Reflections on 2018 and Goals for the New Year
As we enter 2019, I want to update you on the work we have done to advance affordability, equity and sustainability in our city.
This past December marked my two-year anniversary as Mayor of the City of Berkeley. Serving as your Mayor is the greatest honor of my life. I love our community and its dynamic neighborhoods and commercial districts, rich diversity and celebrated history. It is a pleasure to represent this amazing community and to work every day to make our city a better place.
Berkeley is known throughout the world as a center for innovation and social change. Yet our values are being challenged by a corrupt Administration in Washington. It is in our long tradition of thinking globally and acting locally, that we have stood up to the divisive, racist, and unconstitutional actions of the Trump Administration. While Trump retreats from the challenges of our time we will address them head on.
Since I took office I have made housing affordability, addressing homelessness and environmental sustainability key priorities. We are beginning to address long-standing challenges and we have initiated exciting new programs.
I want to thank the voters for your overwhelming support in the November 2018 election of Measure O (the Affordable Housing Bond) approved by 77% of voters, and Measure P (Increased Transfer Tax to address homelessness) by 72% of voters. I am proud of the compassion and generosity of our city to help the least fortunate. Passing these measures is huge step to make progress in creating more affordable homes for people and address the crisis of unsheltered homeless on our streets. Both the housing crisis and homeless crisis are decades in the making and are extremely complex, but are inextricably linked.
Real progress takes time, but I am proud that our city has taken many steps over the past year to help people who have been most impacted by the region’s housing crisis. We’ve also made important headway on other critical city issues, from public safety to our City Budget. Read on to find out what we have already achieved over the past year and my goals for 2019.
Berkeley and entire Bay Area is facing a housing affordability crisis. Creating more affordable housing is the linchpin to creating a thriving, healthy and safe community. We are moving ahead with exciting projects to increase the supply of affordable housing. This past year we finalized plans for the Berkeley Way Project and have received funding commitments from Alameda County Measure A-1 and other sources that will allow this project to begin construction by this fall. When completed the Berkeley Way Project will provide 89 affordable housing units, 53 permanent supportive housing units for the homeless, and a new Men’s and Veteran’s shelter that will house 44 clients.
We are also working to construct 34 low-income units for seniors at 1601 Oxford Street in North Berkeley.
This upcoming year we look forward to rolling out the Small Sites Program, to purchase and rehab existing multi-unit properties to provide affordable housing and prevent displacement. We will also be increasing our investment of Measure U1 funding to expand anti-displacement programs.
And finally, we plan to complete a community based planning process for housing at North Berkeley and Ashby BART stations, with the goal of building hundreds of below market housing units.
In 2018, the city opened its first permanent Berkeley Emergency Storm Shelter in the basement of the Veterans Memorial Building. The shelter serves 65 people, offering showers, laundry and storage services for people staying there, as well as walk-ins. We also opened an inclement weather shelter in the lobby of Old City Hall for up to 40 guests. But perhaps our most critical achievement in 2018 was opening the Pathways STAIR Center, the East Bay’s first low-barrier Navigation Center. Since opening last June, the STAIR Center has served 91 clients and placed 45 in permanent housing. We also expanded the city’s Homeless Outreach and Treatment Team.
In November, we passed a Sidewalk Ordinance that will address the accumulation of personal items on all our city sidewalks without criminalizing homelessness. And we began monthly meetings with other Alameda County Mayors to better coordinate services and align funding from the state and County to address homelessness. We continue to work with the County of Alameda and neighboring cities on developing regional approaches to address the needs of our homeless.
Moving forward, our aim is to double the number of people who will receive permanent affordable housing and prevent more people from becoming homeless by increasing funding for anti-displacement and eviction defense. Another goal for 2019 is to provide “on the street” medical care to those living in encampments through a contract with Lifelong Medical, a nonprofit medical provider.
Illegal dumping has been identified as a serious problem in the community, and we plan to increase and enforce fines for dumping as well as streamline the reporting process so that offenders are cited. We also plan to increase the number of portable restrooms and hand washing stations around encampments and have regularly scheduled garbage collection at encampments and other areas where dumping occurs. In 2019, we are prioritizing working with neighboring cities to find with a suitable location for an RV park that has bathrooms, shower and laundry facilities.
Finally, our aim this year is to convert all homeless shelters to a Housing Navigation model, where clients receive intakes, rehab, job and housing search and other needed services, modeled on the STAIR Navigation center. We want to fund a downtown outreach worker who can connect the homeless with services and address problematic street behavior. And we want to expand storage facilities for people on the streets, beyond the 50 lockers currently available downtown, and create an online portal for donations and volunteering.
