March 2016 Newsletter
Most people in Berkeley agree that we have a housing affordability crisis. Yet last Tuesday, a majority of the Berkeley City Council voted down two critical measures to fund new affordable housing.
We’ve all seen news reports of rents spiraling out of control in San Francisco, and thousands of evictions of longtime residents. Unfortunately, the housing crisis has spread across the Bay and is changing the face of Berkeley, threatening our diversity. Our diversity is our strength and part of what makes Berkeley such an incredible place to live in. Diversity not only fosters intellectual exchange, but innovation in the arts and in our local economy. Sadly, we are seeing low income people, families, students and even middle-income residents being priced out of our city. Berkeley city leaders need to take immediate action to prevent displacement and create more affordable housing.
In this crisis, we need to be creative and pursue all solutions. That’s why I proposed that we increase affordable housing funds by taking a small percentage of the surplus from our Real Property Transfer Tax. Councilmember Worthington has also proposed several ways to increase money into our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. He proposed a one-time loan of $1 million dollars to fund affordable housing. Currently the City has only $1.1 million in our Housing Trust Fund, making it increasingly difficult to fund new affordable units. Yet these proposals were summarily shot down Tuesday night (I will note, the Council continuously delayed these items for months, despite the crisis that we are facing).
The City currently has a surplus from the Transfer Tax (due to a hot real estate market) and excess reserve funds. While there are many demands for city funding, including crumbling streets and park facilities, there are more sources available from regional funding to address these priorities. There are however shrinking resources for affordable housing. We can find a way to fund our infrastructure and invest in human infrastructure by funding affordable housing.
Because our entire City Council says they are concerned about the affordable housing crisis, I expected that they would vote for this modest proposal to infuse our Housing Trust Fund (HTF) with needed dollars. I was surprised and saddened when those same Councilmembers voted down this proposal, making specious arguments.
Last fall, City staff released a report which found that over $30 million in city funds are needed over the next three years to fund affordable housing. These projects have not been able to apply for funds because there is not enough funding currently available. The very same Councilmembers that voted down these proposals claimed that there are no projects right now that need money, and therefore we don’t need to put more money into the HTF. This kind of circular logic ignores basic facts and might be a good way to mask your hollow objections, but does not help working class people struggling to live in our community.
This is not surprising from a City Council majority that has given sweetheart deals to big developers to pay less in affordable housing funds and community benefits. One Councilmember even once compared affordable housing to “chocolate cake”, a luxury not a necessity.
The City Council will be taking up a number of affordable housing issues in the coming weeks. The Council majority has delayed measures to increase affordable housing for over a year now. We can’t delay any more! The Council needs to hear from you. Please email Council@cityofberkeley.info and urge the Mayor and Council majority to act now to fund affordable housing and prevent displacement.
My entire time in Berkeley, I have been an outspoken advocate for housing affordability and tenants’ rights. I will continue to stand above politics and fight for affordable housing. We need to save the soul of our city.
IN THE NEWS
Launch of the Downtown Listening Tour
As the Councilmember representing central Berkeley, improving our Downtown is one of my top priorities. The heart of our City should be an uplifting and unifying place for all, welcoming people from every neighborhood, background, age and ability. That is why I am embarking on The Downtown Listening Tour - a series of meetings to gather input and ideas from the community on how to improve the Downtown.
During the months of March, April and May, it is my hope to meet with as many neighborhood groups, faith communities, residents, businesses and organizations as possible. If your community or organization is interested in hosting a meeting of your members and being a part of this important discussion, please contact my office. I will join you at your normal meeting place at a time that works best for your group, make a short presentation, and then open up the floor to hear from you. Once a date has been established, my office will provide you with sample invitations to adapt and use for outreach to your membership, as well as help to organize and manage the event.
The Downtown Listening Tour is my way of bringing a critically important conversation to the people of Berkeley, and will ensure that investments made in our Downtown reflect the needs and aspirations of all of Berkeley’s citizens. Thank you in advance for joining me!
Council Meetings Temporarily Move to the Berkeley Unified School District Building
All City Council meetings between March 15th and May 31st will be located at the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Board Room, located at 1231 Addison Street, near University Ave and Bonar St. This location is within a 5-10 minute walk of the the 51B, 52, 72, and 88 AC Transit lines. If entering from University Avenue, enter at 1222 University Avenue. If coming from the parking lot on Browning Street, enter at 1231 Addison Street.
Meet Me Downtown Day
The first ever Meet Me Downtown Day will be held on Sunday, March 20th from 12 to 5pm, allowing visitors to explore all that Downtown Berkeley has to offer. A variety of restaurants and cafes will be offering specials, and exciting new venues like the UC Theatre will be open to the public. Events include a Bluegrass and Country Jam at the Freight and Salvage, free yoga at the YMCA, outdoor movie shorts at BAMPFA, a raffle and beverage tasting at the UC Theatre, and the 2016 Teen One-Acts Festival at the Berkeley Rep. For a full list of participants and events, click here.
Paid Summer Jobs for Berkeley Youth
YouthWorks, an organization that places local youth in summer jobs, is currently recruiting for positions that will begin in early July. Berkeley residents between the ages of 14-25 seeking employment are encouraged to apply. Opportunities include working in computers and IT, office administration, biotech, law and government, tobacco prevention, graffiti clean-up, youth development, and more. Positions last up to 7 weeks for up to 30 hours per week, and earn a wage of $10 per hour. The deadline is April 1st and applications must be picked up in person. YouthWorks is located at 2180 Milvia Street on the first floor. Their hours are 8am to 5pm Monday thru Friday. For more information, click here.
