This paper's editorial against Berkeley's November's revenue ballot measures mischaracterizes a great deal. If the writer lived and voted in Berkeley, she or he would know that Berkeley voters have, for years, made prudent investments in our city, at more than a two-thirds majority, for libraries, schools, parks, and adequate fire protection, to name a few.
Not all investment measures have passed, but most have. Berkeley residents' willingness to tax ourselves is an expression of the community we desire to live in. If Measure M, an investment in our streets and watershed, passes Tuesday, it's because residents have studied the ballot and realize that an investment now will prevent much more costly repairs in the future. It is our choice.
We can postpone the investment and watch the roads deteriorate to a much more expensive level, ruin suspension systems, and deliver sullied stormwater into the Bay. Measure M is a sound investment, which is why the Berkeley city auditor, for the first time in my memory, has come out in favor of a ballot measure.
It is true that Berkeley, like every other city in California, has substantial unfunded liabilities. As with every California city, contributions for pensions and benefits have skyrocketed.
In the '90s, the retirement fund, CalPERS, credited millions of dollars to Berkeley -- the fund was that flush from rosy investments. Move the clock to 2008: Investment returns plummeted but obligations remain. Since the fund cannot print money, member rates, Berkeley's included, increased dramatically. (By the way, we hire our own actuary to ensure our contribution projections are conservative.) Add to that Gov. Gray Davis' decision to allow cities to lower the law enforcement retirement age to 50. That decision meant every municipality had to adjust, best they could, to attract the best officers.
CalPERS pays that benefit. We pay our sworn officers well, and consider ourselves well-served by an excellent, well-educated force.
Have we made some miscalculations over the years? Probably. Are we renegotiating contracts in this new economic environment? Yes, we are. Have we cut expenses, reduced staff, and used smarter technology? Yes, we have and continue to do so.
Are we building our economy to benefit the city and fund our needs? Yes, we are, and that is a collaborative community effort. The downtown looks and feels better, the first Sunday Streets was a huge success, the Buy-Local Berkeley campaign is thriving, and the hotel owners have agreed to tax themselves to fund a more robust Visit Berkeley marketing campaign. Our bond rating has increased in the last year to AA+. The one review by a bond-rating agency that has hit the press lately has to do with the new animal shelter, a voter-approved initiative. We welcome the scrutiny.
Berkeley is not immune from making missteps and we have lots of room for improvement, but ours is a fine city, one that votes its values. We know who we are: a community that desires to live in a progressive, humane and healthy city, and therefore, we put our money where it belongs.
Linda Maio is vice mayor of Berkeley.