June News: City Budget, Homelessness Updates, Safety on Sacramento St

It’s hard to believe that a full 15 months have passed since we were first asked to shelter in place on a Tuesday last March. Over the course of weeks and months, we all faced uncertainty and isolation, and some of us faced economic devastation or the loss of a loved one. President Biden, who has experienced the loss of two children and his first spouse, recently said: “A day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. That’s when you know you’re going to get through it. You will get through it. But it’s a long haul.”

More than 600,000 people in the U.S.—and more than 3.8 million globally—who did not survive the past 15 months are mourned by their loved ones. I reflect on the communities across the globe that continue to face the worst of the pandemic, including my relatives in New Delhi, Allahabad, and Kochi, India. I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude to live in a country where we have access to safe and highly effective vaccines—and to live in a community with a low rate of vaccine hesitancy (less than 5 percent reported being hesitant in Alameda County, according to CDC estimates). Data from the California Health and Human Services Agency provide vaccination rates by zip code, as mapped below, which show that we still have work to do to close disparities in vaccination rates in Central and South Berkeley. 

If you or someone you know hasn’t yet gotten vaccinated, I want to tell you that it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and our community. Experts say that the remaining unvaccinated population is driving lingering Covid-19 deaths; and data collected by the CDC suggest an “exceedingly low” rate of death among people who had received a Covid-19 vaccine. Don’t delay: here’s more info on where to get vaccinated.

Berkeley Vaccination Rates by Zip Code (as of June 16, 2021)

For many of us who are fully vaccinated, we are rediscovering joys that we missed in a year of trauma, pain, and loss. Consult the CDC website for guidance on how to protect yourself and others once you’re fully vaccinated.

And please SAVE THE DATE for my June Office Hours In Person:
Sat., June 26, 10:30 a.m. to noon
James Kenney Park

Picnic Table Area

In this newsletter:

Council to Adopt Fiscal Year 2021-22 City Budget

The Council is preparing to adopt the City budget for FY 2021-22 on Tues., June 29. For the upcoming fiscal year, our City budget staff are projecting a General Fund deficit of $24.9 million, along with $10.9 million in special fund deficits resulting from the economic impact of the pandemic—for a total need of $35.5 million. Thankfully, the City will receive a total of $66.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds—to be disbursed in two equal installments of $33.3 million, 12 months apart—which will enable us to achieve a balanced budget and fund additional priorities. Rescue Plan funds can generally be used to respond to the Covid-19 emergency and its economic impacts or otherwise support the provision of government services, excluding funding of pensions, reserves, or debt service. Because these are one-time funds, they are best suited for one-time needs, rather than new ongoing programs. 

Here is a snapshot of the current year’s revised General Fund budget by department, totaling $236.8 million. (This snapshot excludes more than $300 million in special fund expenditures, which you can view in detail HERE.)  

Our City budget staff are projecting a total of $228.1 million in General Fund expenditures for the upcoming budget year, with additional expenditures resulting from ARPA and likely from the state. You can view the budget presentation HERE (see Item #37, Supp 3).
Here are some of the key priorities proposed to receive funding:   

  • Economic Recovery, including support for: reopening of arts organizations, Visit Berkeley (for promotion of our local tourism industry), and support for small businesses.
  • Public Safety, including a “Specialized Care Unit” pilot to facilitate a non-police response to calls for service related to mental health crisis and/or substance use that are non-violent in nature; establishment of a data analysis team within the police department to support a data-driven approach to crime prevention; and deployment of a problem-oriented policing team to better respond to community safety concerns.
  • Homelessness Response, including one-time local match funding for the possible purchase of a hotel to house homeless individuals using the state’s Homekey Program; ongoing funding for a supportive housing project at 1367 University (Step Up Housing) to be built using modular construction that will provide 39 units for formerly homeless individuals; a temporary 18-month indoor/outdoor 24-hour shelter at 742 Grayson (Horizon Transitional Village Program) to support a safe relocation of individuals currently sheltering at the University freeway area and to provide safe parking to RVs; and a Homeless Response Team to better address encampment trash and other immediate concerns, among other investments. More information about proposed allocations for homeless services funded by the Measure P transfer tax is available HERE.
  • Fiscal Stability, including funding of our Section 115 Trust for public employee pension obligations and replenishment of reserve funds drawn upon last June to close the budget deficit in the current fiscal year.
  • Climate Resilience, including wildfire mitigation, vegetation management, and enhancements funded by Measure FF such as an outdoor warning system in the event of an emergency. 

