will fun surprises, health information, health screenings, food, activities and freebies! General admission is $25, and $15 for youth. For more information and to register, click here.
Berkeley Emergency Preparedness Fair
Saturday, April 30th, 2016, 10am-2pm
Civic Center Park, 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Kids growing up in earthquake country need a disaster-prepared household. Pet owners need to know how to keep pets safe in a disaster. At this free community-wide event, people at all levels of preparedness are invited to take steps towards emergency readiness for their whole family.
You'll find family-friendly activities, tips and information, on-site training and interactive demonstrations of safety resources available to you in our community. There will be a showcase of emergency vehicles, prizes, kids activities and more. For more information, visit here.
Mental Health First Aid Course
Thursday, May 5 and Friday, May 6, 10am-3pm
Berkeley Mental Health Adult Clinic, 2640 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Mental Health First Aid is a groundbreaking public education program that helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health issues. This free training will teach you how to assist people with developing mental illnesses or in states of mental crisis. It covers signs of substance addictions and illness, the impacts of substance abuse and mental disorders, a 5-step action plan to assess a situation, and places to seek help. The 8-hour course is a requirement to receive a certificate in mental health first aid. It provides valuable understanding of how mental illnesses affect a person’s life and what you can do to help them overcome these illnesses’ challenges.
Pre-registration is required. If interested in attending, email MHFA@cityofberkeley.org to receive a registration form. Email it back to this address or fax to 510-981-5265. For more information call 510-981-7721. To visit their national website visit here.
UPCOMING COUNCIL MEETINGS
Tuesday, April 26th, 2016, 7pm
BUSD Board Room, 1231 Addison Street
Tenant Protection Ordinance
Citywide Green Development Requirements
- 311 Mobile Application
For a complete list of Council agendas and minutes, click here.