Editorial: As Berkeley’s finances worsen, these five can best lead

In Berkeley, a city that prides itself for taking care of its neediest, the pandemic has presented major financial challenges.

City leaders had to close a whopping $39 million shortfall to roughly balance the current year’s $201 million general fund budget. More cuts are likely later this year.

The city will need thoughtful elected officials who understand the numbers and can balance the huge demands of myriad Berkeley political forces with pragmatic approaches to municipal finances. Leaders who can respect demands for social justice, changes in policing and climate change activism while still balancing the books and protecting residents’ safety.

For that, voters should reelect Mayor Jesse Arreguin; elect solar energy scientist Alex Sharenko in City Council District 2; and reelect Ben Bartlett in District 3, Sophie Hahn in District 5 and Susan Wengraf in District 7.

It’s not that the incumbents have been doing stellar jobs, it’s that they are better candidates than their opponents.

Indeed, over the past decade since the Great Recession, Berkeley has squandered an opportunity to right its finances. While repeatedly passing new taxes — there are three more proposed on the November ballot — city leaders have let their debt for workers’ pensions and retiree health care continue to mount. The unfunded liability now stands at about $700 million.

They failed to address a giant credit bill when times are good, leaving the city to make huge payments during this economic downturn. That drains money that could be better used for needed city services.

Jesse Arreguin (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)Mayor — Jesse Arreguin

During his first term, Arreguin has been an exceptionally hardworking mayor. Whether it’s dealing with city finances, addressing Berkeley’s mounting retirement debts or allocating resources for police, he stands far above the other candidates with his knowledge of the issues and practical approaches to solving problems.

His best-funded challenger, Wayne Hsiung, an attorney and controversial animal rights activist, faces 16 felonies and eight misdemeanor charges in connection with actions at pig and turkey farms in Utah, a goat rescue in North Carolina and two poultry farms in Petaluma, according to reporting by Berkeleyside.

The other challengers are UC Berkeley undergraduate student Aidan Hill, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2018, and repeat mayoral candidate Naomi Pete. Pete did not participate in our interview process.

Arreguin recognizes the need to address the city’s retirement debt. In contrast, Hsiung on one hand warns that if Berkeley doesn’t address the issue the city could end up like Detroit, and then says the issue isn’t significant. Hill says he is still learning about the issue.

While Hsiung and Hill want to cut the police budget by 50%, Arreguin is reasonably tempered in his approach. He understands that such a large cut would be devastating to public safety, especially in areas such as West Berkeley where residents are calling for more patrols, not fewer.

Alex Sharenko (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)District 2 — Alex Sharenko

Any of three strong challengers would be a huge improvement over incumbent Cheryl Davila.

The strongest candidate is Alex Sharenko, a solar energy scientist …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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