One key area that requires significant additional investment is our unfunded infrastructure needs, including sidewalk repair, street repaving, and bicycle and pedestrian street safety improvements. It’s estimated that it would cost about $306.4 million to bring Berkeley’s streets into good pavement condition (Pavement Condition Index of 76), and an additional $8.3 million annually to maintain this condition. (Sidewalk repair and fully funding our Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans would require additional resources.) Right now, Berkeley only spends about $6.7 million annually on street repaving—an insufficient funding level that will eventually lead to failing road conditions. Earlier this year, I authored a Council item with Mayor Jesse Arreguín to request a financial analysis of the City’s bonding capacity and any other financial mechanisms to address our unfunded infrastructure needs (see Supp 1 of Item #24 HERE). I look forward to working with my Council colleagues and City staff to develop a revenue plan to address this significant unfunded need. 

Finally, while this year’s budget is in balance with one-time support from the federal government, growing labor costs are a significant long-term fiscal liability for the City’s budget—as is true for many local jurisdictions. Our budget staff presented a report to Council (see Item #2a) in March that noted that pension costs for retired public employees and benefits costs for current employees will grow rapidly over the next 10 years, requiring us to make hard budgeting decisions and to plan ahead using tools like the Section 115 Trust to pre-fund pension obligations.
Share your budget input with me: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110. 

Update on University Freeway Exit Situation & RVs in West Berkeley

The building located at 742 Grayson is in the process of being transformed into Horizon Transitional Village. Photo: Rebuilding Together East Bay North

I have heard from many of you pleading for better solutions to the humanitarian crisis situation at the University freeway exit area. I have been in multiple meetings with representatives of the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) District 4 Office since March to develop a plan to address the unsafe encampments at the University freeway exit area, and I’m pleased that I can now share this plan publicly. 

CalTrans plans to fence off most of the areas where unsheltered individuals currently reside on their right of way in July. Importantly, this plan will be accompanied by offers of shelter by the City and the County to individuals currently sheltering in the area (described in the bullets below), and outreach to explain these options to unsheltered individuals is underway.

  • The City is preparing to open the Horizon Transitional Village 24-hour shelter located at 742 Grayson next month, with a capacity to shelter up to 50 people at a time—indoors in individualized space, providing meals, laundry, showers, art classes, social opportunities, health care (including mental health support), and job training opportunities. The shelter will operate through September 2022 by Dorothy Day House. The program is currently accepting volunteers, and you can sign up HERE.
  • I’m very pleased that Alameda County is also stepping up to provide 40 rooms at the Rodeway Inn on University Avenue, using the Project Roomkey model developed during the pandemic to provide emergency shelter to vulnerable unhoused individuals. The County plans to utilize the hotel for about six months and then work to permanently house individuals. 

I want to thank CalTrans, the Governor’s Office, the Office of State Senator Nancy Skinner, County Supervisor Keith Carson, the Alameda County Office of Homeless Care and Coordination, City of Berkeley staff and Mayor Arreguín, and homeless advocates for coming together to address the unsafe conditions at the University freeway exit with a humane shelter option and to work towards long-term housing solutions. I especially want to acknowledge the long hours and hard work of our City staff to prepare the Horizon shelter for its opening. Our work will continue through: possible purchase of a hotel (with support from the state’s Project Homekey Program), support for the Step Up supportive housing program, and funding for housing subsidies.