YOUTH PERSPECTIVES: AN OP-ED BY BERKELEY HIGH STUDENT ABBY STECKEL
Although Hispanic and Latino students make up approximately 21% of the Berkeley High School student body, last year was the first in about a decade in which the school offered a Chicano Latino Literature Studies course. This lack of culturally comprehensive education was one of many factors that motivated a group of students in the Chicano Latino Literature class this year to found a new club called Chicano Latino United Voices (CLUV). These student advocates are working to create a safe space for Latino students to discuss their struggles as well as to celebrate their cultures and histories.
Desiree Perez, a BHS senior and one of the CLUV leaders, spoke with me about what issues the group is examining and how they are working to address them. According to Perez, a top priority is to create classrooms that are free of judgement in which everyone is present to learn and be included in the conversation. A large part of creating the “safe space” that CLUV aims for means having community dialogue about topics that are frequently ignored. “Because our school books don’t do it themselves,” said Perez, “we have to initiate this conversation that we hope for.” Per this mission, club meetings start with a leading question for discussion. Some past questions have included “What is something that you really enjoy about your culture?” and “When was there a time that you felt excluded from the classroom?”
However, conversation is never the end of the CLUV’s work on a topic. Juan Gallegos Salas, another of the club’s leaders, said “We don’t think that it’s appropriate to have a discussion on something and then dismiss it.” Hence, after taking time to talk, members move on to their to-do list. Currently, the group is working towards having Spanish translators at the school health clinic to ensure more accessible services. They would also like to provide tutoring and translation in the English Language Development classroom, where many recent immigrants appreciate help on their school work.
Finally, CLUV is in the process of creating club T-shirts. The proposed design depicts an Aztec symbol on one side and on the other reads: “I will overcome the tradition of silence.” This motto applies to the work of many student groups at Berkeley High who strive to break the suppressed quiet of marginalized groups, such as the Black Student Union, Muslim Student Association, and Asian Pacific Islanders Club. For the sake of our community, I hope they speak as loud as possible.
Persian New Year Festival
Tuesday, March 15th, 6pm-10pm
2029 Durant Ave
You are welcome to join the ancient tradition welcoming Nowruz (Persian New Year) by jumping over bonfires, music & dancing, eating delicious Persian treats, and enjoying a host of vendors. This is a family-friendly block party held outdoors at the 2000 block of Durant Avenue, in front of the Persian Center Building in Berkeley, California. All are welcome, rain or shine. Admission is free.
Berkeley Strategic Transportation Plan
Wednesday, March 16th, 5pm-8pm
South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis St
Help the City build our transportation strategy, which will prioritize improvements to our streets, sidewalks, bikeways and intersections. With your input, we can evaluate and prioritize those projects that address these essential needs. Presentations are at 6pm and 7pm, but drop by anytime between 5-8pm. For more information, click here.
Jesse’s Office Hours at Downtown Farmers Market
Saturday, March 19th, 10am-1pm
Center Street between Milvia Street and MLK Jr Way
As a way to connect with residents on a regular basis and hear what they care about, Councilmember Arreguin will be holding office hours at the Downtown Berkeley Farmers Markets each month. During these open office hours, we hope you will share your thoughts, comments, and concerns, or just stop by to say hello. We look forward to learning from you how to make District 4 even better. This event will be cancelled if it rains.
Meet Me Downtown
Sunday, March 20th, 12pm-5pm
Various Locations in Downtown Berkeley
Meet friends and family in Downtown Berkeley for an afternoon of theatre, music, art, film, live performances, and food & drink. Featured venues include the new BAMPFA, UC Theatre, Berkeley Rep, Freight & Salvage, California Jazz Conservatory, and the YMCA. For a full list of participants and events, click here.
Berkeley Homeless Task Force
Monday, March 21st, 6:30pm-8:30pm
Lutheran Church of the Cross, 1744 University Ave
Join a coalition of community members as we discuss moving forward with the Tier Two Recommendations from last year’s Homeless Task Force Report. Updates will also be provided on the Berkeley Way Project. All are welcome.
Film Screening: Can You Dig This
Thursday, March 24th, 7:430pm
California Theater, 2113 Kittredge St
Can You Dig This is the story of four unlikely gardeners in South Los Angeles who are planting to transform their neighborhoods and are changing their own lives in the process. Calling for people to put down their guns and pick up their shovels, these “gangster gardeners” are creating an oasis in the middle of one of the most notoriously dangerous places in America. To reserve your free ticket, click here.
Tax Workshop at South Branch Library
Every Friday through April 15th, 10:30am-1:30pm
1901 Russell Street, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch
Volunteers from AARP will offer free tax assistance. Appointments are available every hour; walk-in clients may be served if there is an open time slot.
The Downtown Listening Tour
March - May
Various Locations throughout Berkeley
The Downtown Listening Tour is a series of meetings that will gather input and ideas from community members across the City on how to improve the downtown. Councilmember Arreguin will join various organizations and communities at their existing meetings to hear their thoughts. For more information, contact Brandi Campbell.
UPCOMING COUNCIL ITEMS
BUSD Board Room, 1231 Addison Street
Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
BUSD Board Room, 1231 Addison Street
Multi-Departmental Homeless Working Group
Revolving Door Policy
For a complete list of Council agendas and minutes, click here.
Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin