Berkeley Council Approves Budget, Focus on Public Safety, Equity
(Berkeley, CA) – Last night, the Berkeley City Council approved the City Budget for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. Many of the budget recommendations introduced by Mayor Jesse Arreguin are in response to months of community engagement and input. Public safety takes center stage in the budget. After a string of high-profile car crashes involving pedestrians, efforts were made to prioritize funding to implement Vision Zero and for multiple traffic safety improvements, making the streets safer and more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists. Community members have also expressed concern over the risks of wildfires, resulting in a major investment in vegetation management and emergency response communications and training.
Council voted to fully fund arts programs that were at risk of being axed after passionate testimony from the artist community. This includes restoring $500,000 to the Civic Arts Grants program, which provides an essential financial lifeline to budding artists. The over 150 arts organizations in Berkeley generate an estimated $165 million in economic activity annually. Another major ask from the community included in the budget was providing funding for year-round hours at South Berkeley’s only public swimming pool. Currently the only pool open year-round is located in the more affluent North Berkeley.
Housing, addressing homelessness, and anti-displacement is another top priority, with $900,000, the biggest investment ever, going to various anti-displacement and eviction defense programs. In 2018, Berkeley voters approved Measure O, a $135 million bond for affordable housing and Measure P, an increase in the transfer tax to generate $6-8 million annually for homeless and mental health services.
“From addressing our housing and homeless crisis, to ensuring the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, we are making a bigger investment in our community than ever before”, said Mayor Arreguin. “This budget is a reflection of what the community has been asking for”.
The $895 million two-year budget (including $386 million in general funds) serves as a blueprint for providing City services to the approximately 122,000 Berkeley residents. Under state law, cities must approve their budget before the end of the month, with Berkeley historically approving the budget during their last Council meeting in June. The 2020 Fiscal Year starts on July 1, 2019.