Alameda County and City of Berkeley 2020 Ballot

In Personal
Table Of Contents

Measures

FF. Emergency Response and Preparedness Parcel Tax

A “yes” vote supports authorizing an annual parcel tax of $0.1047 per square foot per parcel, thereby generating an estimated $8.5 million per year for fire services, emergency response, 9-1-1 communication, hazard mitigation and wildfire prevention.

Requires a 66.67% supermajority vote to pass.

YES.

With ever increasing wildfire risk, the need to fund emergency response and hazard mitigation is paramount. Additionally, as the text of the ordinance mentions, demand for Fire Department services has almost tripled over the past 20 years, without a proportional increase in staffing and technological upgrades.

While considering this tax, I wondered what, exactly, could funds from this tax be used for. According to Chapter 7.83.010:

The proceeds of the tax imposed by this Chapter shall be placed in a special fund to be used only for the purpose of enhancing public safety by funding the following:

  1. Local firefighter and emergency medical response including hiring and training personnel and upgrading safety equipment and facilities.
  2. Upgrading and modernizing the 9-1-1 dispatch system to implement and
    maintain a system to provide emergency medical dispatching.
  3. Wildfire prevention and preparedness activities including, but not limited to, vegetation management, hazard mitigation, public education, evacuation planning, and an emergency alert system.

This seems reasonable.

GG. Transportation Sales Tax

A “yes” vote supports authorizing a tax on Transportation Network Company trips of $0.50 per private trip and $0.25 per pooled trip for 20 years, generating an estimated $910,000 per year for general services.

WEAK YES.

According to the text of the ordinance, TNC trips account for some 20% of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), in San Francisco. I find it reasonable to assume that this is also the case in Berkeley, a similarly urban city (albeit without a downtown as dense as SF’s). The text also points out that TNCs don’t pay taxes to the city, which must maintain roads.

While, as a user, I would prefer a tax that’s scaled to the length of the trip spent in Berkeley rather than a flat rate, I recognize that calculating such a rate might be infeasibly complex.

Additionally, I wondered which trips would be taxed. From the text, only trips that start in Berkeley would be taxed. So if I ride from SF back into Berkeley, that trip won’t be taxed.

As with all other taxes, this tax will increase from year to year. It’s not entirely clear exactly which index will be used. But I think I’m OK with this. The text reads:

Annually in May, the City Council may increase the previous year’s tax by up to the greater of the cost of living in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area or per capita personal income growth in the state, as verified by official United States Bureau of Labor statistics. If either index referred to above is discontinued, the City shall use any successor index specified by the applicable agency, or if there is none, the most similar existing index then in existence.

Finally, how will this tax be used? The text doesn’t specify. But the question on the ballot says “general municipal services.” If there’s any reason for me to vote no on this, it’d be fact that these funds aren’t directed back into maintaining roads.

HH. Utility Tax

A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7.5% to 10% on electricity and gas and a 2.5% increase to the gas users tax, generating an estimated $2.4 million per year for municipal services including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

WEAK NO.

In principle, I support the spirit of this measure. Climate change is real, and action must be taken. But there are several points in the text that I find concerning:

  1. The fact that these revenues may be placed in the Climate Equity Action Fund that this measure establishes: From the text, Chapter 7.70.073, Revenues received from the user tax imposed on electricity and gas above 7.5% and any other funds designated by the City Council, may be placed in the fund.
  2. The fact that recommendations made by the Climate Action and Energy Commission are non-binding.
  3. The fact that the City Council has full discretion on “how these proceeds could be spent to address climate equity issues” and how “proceeds may be spent to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions or for any other municipal purpose.
  4. In the next line, “Funds may be used for City government expenditures, and/or to provide grants to local non-profit organizations, businesses, and government agencies.
  5. And later, “The City Council shall consider, but need not follow, the Climate Action and Energy Commission’s recommendations and shall annually inform the Climate Action and Energy Commission as to the extent to which it has implemented its recommendations.

There is a lot good in this measure. But there’s also too much wiggle room for my comfort. One positive, at least, is that people who qualify for help with their utility bills are exempt from this tax increase. Another positive: higher utility bills might dissuade people from using so much damn energy — though I’d prefer that the tax be only on gas rather include electricity (since at least 85% of Berkeley electricity is already carbon-free).

But other than that, it’s hard for me to say that the City Council will actually do the right thing without so much gray area and discretion given to them, as highlighted above. So, with a heavy heart, this measure gets a NO from me.

