Pathways Project Gets More Funds, Reforming Police to Match Berkeley Values and Other News
A Look Back on 2017
Friday, December 1st marked a full year since I took office as Mayor of Berkeley. The past 12 months have been an exciting, challenging and rewarding experience. I ran for Mayor to make Berkeley work for everyone -- for young families struggling to afford the region’s growing rents to older residents worried about the changing feel of the community and pedestrian safety.
Thank you to everyone who has contacted me with your input and concerns, and thank you to those who have gotten involved, as commissioners, volunteers at local organizations or just vocal residents. I know that each and every one of you care about our great city and want to protect Berkeley's unique character.
Below you’ll find some quick updates about recent council decisions and other useful news about the city. Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays from me and my staff!
Council Approves Additional Funds for Housing, Pedestrian Safety and Youth Services
This year, Berkeley is fortunate to have an extra $8 million in our General Fund, an early Christmas present, if you will. Last week, the council voted to set aside $3.5 million for reserves, money the city can tap in the event of a natural disaster, lower than expected revenues in future years or other emergencies. The remaining $4.5 million will be spent on additional housing and services for the homeless, as well as youth, seniors and ensuring that our streets are safe for pedestrians.
Among these funds, $1.9 million will go toward the Pathways project which will house up to 125 homeless people per year at two West Berkeley shelters, one short-term and one longer term. Another $300,000 will be used to expand the Winter Shelter Program to 130 people, doubling last year’s capacity.
I, and many of my colleagues on the council, believe this spending is the most effective use of scarce resources and the most compassionate thing the city can do amid a growing crisis -- for both the homeless and residents. Expanding shelter space is not the permanent solution, but it’s the best thing we can do right now. With this plan, resident will not have to walk around homeless encampments on city sidewalks, while people without shelter get a warm place to stay. Over the long-term, our goal remains keeping people from becoming homeless in the first place or getting them into permanent housing if they are now on the streets.
Last week, the council also agreed to spend $43,000 for Berkeley Youth Alternatives After-School Center, which provides services to poverty-level and low income youth during after school and summer month. In addition, $250,000 will go toward pedestrian safety improvements at California and Dwight, University and Grant and Claremont and Eton to make sure that these heavily-trafficked intersections are safer.
We also set aside $170,000 to hire a land use panning consultant who will tackle the backlog of housing-related referrals in order to expedite projects and new initiatives that have been approved, but not yet implemented. Finally we will spend $20,000 to help agencies work together to assist seniors age in place, transition to an assisted living facility or sign up for services such as rides to doctor appointments and to receive Meals on Wheels. The spending package is great news all around and reinforces out commitment to social services in our city.
Police Reforms That Reflect Berkeley Values
In Berkeley, we are lucky to have one of the best Police Departments in the nation. Unlike even neighboring cities, Berkeley officers are not involved in high profile scandals, officer-involved shootings, or other abuses of power.
While our department provides fair and excellent service to every member of our community, there is no denying the national challenges facing police-community relations. The shootings and deaths of unarmed African American men and women at the hands of police have highlighted long-standing inequities in policing and in our criminal justice system. This national conversation on policing, and even recent local events, have created a need for greater trust and accountability in our community.
While we continue to support our department, there is also an opportunity for improvement. To that end, several years ago BPD engaged the Police Review Commission, NAACP and ACLU in developing a Fair and Impartial Policing Policy. This policy makes it clear profiling by race is prohibited and requires collection of data on police stops. Last year BPD requested the Center for Policing Equity conduct an analysis of Berkeley’s police stop data to determine if inequities exist and provide recommendations. CPE is in the process of finalizing this report, due in the Spring 2018. However, preliminary data shows that African Americans and Latinos were being stopped by Berkeley police at greater numbers. The reasons for these disparate outcomes are unclear, but we remain committed to understanding the source of inequities and coming up with solutions.
At our November 14th meeting, the City Council also passed improvements to our Police Use of Force policy requiring that BPD track yield, stop, citation, search and arrest rates by race. BPD will also now be required to report all uses of force. Previously, the department has only reported the use of weapons and the use of force in certain crowd control situations. The goal is to make sure force is used only when absolutely necessary to keep our community safe. I am optimistic about these changes and hope that the police department uses its new data to better understand disparities and work with the African American and Latino communities to build trust and sensitivity.
Fast Tracking Affordable Housing
Berkeley and the entire Bay Area region is facing a housing affordability crisis. Average home prices in the City of Berkeley exceed $1.5 million. In addition, rents are increasing dramatically. This has resulted in more families living on the margins, with more of their income going to housing costs. We are also seeing a dramatic growth in street homelessness due to displacement. This housing crisis just doesn’t affect low-wage workers, but also the middle class. For example, a recent article in Berkeleysidetalked about the struggles that Berkeley Unified teachers face in living in the Bay Area. The crisis is changing our city, and we need to take bold action to keep Berkeley diverse and affordable.
That is why addressing the housing crisis has been one of my top priorities since I took office last year. And we are making progress in removing barriers, and increasing funding for the construction of low-income housing.