Faced with the ongoing retirement and lateral transfers of police officers, we focused our energy on ways to retain our talented police. With that in mind, in summer 2018, we secured approval of a labor contract with Berkeley Police Association. Our Police Department has also launched a recruitment campaign to attract new police officers. Even with limited resources we have been able to deploy officers strategically to address crime trends including in the neighborhood around San Pablo Park and in Downtown Berkeley.
As we increase staffing in the Police Department we want to restore bike patrols in our commercial districts, implement a Crime Suppression Unit, restore staff in our Traffic Division and Community Services Bureau, and increase advancement opportunities for officers.
Berkeley has some of the highest rates of pedestrian collisions in the State of California. We need to accelerate pedestrian improvements to make our streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. With increased population and UC traffic, we are seeing more cars on our streets, even with a high mode shift to alternative modes. Council adopted a Vision Zero Initiative to ensure that our public works projects prioritize pedestrian safety and enforcement to control traffic and make our streets safer. The City Council ranked implementation of Vision Zero as its highest priority item for 2018, and we will continue to move this project forward in 2019.
BUDGET AND SMALL BUSINESS:
When the economy is booming, it’s important to save money for the lean years. With that in mind, the City Council approved increasing the city’s rainy day fund to a minimum of 13% with the goal of eventually setting aside as much as 30% of our General Fund revenue for reserves. In 2018 we reached 18% of General Fund revenues dedicated to our reserves. We also established a trust fund to pre-fund CalPERS unfunded benefit liabilities and completed the first phase in the “roll-out” of the City’s new financial management system, which will provide greater ease and transparency in all future fiscal planning.
Last year, I co-sponsored the Small Business Package that will streamline the permitting and business application process, making it easier to apply for permits and open up shop in our city
We placed an advisory measure, Measure R, on the November ballot for Vision 2050, a comprehensive infrastructure and resilience plan that will live through the century. In that vein, we created an advisory group of experts to launch a visioning process and held 4 public information sessions in 2018 to educate the public. Moving forward, the public will have an opportunity to review the work group’s draft recommendations and provide feedback at upcoming community workshops. The goal is to have a draft plan by 2020.
We are also working to implement our new Bicycle Plan, and planning is under way for a protected bikeway project on Milvia Street in Downtown Berkeley, and paving projects to be completed this year will include bicycle lanes on major streets in Berkeley.
We know that the climate crisis is deepening. Last fall, a UN Intergovernmental Panel stated that we have 10 years to take bold action to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Last summer the Berkeley City Council adopted a Climate Emergency Declaration, and we are committed to accelerating our Climate Action Plan. We are exploring incentives and requirements for new buildings to be zero net energy, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure and solar on public buildings, and the launch of East Bay Community Energy, our new public energy provider, presents an opportunity to green the grid and provide power that is 100% renewable to Berkeley residents.
Ever since Sutter Health announced plans to close Alta Bates due to seismic instability, we have been working tirelessly to find ways to save our community hospital, which treated an estimated 50,000 people in their emergency room last year. My office convened a regional task force bringing elected officials and health professionals from throughout the region together to understand the impacts of closure on our communities. We have hosted community forums, and initiated a Health Impact Assessment to analyze the impacts of closing Alta Bates on health care in the region.
Our goal is to urge Sutter to work with us to make the investment to retrofit the Alta Bates Campus or build a new hospital in the City of Berkeley. The Berkeley City Council recently asked Sutter to give us a plan for keeping emergency and acute care in the City of Berkeley.
Priorities for 2019
· Working to implement Measure O, our Affordable Housing Bond, and advance projects, in addition to allocating Measure P tax revenues to address the homeless crisis on our streets.
· Accelerating paving projects in 2019, and making our streets safer through the implementation of a Vision Zero program.
· Supporting our Police Department in their efforts to increase recruitment of officers, expand mental health outreach workers, and explore ways to increase community policing.
· We are also working to advance housing development on the North Berkeley BART parking lots and the Ashby Bart west parking lot.
· Implementing Measure R, to develop a 30-year infrastructure plan, Vision 2050.
· Implementation of our Small Business Package to streamline our permitting process and support and retain local businesses are also priorities.
· Working to improve fire safety, particularly in the Berkeley hills through vegetation management, education and other programs.
· The closure of the Pacific Steel Casting site presents an enormous opportunity for light manufacturing and other commercial uses.
· Working to address long deferred maintenance at the Berkeley Marina, and begin the planning process for a new vision for our waterfront, including a new Ferry Terminal.
While we have a lot of work to do in 2019, I am excited for the year ahead. We have already achieved much, and I look forward to your input as we tackle the biggest challenges facing our city with energy, creativity and ingenuity. To learn more about any of the issues mentioned or to get involved please visit www.jessearreguin.com, or contact me at JArreguin@cityofberkeley.info or (510) 981-7100.
Thank you for the honor of serving you and Happy New Year!