Berkeley approves FY24 budget, 'reimagining' policing continues

"Our commitment to look at a new approach to public safety remains," Mayor Jesse Arreguín said Tuesday night.

Berkeley approves FY24 budget, 'reimagining' policing continues
Mayor Jesse Arreguín discusses the city budget Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Emilie Raguso/Aipsasiamedia

After hours of discussion, the Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a new budget early Wednesday morning, with much of the night focused on ongoing efforts to reshape what policing looks like in the city.

Unlike nearby cities that are facing huge deficits this budget season, officials said Berkeley has managed to weather the storm in part by limiting spending and putting off all but the most pressing projects until later.

"Our commitment to look at a new approach to public safety remains," Mayor Jesse Arreguín said Tuesday night. "It doesn’t make sense to allocate money for things that are not gonna happen right now."

As part of its reimagining work, which was initially approved in 2020 after George Floyd's murder, the city of Berkeley is poised to launch a new Specialized Care Unit this month. The new team is slated to provide a non-police response to nonviolent crisis calls.

Plan to shift Berkeley crisis calls from police to SCU nears launch
The 2-year, $4.5 million pilot program is designed to provide an alternative response for people in crisis due to mental health and substance use issues.

And the city manager's office is hiring someone, expected to be on board in the next month, who will help create a new Ceasefire-like program aimed at violence prevention.

"This will be an early priority for the new assistant to the city manager," City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said. "We haven’t been sitting and not doing anything."

With their unanimous vote, city officials approved nearly $730 million in spending for Berkeley in the upcoming fiscal year.

That includes nearly $280 million in General Fund spending, which pays for the bulk of police and fire services in the city as well as projects related to land use and street maintenance.

The 2023-24 budget also funds a new investigator for the Police Accountability Board ($221,000) and $100,000 to design a comprehensive early intervention system that will help identify and retrain police officers who show a pattern of making bad stops.

Along with many other city spending priorities, council put off to a later date more than $400,000 to help with police training, recruitment and retention.

The Berkeley Police Department is facing an "unprecedented" staffing crisis and is now working to assess how many officers the city really needs to do the work the community expects them to do.

With Wednesday's vote, city officials also approved spending on a number of projects designed to boost traffic safety, from $80,000 for improvements at Sixth and Addison streets to $150,000 for handrails, lights and signage along the city's pedestrian pathways network.

Council also approved $900,000 to build protected bicycle lanes and crossings, priority pedestrian street crossings and "quick-build" public transit projects throughout Berkeley, along with $100,000 to improve the intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Haste Street.

And Berkeley is also continuing to invest in anti-displacement efforts, with $2 million now set aside for post-COVID-19 rental assistance.

BerkDOT civilian traffic enforcement idea still on the table

Council members and community members also brought up the city's plans to create BerkDOT, a new transportation department that many hope will one day oversee civilian traffic enforcement in Berkeley.

State law must change for that to happen, but officials noted that new legislation, SB 50, is now up for consideration — thanks to Berkeley's advocacy and lobbying efforts in recent years.

"Just getting this introduced was a huge milestone," said Councilman Rigel Robinson, who attended the meeting virtually. "We shopped this around for two years to no avail."

Robinson said that, if the new state law passes, "the spotlight will be on us" to design a program for safe, strategic civilian traffic enforcement in Berkeley.

"We should start this work in earnest when we can, which I really hope will be soon," he said.

See the full Twitter thread from the Berkeley City Council budget discussion. As of July 2023, a Twitter account is required to view the thread. Aipsasiamedia was the only news outlet in the room Tuesday night.

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