Building Our Future Together

State of the City 2019.JPG

On July 22, I provided my annual State of the City Address in front of a sold out audience in South Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, the country’s first 100% solar-powered live theater. You can watch the full speech here. Berkeley has a long tradition of thinking globally and acting locally. My address highlights the history of our community’s engagement and activism, and how we can harness our collective ideas to build our future together. 

Promoting The Arts

Our 150 arts organizations play a crucial role in our economy, generating $165 million in revenue annually and attracting thousands of visitors to our city. We want to provide the resources needed for our arts community to thrive. That is why we are providing $500,000 in the Civic Arts Grants the largest amount the city has ever provided for the arts. The Berkeley Arts and Culture Plan is being updated to create the framework for the future of promoting our arts. We want to make sure that Berkeley artists are able to live in Berkeley, and are excited to be partnering with the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in the creation of a 45 unit artist housing development. 

Addressing Homelessness

Homelessness across Alameda County has increased by 43% over the past two years. What is more sobering is that the vast majority of this increase is unsheltered. One of the first major initiatives I launched as Mayor was the Pathways Project to address the homeless crisis. One of the cornerstones of this project is the STAIR Center, the East Bay’s first low-barrier Navigation Center. Since its opening in June 2018, over 100 people have been housed through that program. We are vastly expanding homeless and mental health services, in part due to the funding received through Measure P, which Berkeley voters approved in November 2018. No single city can solve the homeless crisis alone, which is why we are developing regional approaches to better coordinate services and align funding. 

Accelerating Affordable Housing

With the passage of Measure O - a $135 million housing bond - by Berkeley voters in November 2018, we have been able to fund shovel ready projects such as the Berkeley Way Project, the largest affordable housing project in Berkeley’s history. That project alone will provide 142 units of deeply affordable housing and homeless services. We launched the Small Sites Program, allowing housing nonprofits to purchase and rehab existing properties to convert to affordable housing. And we are well underway on a robust community process to develop housing at the North Berkeley and Ashby BART stations. In addition to creating new housing, we have made our biggest investment ever in anti-displacement measures, funding $900,000 for various programs to keep at risk tenants in their homes. 

Prioritizing Public Safety

Pedestrian and bicyclist safety has been identified as a major concern by residents, which is why we are prioritizing this issue through the implementation of Vision Zero. This is an initiative designed to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and serious injuries. Under the budget approved in June, we are making major investments in various pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvement projects. Another major concern brought up by residents is fire safety, and we are making major investments in vegetation management and emergency response training. Earlier this year I joined Governor Gavin Newsom to announce the North Ordina Fuel Break, a major project along the East Bay Hills to reduce unsafe vegetation and provide more firefighting resources to reduce the threat of fires along the wildland-urban interface.

Caring For Our Climate

Berkeley has made the news in recent months for its groundbreaking legislation. Earlier this year we made national headlines by becoming the first city in America to pass a Single Use Disposable Foodware Ordinance. This will assist businesses in shifting away from environmentally harmful single use disposable foodware and toward reusable products. On July 16, Berkeley, once again, made history by adopting an ordinance that prohibits the use of natural gas in new buildings, effective January 1, 2020. We are committed to accelerating our Climate Action Plan and recently adopted a Climate Emergency Declaration, with other jurisdictions following our lead. 

Investing In Our Infrastructure

We launched the Vision 2050 Task Force, a 30-year plan for implementation of climate-smart, technologically-advanced, integrated and efficient infrastructure to support a safe, vibrant and resilient future for Berkeley. Right now, we are in the middle of the Summer of Paving, paving 40 roads covering 6.6 miles, including some of the worst streets called out by many Berkeleyans. Roads that serve as bus routes and bicycle boulevards are continuing to be prioritized. We are also beginning the process to make major improvements to the Berkeley Marina, including repaving the notoriously bumpy University Avenue. An exciting new project at the Marina is the creation of a ferry terminal at the Marina, which will also create a new pier. Bike infrastructure is being expanded through the creation of new bike lanes and deployment of the regional bike share program. 

Supporting Small Business

Our local economy is thriving, thanks in part to the many unique small businesses that call Berkeley home. We proposed the Small Business Package, an initiative designed to provide relief and support to our small locally-owned businesses. Berkeley’s Office has Economic Development has partnered with Project Equity to help convert businesses into worker cooperatives. This exciting initiative will allow for long lasting businesses to continue serving our community while giving its employees a stake in the business. We have exempted local start-ups from taxes on federal research grants, giving them more flexibility to develop the next moonshot idea. 

Organizing Our Community

We are fortunate to live in a city with an active and energized community. I am committed to working with our community in holding Sutter accountable so we can Save Alta Bates. It’s time for Sutter to stop playing games with the wellbeing of our community. We will continue to fight, alongside our regional partners, for our hospital. Berkeley showed the world the power of community organizing through the United Against Hate Campaign, which continues to be a success long after the 2017 protests. No matter where our neighbors come from, our community cares deeply about our neighbors. Over the past year, we have been expanding our status as a Sanctuary City, providing education and outreach to ensure all residents are aware of their rights and resources. 

We have risen to the occasion over this past year and continued our work to address the long-standing challenges of affordability, inequity, poverty, and opportunity. Each and every day we are working to create an equitable city. A city where young families, teachers, and service workers can afford to call home. A city where all young people graduating from high school or college feel optimistic about their future. A city where communities of color feel safe, welcome and can still afford to live here. We are a city that retains the diversity that makes our city such an amazing, innovative and dynamic community. And I know that when we work together and combine our efforts, we can show what it looks like to build our future together.

Jesse Arreguin