II. Police Accountability Charter Amendment

A “yes” vote supports amending the city charter to establish a police accountability board and director to provide oversight of local law enforcement, access records, investigate complaints from the public and recommend disciplinary action.

STRONG YES.

Well, after reading through the text of this charter amendment, it’s clear to me that this was very thoroughly researched and written. There’s almost no stone left unturned here, and questions about this amendment were mostly, if not completely, addressed somewhere in the 17-page document. Some interesting points:

  • The Police Accountability Board will have 9 members, all of which will be selected by the Mayor and City Council.
  • Members will effectively be volunteers. Pay per month for each member is capped at $300/month, adjusted for cost of living each year.
  • One PAB term is 4 years. Members can only serve for 8 consecutive years, but are eligible to serve again after “a break in service of at least two years.”
  • During the first 6 months after appointment, members undergo 40 hours of training.
  • There are at least 18 meetings a year. A majority (i.e. 5 members) must be present for a quorum.
  • Subcommittees may involve non-voting (i.e. not PAB) members of the public.
  • Whenever the Police Department changes a policy, the PAB will review it. If a conflict(s) isn’t resolved within 60 days, the City Manager has the final say.
  • In determining whether a sworn employee of the Police Department has committed misconduct, the standard of proof for the Board shall be “preponderance ofthe evidence”. The investigation and decision on findings shall be fair, unbiased, and evidence based.
  • The time limit for investigations and notification of discipline shall be two hundred and forty (240) days from the date of the City’s discovery by a person authorized to initiate an investigation of an alleged act, omission, or other misconduct.

There are more details around how a complaint is actually handled. The overall gist is that this Board will handle the gathering of evidence, and produce a report, that’s independent of the Police Department, and is more transparent to the public. In the end, though, the Police Chief and City Manager have the final say.

JJ. City Council Salaries Charter Amendment

A “yes” vote supports amending the city charter to establish the mayor’s salary as Alameda County’s median three-person household income and city council members’ salaries as 63% of the mayor’s salary.

WEAK YES.

The wording of this measure is weird. “Alameda County median income for a three-person household”? What’s that? And how much do the Mayor (and Concilmembers) make now?

On that second question: The original charter (which this measure amends) states the current rate is “up to $1,800 per month, and the Mayor shall receive up to $2,850 per month, effective the Council term beginning in December Such amount shall be adjusted upward by the increase in the cost of living for the San Francisco Bay Area as verified by official United States economic reports.” According to usinflationcalculator.com, $2850/month in 1998 is $4551/month in 2020. $4551*12 = $54612.

According to the Berkeley city government salary chart, currently the Mayor is paid $228.9189/hour. That said, it doesn’t seem like the Mayor works a 40-hour workweek — in 2019, Jesse Arreguin was paid $59587.62 (plus $13379.52 in benefits), according to Transparent California.

It’s not trivial, apparently, to find “Alameda County’s median three-person household income”.

None of the above specifically break down median household income by household size (though the ACS comes close). But one thing’s clear: passing this amendment would significantly increase the Mayor’s pay, and possibly of fellow Councilmembers.

So how much should the Mayor, the leader of our City, get paid?

Well, clearly, it should be more than the $60- to $70000 in total compensation. But should it be around $100K, plus benefits? It’s hard to say, though I lean toward yes. Thus, the weak yes.

KK. Charter Amendment

A “yes” vote supports amending the city charter to eliminate residency requirements for the fire department, change eligibility requirements for the redistricting commission, remove gender-specific language and update authorities of the city attorney.

YES.

This seems like a pretty administrative update of the charter that simplifies eligibility rules for the Fire Department and the redistricting commission.

Some interesting tidbits from the text:

  • Currently, firefighters have to live no farther than 40 “air miles” from the boundaries of Berkeley. This measure removes this requirement entirely.
  • Currently, members of the redistricting commission have to be registered voters in Berkeley. This measure changes this to “resident of the City of Berkeley.”
  • Currently, only registered voters in Berkeley who have voted in the last two General Municipal elections are eligible to serve on the redistricting commission. This measure removes this requirement. Instead, it would allow any Berkeley resident over 18 to be eligible.
  • All instances of “he”, “she”, “him”, “her”, and “his” are replaced.
  • Seems like elected officials, e.g. on the Rent Stabilization Board, can’t be prosecuted by the City Attorney. I guess there’s a separate process for trying (and removing, if convicted) those members?

LL. Appropriations Limit

A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the city’s appropriations limit until 2024.

YES.

Another administrative vote, I guess.