This past Tuesday, Council took two important actions to increase affordable housing in Berkeley. Currently, projects funding by the City’s Housing Trust Fund could face months or even years of delay in approval. These non-profit projects use the city’s funding to leverage federal, state and private funds, and a delay in getting city permits could jeopardize funding. Under the new policies, the entitlement process for projects with a majority of affordable units will move forward much more efficiently, and help us build this critical type of housing.
I am also proud that the Council voted to reserve $1 million in funding from the Measure U1 tax to launch a Small Sites Program, which will allow non-profit developers to buy apartment buildings and keep them affordable. While we need to make the process of constructing new low-income housing easier, we also must recognize that in Berkeley’s land scarce environment, preservation is a key strategy to preserving affordability. The Council unanimously voted on November 28 to make this program its top housing priority.
Other ongoing efforts include:
- Supporting the 154 unit Berkeley Way Development providing affordable housing, permanent housing for the homeless, units for homeless veterans and emergency shelter,
- Streamlining application process for Accessory Dwelling Units
- $650,000 in funding for Anti-Displacement programs
- Passage of the Tenant Protection Ordinance and Section 8 Non-Discrimination Ordinance
- Increasing developer fees for Affordable Housing
- Implementation of Measure U1, the increase in the business license tax passed by voters in November 2016 which will generate over $4 million in revenue towards affordable housing
Volunteer Doctors and Nurses Step Up to Help With Vaccinations
More than 600 cases of Hepatitis A have been reported in California over the past several months, with 417 people hospitalized and 22 dying. Most of the affected have been the homeless. There are no cases in Alameda County and we are working hard to keep it that way. Last month, Health, Housing and Community Services put out a call to all trained doctors and nurses who could vaccinate those most at risk of contracting the disease.
Many people stepped up to assist and as of this Monday, 48 homeless people have been vaccinated against Hep A and 35 for the flu at the men’s shelter, Berkeley Drop-in Center, People’s Park, Civic Center Park, Women’s Drop-in Center and 2nd Street.
In addition, the council has approved spending $60,000 to put portable restrooms with hand-washing stations in parks and near known homeless encampments in our ongoing effort to prevent a Hepatitis A outbreak.
Weigh In On Border Wall Divestment
Next Tuesday, the City Council will ask the City Manager to write legislation prohibiting contracting with businesses involved in the construction of the President’s Border Wall. A similar type of policy was recently passed in Oakland. In March, the Berkeley City Council declared its intent to divest from companies doing business with the Border Wall to send a powerful message that we do not support our tax dollars being spent on this divisive and wasteful project. We are now asking that the city’s purchasing process be changed to reflect this reality.
Let us know what you think about this issue on Berkeley Considers , the city’s online civic engagement platform.www.cityofberkeley.info/considers/
Local Startup Connects Employers With Job Seekers
Hiring poses one of the biggest challenges for local companies, with many relying on Craigslist or word of mouth for new hires. But with spam a growing problem, cost to list jobs and the need to constantly update the listing to keep it from becoming impossible to find, Ben Hamlin knew he could create something better.
So the 32-year-old entrepreneur launched Localwise , a job board that hosts listings from thousands of local businesses. Hamlin founded the company with his Berkeley Haas School classmate Maya Tobias and received office space and mentoring at the SkyDeck business incubator located in downtown Berkeley.
“We’re trying to make the hiring market more efficient...and to create an online community centered around local jobs," said Hamlin, whose site boasts listings from an estimated 13,000 employers.
Localwise users can search by keywords as well as social networks, and vouch for each other, which is really important when hiring someone, said Hamlin.
“Our goal is to bring relationship-based hiring online for the local labor market," Hamlin said.
Do you know a local innovator who deserves mention in our newsletter? Let us know!
Changes to Business License Tax
Measure U1, adopted by Berkeley voters in November 2016, goes into effect January 1. If you own five or more residential rental units in Berkeley, your business license tax will increase to 2.88 percent in the new year. If you have questions about how this tax will be calculated or whether it applies to your rental property, please visit the city's website or call 510-981-7205.
Come say 'hello' at our monthly office hours
Last Thursday, I was delighted to join District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn at the North Berkeley Farmers’ Market to meet with her constituents and enjoy casual conversation about local issues. We were also joined by four representatives of the Berkeley Police Department to answer questions about a recent armed robbery/shooting in the neighborhood. Thank you to Sgt. Andrew Frankel, Area 1 Coordinator Officer Brandon Smith and the officers of BPD for joining us and discussing the steps the city is taking to respond to this disturbing crime.
Other issues raised at our office hours included improving lighting in the North Shattuck area, parking issues, the closure of Alta Bates Hospital, and homelessness. It is always a pleasure to be out in the community engaging with residents. In 2018, we will launch a series of Town Hall meetings throughout Berkeley, so stay tuned for more details.
My office is here to serve you. Visit our website for frequently used phone numbers to city departments and to stay up to date with our blogs. You can also call or send us an email with questions or concerns.
Brandi Campbell, Chief of Staff
Jac McCormick, Senior Advisor
Karina Ioffee, Director of Communications
Stefan Elgstrand, Assistant to the Mayor
Tano Trachtenberg, Legislative Aide