2024 Budget Update: Building a Better City Amidst Economic Uncertainty

Dear Neighbors,

Budgets are both a statement of our values and require difficult tradeoffs. This budget cycle is of necessity more conservative compared to previous years. The Council agreed to defer scores of important programs to November when revenues and the economic situation are more certain.

Despite the tight budget times we find ourselves in, I am excited to share that after careful examination of the budget by the Budget and Finance Committee (on which I serve), a number of key District 4 and citywide priorities were funded by Council late Tuesday night. While neighboring communities and the state are having to impose massive budget cuts, the Berkeley economy remains strong and the Mayor and the Budget Committee are leading the way to keep existing services strong and fund important and equitable programs:

Building and Protecting Affordable Housing (without General Funds)

  • Continued rental assistance using the federal American Rescue Plan Act and Measure P revenues ($2 million) to ensure tenants don’t fall into homelessness now that the eviction moratorium has been lifted. I want to thank the Mayor for his unwavering commitment to critical anti-displacement measures.
  • Funds to administer the Empty Homes (Vacancy) Tax (Measure M) – legislation I authored and voters approved overwhelmingly in 2022. The new tax is expected to bring $4-8 million in new revenues and hundreds of speculative properties to market. We have already seen property owners with vacant properties start to repair units for renting again, a big win in a tight housing market. I will have separate legislation before the Council in November to put these revenues to work to expand our Small Sites Program, which acquires and rehabilitates permanent affordable housing, including formerly vacant units.
  • Expanding our housing division, which has been working tirelessly to protect and produce thousands of units of affordable housing despite reduced staff capacity following cuts during the 2008 recession. The Division recently completed a staffing study to enhance and expand its already herculean efforts. The Council funded the first phase of this effort.

A Healthy, Green, Safe, Well-Maintained and Beautiful Commons

  • Already included in the underlying budget was significantly increased funding to maintain our street paving ($13 million).
  • Using the Uber/Lyft Tax for transit, bike, and pedestrian improvements ($900,000). The Mayor and I coauthored legislation in 2021 to charge a per ride fee. This legislation already funded new AC Transit bus pads on Durant Avenue that protect and shelter transit riders and can increase transit uptake. I can’t wait to see what improvements we implement next.
  • Using fees paid by developers: long overdue funding for Downtown traffic safety and open space:
    • For nearly a decade, neighbors at MLK and Haste have been pleading with the City to install a traffic light and a crosswalk that is more visible to vehicles. This intersection sees hundreds of high school/elementary students, teachers and staff crossing each day; due to new buildings, vehicle and pedestrian traffic has increased significantly. I am proud that this year my office broke through the red tape to utilize fees paid by developers to the Downtown Streets and Open Space Improvement Project (SOSIP) for a new traffic light here. Staff have also promised to implement other quick safety improvements such as re-striping crosswalks, lanes, and cutting unruly vegetation.
    • It is no secret that our Downtown lacks vital open space. I was glad to partner with the Downtown Business Association and local architects to fund a placemaking study with SOSIP fees that could turn a portion of Harold Way into desperately needed Downtown open space in which residents and families can unwind and socialize.
  • Filling the Waterfront Funding gap using the Capital Improvement Fund for physical infrastructure, the Parks Tax for Waterfront landscaping and an internal loan from an existing City fund to fix our piers. This builds on my work last year to keep our Waterfront, Berkeley’s crown jewel, free from privatization by proposing, in concert with the Parks Commission, that an additional $1.5 million in General Funds be allocated to Waterfront capital improvements.
  • Additional pedestrian and bike safety improvements on critical blocks and handrails, lights, and signage for the Path Network. Thank you to Councilmembers Taplin, Hahn and Wengraf.

Public Safety

  • Equipment to Engrave Identification Numbers on Catalytic Converters. You or your neighbors may have been a victim of catalytic converter theft. This year I held a Town Hall with the Berkeley Police Department to come up with solutions. Our Department acknowledges that this is an organized regional crime with requiring sustained investigative resources. I introduced legislation to buy an machine to etch VIN numbers on converters using revenue from a statewide public safety sales tax. The Department will loan the machine to local auto body shops where residents can sign up for etching. Stay tuned for more information.
  • Comprehensive Berkeley Police Early Intervention and Risk Management System Program Design – This implements my legislation enacting one of the top recommendations from the Mayor’s Fair and Impartial Policing Working Group. The recent police bike team texting scandal highlights the urgency of monitoring police to intervene early.
  • Investigator support to Police Accountability Board (PAB) for complex misconduct investigations. Many PAB investigations involve multiple allegations, and body-worn (and now fixed surveillance) cameras have added additional time to investigations. There were nearly 20 complaints filed in 2020; we expect an uptick as the community comes to know about the PAB. Last May, our Council fully funded 181 officers; this budget line item would bring the ratio to two investigators per 100 officers, equivalent to the ratio elsewhere.
  • Re-Entry Employment and Guaranteed Income Programs. As the City stands up its new racial equity division, these funds will help launch employment and guaranteed income pilots to begin to address historic disinvestment. Many thanks to Councilmember Taplin for introducing this program.

You can see the whole budget update here.

Looking Ahead to November

This November, we will continue our focus on improving the City’s physical infrastructure, affordable housing and public safety for everyone. Last year’s bold public safety re-imagining strengthened both existing police resources and cost-effective alternatives. The May 2022 compromise plan included restoring Police Department funding to full pre-COVID levels (181 officers) as well as new funding for civilian responses. At present, $900,000 in already approved but unimplemented re-imagining priorities to increase safety for everyone have been deferred. Some of these programs need more time to be developed, yet I was successful in ensuring that these programs not be cut outright but remain eligible, pending resources, to be considered for funding in November. I believe these programs will prove both fair and cost-effective:

  • analyzing transportation fines and fees that disproportionately punish those in poverty and trap people in an inescapable cycle of debt ($150,000);
  • a hearing officer to provide payment plans and community service as an alternative to immediate fines ($582,000);
  • funding to study and launch the Berkeley Department of Transportation (BerkDOT) ($300,000) as legislation advances in the State legislature for unarmed traffic enforcement in non-serious cases;
  • Launching an umbrella Department of Community Safety ($250,000).

Staff vacancies are certainly taking a toll on new and existing programs—something that we need to urgently tackle to support of workers and the residents they serve. I am looking forward to discussing a newly released Auditor report exploring how the City can better recruit and retain workers. Through building better relationships with our workers, I am confident that our City can strengthen existing services and embrace the future.

I want to extend my deep gratitude to our engaged community who made this forward-looking budget possible, and I look forward to further progress in the coming year.


Kate Harrison
Berkeley City Council, District 4