I didn’t know this (or forgot about this, since I voted in Berkeley 4 years ago), but from the text, “Article XIIIB of the California Constitution requires that the voters approve increases in the City’s appropriations limit on a four year cycle.” This measure has to be approved to “allow the City to expend funds it has already collected from previously approved ballot measures for various purposes including public safety, parks and recreation, health services, and infrastructure.

If this measure fails… does that mean the City can’t use its own revenues at all? I wonder what the reasoning behind Article XIIIB is.

MM. Rent Stabilization Ordinance

A “yes” vote supports prohibiting evictions during state or local emergencies, authorizing the rent stabilization board to set fees for partially exempt units and limiting the accessory dwelling unit exemption.

WEAK NO.

This one’s a complicated one. For context, I benefit from rent control and believe that rent control in the era of Prop 13 (which limits the property taxes of landowners) has done more good (e.g. by making housing costs more predictable for tenants) than harm (e.g. by depressing the value proposition for developers to build more housing). So, until Prop 13 is repealed, I generally think rent control should be expanded.

That’s why I voted yes on Prop 10, in 2018, which would have allowed local governments to “adopt rent control on any type of rental housing, thus repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.” (Prop 10 failed by 19 points, 59-40.)

Yet, on the same 2018 ballot, I also voted yes on Berkeley’s Measure Q, to exempt newly built housing from rent control for 20 years, preserve rent increases from Costa-Hawkins, and exempt ADUs (on which the owner resides) from rent control. (Measure Q passed 71.40% to 28.60%, but had no effect since Prop 10 failed.)

How does this all relate to Measure MM?

First, like in 2018, I still believe that ADU’s both help with the housing shortage and with combating climate change. The main reason for this is the fact that ADU’s increase housing density by allowing more people to live in a single tract of land. (This helps with climate change by reducing transportation impacts and removing the need to develop new land).

This is despite the fact that building higher and denser housing, like condos and apartment buildings, is more efficient, because building ADU’s is currently more economically and politically feasible (versus getting existing landowners to sell to a developer and getting new permits to build).

By introducing more regulation on ADU’s, I think Measure MM would discourage homeowners from building more than one ADU (since the first ADU would be exempt from rent control, but building two or more would remove this exemption).

On another note, while I think ADU exemption limitation is the big issue here, there’s also the “prohibit evictions during emergencies” proposal. While I think this is noble, I also don’t think this is necessary in light of the Mayor and City Council’s emergency order to do just that during this pandemic. Because the elected officers already have such power, I don’t think the rent stabilization ordinance needs to be updated to include this language.

In any case, out of all the measures, this one was the toughest one for me to consider. I (obviously) wish this weren’t so complicated…

Nonpartisan Offices

Mayor

Jesse Arreguín

Four years ago, I voted for Jesse over a real estate developer. That decision was tough because for me, the developer represented a push for more housing — a top issue on my mind — whereas Jesse represented a push for more racial and economic inequality, in my mind.

But early into Jesse’s term, I was disappointed. There wasn’t much tangible change, and certainly there were more housing projects that got canned than were approved (though yes, I understand that this is more of a Zoning Board issue). But since then, that’s changed. In 2020, there’s been a lot more approved projects. In fact, the number of approved (and thereafter in construction) projects have significantly increased between 2017 and 2019.

Alameda County and City of Berkeley 2020 Ballot 1
From the 2017 report
Alameda County and City of Berkeley 2020 Ballot 2
From the 2019 report, showing an increase of 786 permitted units between Sept 1, 2017 and Dec 31, 2018.

There have been other notable, positive changes over the past couple years. I won’t go into detail here, but some that have impacted me include (1) the addition of bikeshare throughout the city and (2) the dramatic expansion of bike lanes, credit for which I can partly attributed to the Mayor, pushing toward the Vision 2050 concept that he launched in 2018.

The top two contenders this year, of course, is Jesse and Wayne Hsiung.

The most common way that I’ve heard these choices framed are: Jesse for the status quo, and Wayne for something new and bold.

If that’s the only decision I have to make, then the choice is actually easy: I like the direction that Berkeley is taking now — which means I’d vote for the “status quo.”

But what about new and bold? What is Wayne all about?

The short answer is that he’s all about animal rights, enough so that he faces 17 felony charges and 8 misdemeanors for his activism, including “rescues” of farm animals. I’ve personally seen his group, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) often on campus, shaming people for eating meat on loudspeakers. I’ve heard from friends that have seen his group protest local businesses that sell meat.

