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Voters Want Infrastructure Repair, but Not Enough to Pay for It

Survey shows Berkeley residents feel the economy is stable, but balk at bond measures.

Whoever said talk is cheap may have been tipped off by pollsters.

Nearly 80 percent of Berkeley residents feel the economy is stable or improving, 57 percent are doing well or excellently, and 58 percent think the city’s leaders are doing an excellent or good job, according to a 17-minute telephone survey of 430 likely voters conducted between March 14 and 17.

But the survey by Lake Research Partners showed that while voters may be feeling optimistic about the economy, they are not feeling flush enough to finance the improvements they consider important – at least, not yet.

For instance, most voiced support for parcel taxes that would pay for housing and homeless services. And more than the necessary two-thirds majority considers upgrades to both streets and storm drains as extremely or very important. However, an inadequate number is willing to ante up for either repairs or services.

The survey netted interesting contrasts. Only 10 percent of respondents consider homelessness a priority, but when asked whether they favor a $25-per-year parcel tax on homes to pay for $1 million in homeless services, 58 percent said yes.

The total cost of unfunded public works, information technology and parks and waterfrontprojects has been pegged at $523 million.

Residents were asked to weigh in on three bond packages, designed to raise $100 million, $50 million and $25 million, and to consider parcel taxes, which also need a two-thirds vote to pass. However, the purpose of this survey was preliminary -- to gauge voter comfort level with funding possibilities, as well as to get a sense of the public's priorities, said the city's public information officer, Mary Kay.

Highlights from the survey include these:

  • Respondents were asked whether they felt the economy in this area is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same. Forty-five percent said they felt the economy is staying about the same. Of the remaining respondents, 34 percent felt the regional economy is doing better, and 17 percent felt it is doing worse.
  • When asked specifically about Berkeley, 51 percent said they thought things in Berkeley are going in the “right direction,” 24 percent said the city is on the “wrong track” and 25 percent said they didn’t know.
  • When asked about service delivery, 58 percent said city government is doing either an excellent or good job; 30 percent said the city is doing a fair job, and 7 percent said the city is doing a poor job.
  • Asked to name one issue that is most important to them, 32 percent chose schools, 13 percent named job creation and economic development, and 13 percent managing the city budget.

On May 1, the city council will consider whether to conduct a second survey to test ballot measure language.

JHolland March 28, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Filthy and ugly downtown Shattuck Avenue, potholes, dirty sidewalks, clogged grates on drains, trash piling up in gutters & on sidewalks, overflowing trash cans, closed or detoured streets due to repair/construction projects, poorly timed traffic lights, not enough traffic police at lights and stop signs, vacant storefronts, bundled sleeping cold homeless against doorways and walls, beggars and kids lying on the sidewalks with dogs, unlandscaped grounds in pocket parks & shopping areas, broken curbs - it is a tragedy that this City cannot afford basic services which help contribute to a good quality of life. Shoppers & long-time residents are fleeing to shop and spend time east of the Tunnel or on the Oakland side of College Avenue. Civic pride in this town is non-existant. The lack of attention to basic maintenance is disgraceful. Too many City employees and hefty unrealistic pension plan expenses are grossly unbalanced. Per capita spending in this town is way out of scale compared to the amenities we should enjoy. It appears to be getting worse.
JHolland March 28, 2012 at 12:49 AM
JHolland 5:47 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 Filthy and ugly downtown Shattuck Avenue, potholes, dirty sidewalks, clogged grates on drains, trash piling up in gutters & on sidewalks, overflowing trash cans, closed or detoured streets due to repair/construction projects, poorly timed traffic lights, not enough traffic police at lights and stop signs, vacant storefronts, bundled sleeping cold homeless against doorways and walls, beggars and kids lying on the sidewalks with dogs, unlandscaped grounds in pocket parks & shopping areas, broken curbs - it is a tragedy that this City cannot afford basic services which help contribute to a good quality of life. Shoppers & long-time residents are fleeing to shop and spend time east of the Tunnel or on the Oakland side of College Avenue. Civic pride in this town is non-existant. The lack of attention to basic maintenance is disgraceful. Too many City employees and hefty unrealistic pension plan expenses are grossly unbalanced. Per capita spending in this town is way out of scale compared to the amenities we should enjoy. It appears to be getting worse.
JHolland March 28, 2012 at 12:50 AM
JHolland 5:49 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 JHolland 5:47 pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 Filthy and ugly downtown Shattuck Avenue, potholes, dirty sidewalks, clogged grates on drains, trash piling up in gutters & on sidewalks, overflowing trash cans, closed or detoured streets due to repair/construction projects, poorly timed traffic lights, not enough traffic police at lights and stop signs, vacant storefronts, bundled sleeping cold homeless against doorways and walls, beggars and kids lying on the sidewalks with dogs, unlandscaped grounds in pocket parks & shopping areas, broken curbs - it is a tragedy that this City cannot afford basic services which help contribute to a good quality of life. Shoppers & long-time residents are fleeing to shop and spend time east of the Tunnel or on the Oakland side of College Avenue. Civic pride in this town is non-existant. The lack of attention to basic maintenance is disgraceful. Too many City employees and hefty unrealistic pension plan expenses are grossly unbalanced. Per capita spending in this town is way out of scale compared to the amenities we should enjoy. It appears to be getting worse.
Tonto March 28, 2012 at 04:03 AM
500 billion dollars in unfunded pension benifits to State employes will suck the life out of EVERYTHING in California. Get out while you can before being consumed :(
Tanya Jo Miller March 28, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Get out of...what...California? Say it ain't so Tonto! There's no place like Cali!
Kate Russell March 28, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I agree 100% with JHolland. It is also way too easy for "the homeless" in Berkeley. They have plenty of resources. Today I saw a woman give a "homeless" guy in front of Cheeseboard area a bunch of dollars. Then he got on his CELL PHONE and starting chatting away, sitting there begging and waiving his hand. We have professional "homeless" who--over 20 years later--are still out there on Shattuck, Solano, and Telegraph Ave just taking up space. If the City is going to fund homeless/indigent projects, let's see some of the newly foreclosed and WORKING poor get the help. They are the ones who deserve our compassion.
FiatSlug March 28, 2012 at 11:18 PM
The appropriate priorities of a city government is to ensure public safety, maintain infrastructure (in this case, roads and sewers), and build and maintain community amenities (parks, libraries). In Berkeley's case, the BUSD is responsible for the state of the schools, so the City of Berkeley doesn't have to worry about providing primary and secondary education; it only needs to get out of BUSD's way. Berkeley's budget is bloated. It has way more workers than necessary when compared to similar sized Bay Area cities, like Hayward. The City needs to be honest with its citizens about the budget. I don't think that it has met this essential threshold.

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