The Horizon shelter also has a large surface parking lot that will be used to offer safe RV parking to vulnerable individuals currently sheltering in RVs in the Gilman District. This safe RV parking program is under development and will be accompanied by new four-hour time limits for parking on certain streets in the Gilman District in order to better manage parking availability and traffic from commercial trucks and other users. I am coordinating closely with our City staff to further refine certain components of this program and look forward to sharing more information in my July newsletter.

Finally, as noted in the budget discussion above, in order to address the trash and debris at encampments across the City, the budget proposes $905,000 for an encampment team which would include Public Works staff and others.

Safety on Sacramento Street

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An image of one of the crashes at Sacramento and Cedar that occurred this week captured by a neighbor.

I share neighbors’ concern about the frequency of car crashes that have occurred at the Cedar and Sacramento intersection in recent days.

Public Works staff were at the intersection this morning to observe and explore safety options. My office has also been in communication with our Transportation Division Manager, and I want to share some of the information we have received so far.

More Immediate Actions: 

  • The new traffic signal at Sacramento and Virginia and related work—to be substantially completed by the end of July as part of the City’s Sacramento Complete Streets Project—will likely have some effect in moderating traffic speed on Sacramento since it will stop traffic more often than currently occurs.
  • Transportation staff are considering an all-red phase to the Cedar and Sacramento signal to give vehicles time to clear the intersection after pushing through on a yellow light. This is a relatively easy change because it simply involves reprogramming the signal. I will update the community once we have more information about when this can occur.
  • My office has followed up on a constituent request to trim trees surrounding the intersections of Cedar and Sacramento as well as Cedar and California to enhance visibility of street signals and signage for drivers. Public Works staff who were at the intersection this morning concurred with the need to do this.
  • Traffic enforcement occurred on June 10th in response to numerous complaints from the community regarding commercial vehicles failing to obey the City’s weight limit on Cedar. This enforcement resulted in 46 traffic enforcement stops, 41 traffic citations being written for 68 California Vehicle Code offenses, and five warnings.

Longer-Term Strategies:

  • Our traffic calming program will resume in January 2022, and when it does, City staff will be able to evaluate all the streets that have applied, including Sacramento between Cedar and Rose. Given the function of Sacramento as an arterial roadway and Cedar as an emergency response route, appropriate treatments might include things like speed feedback signs but not speed tables that would impact buses and emergency response vehicles, according to our Transportation Division Manager.
  • We have also inquired about the possibility of adding a left-turn signal from Sacramento to Cedar and received the following response: “This is a significant capital project, likely to require new underground conduits, signal poles/mast arms, and other signal hardware. Until we know if existing hardware can be reused and if ADA upgrades are needed, it is hard to say if this would cost on the order of $150,000 for partial upgrades, or potentially at least four times that amount for a complete signal replacement.”
  • We have also inquired about reducing the speed limit and received the following response: “Unfortunately, state law does not allow us to reduce speed limits to less than the 85th percentile measured speed, which is not less than 30 mph on this section of Sacramento.” This would require a change in state law

We are working to schedule a community meeting so our Transportation and Public Works staff can hear directly from neighbors about additional ideas for enhancing the safety of the Cedar and Sacramento intersection. Please e-mail me if you would like to be added to my e-mail list for this specific issue: rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info

Save the Dates

Community Safety Forum & BART Community Meeting #3

The BART Community Meeting #3 will be held on Sat., June 26, 2-5 p.m.
Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/98633441617

Call-In: (669) 900 6833
Meeting ID: 986 3344 1617
No password required

If you and your neighbors are interested in meeting with me to learn more about the BART Zoning Process required by state law, AB 2923, please don’t hesitate to contact me: 
rkesarwani@cityofberkeley.info or 510-981-7110.