On other issues, he wants to “end homelessness by 2025 through a wealth tax that funds affordable housing” and “make Berkeley the first ‘Green New City’ with a five-year plan to only allow carbon neutral businesses.”

There’s a certain irony to all of this because I mostly agree with his views: in an ideal world, we should all be vegan, animals shouldn’t be factory-farmed, everyone should have a home, and immediate action is taken against the ongoing climate crisis.

But, I think the way that Wayne (and by extension DxE) promotes these causes is extreme — and unrealistic. Furthermore, from his record, it seems to me that he wants to use the Mayor’s office to advance his agenda, which don’t seem to align well with the interests of Berkeley residents. Specifically, with the exception of DxE protestors on campus, I have never heard of animal rights being an issue for any Berkeley resident.

On the other hand, Jesse’s actions and statements have been aligned.

City Council District 3

1st Choice. Deborah Matthews
2nd Choice: Ben Bartlett

Out of the three candidates, I think Matthews aligns with my vision of what District 3 should be the best. I think both Bartlett, the incumbent, and Matthews have the experience and knowhow to operate effectively at City Council. I voted for Bartlett in the last election for District 3 Councilmember. On the other hand, Martinez, the 3rd candidate, doesn’t quite satisfy either front, in my view.

The September forum, during which all candidates answered questions on where they stand on various issues, is summarized here.

Overall, on housing, I think more housing should be built across the economic spectrum. Matthews espouses that view, whereas Bartlett prioritizes lower-income housing.

On crime, Bartlett focused more on prevention, e.g. on mental health services, whereas Matthews was more broad, with preventative measures but also increased police enforcement. With crime in Berkeley relatively high over the past 15 years, I think Matthews’ balanced approach is better.

On this year’s California propositions and Berkeley City measures, both Matthews and Bartlett align more closely with what I’ve outlined previously. Martinez is anti-tax.

Finally, on Bartlett’s previous 4 years — I think he’s done a pretty good job (which is outlined quite well in that Berkeleyside article) other than that police ticket incident in 2018. I think I’d be happy with either Matthews or Bartlett for the next 4 years.

Rent Stabilization Board

Vote for no more than Five
Right to Housing slate

There are two full slates running:

Homeowners for Berkeley Rent Board, representing homeowner and landlord interests, and backed by the National Associated of Realtors Fund (to the tune of over $80000):

  • Bahman Ahmadi
  • Dan McDunn
  • Soulmaz Panahi
  • Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld, and
  • Pawel Moldenhawer

Right to Housing, representing tenant interests:

  • Leah Simon-Weisberg (current Rent Stabilization Board Commissioner)
  • Xavier Johnson
  • Dominque Walker
  • Andy Kelley
  • Mari Mendonca

The remaining two candidates Carole Marasovic and Bianca Zahrai aren’t affiliated with either.

I’m partial to the rights of landlords. But I’ve read and heard countless stories of landlord abuse during COVID, especially on Cal students. Some of these stories disgust me. In all stories I’ve heard, the main recourse tenants had was via the Rent Board. So while my position might change in the future, i.e. if I ever own a house and want to rent out, I’ll be voting for a tenant-friendly slate during this election cycle.

School Directors

Vote for no more than Two
Ana Vasudeo
Michael Chang

At a glance, all 5 candidates seem pretty qualified, just from their Berkeleyside interviews:

  • https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/09/29/berkeley-election-2020-who-is-candidate-laura-babitt-school-board
  • https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/09/29/berkeley-election-2020-who-is-candidate-jose-luis-bedolla-school-board
  • https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/09/29/berkeley-election-2020-who-is-candidate-esfandiar-imani-school-board
  • https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/09/29/berkeley-election-2020-who-is-candidate-michael-chang-school-board
  • https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/09/29/berkeley-election-2020-who-is-candidate-ana-vasudeo-school-board

Among these, Ana and Michael seemed most compelling, with Laura a close third.

AC Transit Director, At-Large

Vote for One
Victoria Fleece

Considering this position was tougher than expected (especially since it’s an At-Large position!). On one hand, in times of financial uncertainty (i.e. now), I tend to vote for an experienced incumbent who’s more likely to steer the bus (pun intended) more smoothly. The incumbent, Chris Peeples, has been on the AC Transit board since 1997. According the AC Transit site, he’s been a “strong supporter of AC Transit’s zero emission fuel cell bus program“, a program I support.

On the other hand, Victoria Fleece represents a younger, more progressive outlook. In addition to tying housing to transportation, I think her ideas around creating (dedicated) bus lanes (e.g. even just by painting them?) and nicer bus shelters should be given a try — both would motivate me to ride the bus more often! She also actually rides and relies on the bus, which I think few other AC Transit board members do.

AC Transit Director, District 1

Vote for One
Joe Wallace

Similar to the At-Large position, this race pits an incumbent Joe Wallace vs. a more activist-minded candidate, Jovanka Beckles. And similar to Peeples, Wallace has been a director some 20 years, too (he’s also the current President). But unlike Fleece, Beckles’ main platform revolves around representing union interests (representing the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192). (Her other issues include “expanding the public bus service, making it fare-free and moving toward zero emissions as part of a local Green New Deal.” But these seem pinned to Prop 15 passing.)

In this case, I lean toward keeping the incumbent. It’s unclear to me what new ideas Wallace has to make AC Transit easier to access and ride. But I think keeping Wallace’s experience, at least to keep AC Transit running in the first place, is currently the better choice.

BART Director, District 7

Vote for One
Lateefah Simon

This is the “marquee battle” between Lateefah Simon, the incumbent President of the BART Board of Directors, and Sharon Kidd, representing BART Police interests. Their positions couldn’t be more clear cut:

Lateefah Simon

  • Expand unarmed ambassadors to patrol trains.
  • Represents more urban, progressive policies, which advocate for (1) social workers to respond to homelessness and drug use, and (2) housing around BART stations, rather than parking.

Sharon Kidd

In previous years, safety was my top concern while riding BART, though incidents are few and far in-between. But now, BART solvency and level of service definitely tops my list. Since the pandemic, BART has only stayed afloat with $251.6 million in federal emergency funds, which has allowed it to avoid layoffs. But without more aid and without a return to pre-COVID ridership levels, it’s unclear to me BART is going to do.

From my research, neither candidate is right for this job. But, I think Kidd is comparatively worse, with less experience and an undefined platform.

On the policing issue above: It’s debatable how effective the ambassadors are, but when I’ve seen them, I think they do provide a comforting presence, especially in conjunction with officers also patrolling trains. As long as Simon is fine with BART Police (which according to BART, she is), I guess she gets my vote.

East Bay Regional Park District Director, Ward 1

Vote for One
Elizabeth Echols

Of all the local offices up for election this year, I feel the most strongly about this one: Norman La Force, is definitely the wrong person to direct the EBRPD. And conversely, Elizabeth Echols is the right person to serve on the EBRPD Board.

I feel strongly about this because I access the East Bay Parks on a regular (sometimes even near-daily) basis — even more than the buses and trains of AC Transit and BART. And Norman La Force is stauchly anti-access. Quoting directly from Million Trees:

  • Norman La Force advocates for the destruction of non-native trees in East Bay Regional Parks and the use of herbicides to eradicate non-native plants and prevent trees from resprouting after they have been destroyed.
  • As a lawyer and the co-founder and CEO of SPRAWLDEFNorman La Force has sued East Bay Regional Park District many times to impose his personal vision on the parks.  These lawsuits were costly to taxpayers and the Park District and they delayed the implementation of park improvements.
  • Norman La Force is consistently opposed to many types of recreation. He advocates for parks that prohibit public access. 
  • Norman La Force has an antagonistic attitude toward park visitors who do not share his personal vision.
  • Norman La Force sued the Park District to prevent recreational improvements at Albany Beach, with “attorney’s fees incurred directly as a result of the litigation filed by SPRAWLDEF relating to Albany Beach were between $321,358 and $346,358.  In addition, the court ordered the Park District to pay Petitioner SPRAWLDEF $60,587.50 in attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party in the 2013 litigation.”

Norman’s main endorsement comes from the Sierra Club whose reputation with me has tarnished quite a bit recently.

The list goes on.

On the flip side, Elizabeth Echols has the endorsement of every other EBRPD board member, has done a great job leading the Park District through the pandemic thus far, and above all, understands the balance between human recreation and use of public land and the conservation of said land.

Afterthoughts

Researching all of the issues and people above, and reading the text of every measure, took a lot of time. But I’m glad to have invested that time. With the future of the US at stake, it can be hard to think about all the propositions, measures, and positions down-ballot. But in many ways, it’s these very measures and positions that are going to most directly and most immediately affect me and my neighbors.

With that, the next step for me, of course, is to return my ballot. And after that, I hope to continue to diving deeper into my values and finding ways to embody them.

Thanks for reading.

FIN.

One Comment

Mary McAllister 2020-11-01 Reply

Thank you for endorsing Elizabeth Echols and doing the research needed to understand why she is the best candidate.

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