Berkeley, don’t forget: We had a reimagining process. Fight for it.
We face a deadline for the 2024 fiscal year budget on Tuesday June 27. City Council will vote to approve a budget that flies in the face of community demands, the Re-Imagining process, and the City Council's own promises to create alternatives to police. The proposed budget includes a $1 million CUT to the Re-imagining Public Safety budget while bolstering the police department by nearly $20 million.
Read this letter (also below) from the Berkeley People’s Alliance, signed by a host of organizations including Berkeley Copwatch.
Berkeley City Council is acting like nothing happened. As if George Floyd’s murder didn’t matter. As if thousands of Berkeleyans didn’t take to the streets for an alternative to police.
Speak your mind at City Council! Tuesday June 27, the meeting starts at 6pm. Find the full agenda and in person & zoom attendance instructions here.
To: Honorable Mayor and the Berkeley City Council
From: The Berkeley People’s Alliance on Behalf of the Berkeley People’s Budget Coalition
Date: June 26, 2023
Re: FY 2024 Budget Update: Restoring Re-Imagining Cuts and Addressing Mismanagement
We are writing to express deep concern about the Mayor’s proposed FY 2024 budget, which (1) perpetuates wasteful and fiscally irresponsible spending that disproportionately boosts the Police Department and city management at the expense of other critical programs, (2) imperils key elements of the community-driven Re-Imagining Budget, and (3) highlights City management’s continued mismanagement of key programs benefiting the public interest and city workers.
The Berkeley People’s Budget Coalition is composed of many organizations across neighborhoods, racial justice, labor and policy advocacy spectrum. Its priorities reflect and build upon a multi-year organizing and community outreach project first led by the Berkeley Community Safety Coalition in 2020, followed by a renewed and broader effort in the lead-up to the June 2022 budget process.
While we appreciate that many positive programs remain in the draft budget — including full funding for the African American Holistic Resource Center, a comprehensive Early Intervention System for police accountability, administration of the Empty Homes Tax, mobility/transit funding, guaranteed income, anti-displacement and others —various key items remain unfilled. A broader culture of unaccountability and obstruction persists among City management.
We demand that Council restore the proposed FY 2024 cuts, and dislodge the mismanaged Ceasefire program out of the Police Department and City Manager’s Office so that community groups can lead it, as originally intended.
FY 23-24 Budget: Wasteful and Fiscally Irresponsible Spending Disproportionately Boosting the Police Department and City Management
Last year, a Council majority and Mayor Arreguín agreed that the high percentage of the budget going to the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) is unsustainable. Nevertheless, the FY 23-24 budget greatly expanded the footprint of the Police Department and the City Manager’s office, while promising to balance that with a number of programs recommended by the Re-imagining Public Safety Task Force and the Berkeley People’s Budget.
Many of the key re-imagining recommendations are now being run by BPD and the City Manager’s office — instead of civilian entities–which is inappropriate. In essence, BPD and the City Manager’s Office have been handsomely rewarded as part of the re-imagining process at the expense of critical initiatives that arose from multi-year community processes.
Worse yet, the assignment of the responsibility to re-design how public safety works to those who run the current, failing system, has unsurprisingly resulted in almost no change to how it operates.
Specifically, the FY 23-24 budget increased BPD spending by nearly $20 million:
unfroze approximately 23 officer positions (~$13.4 million);
added additional dispatchers in police department (~$3 million);
created a new classification of unarmed community service officers under the police chief (~$2 million);
added two police assistant management analysts ($661K), four police crossing guards ($154K) and other miscellaneous funding ($420K); and
allocated police recruitment spending approved late last year ($200K).
The Department has also obtained an additional half a million dollars for police surveillance cameras, millions for overtime, and millions of dollars to manage Ceasefire, a program which, as discussed in a subsequent section, must not be led by the City Manager or Police, but rather the community, to be successful.
The FY 23-24 budget also increased the City Manager’s budget by $1.5 million for the following positions, which remain unfilled and uncertain:
Re-imagining Project Lead-Assistant to City Manager ($629K);
Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Officer ($629K);
DEI Administrative Assistant ($330K).
Unacceptable Balancing of the FY 24 Budget Update At the Expense of Re-Imagining Public Safety
Following last year’s already lopsided budget, at the last Council Budget Committee meeting on June 22, Mayor Arreguín proposed without explanation to cut a number of key community-oriented re-imagining priorities that had been funded as part of the FY 23-24 budget.
The re-imagining plan from last year included direction to re-invest in community-based, preventive, and restorative approaches to address the socioeconomic roots of poverty and crime.
Yet the proposed cuts, shown in a chart provided by the Mayor last Thursday, show a gutting of hopes for re-imaging public safety:
The cuts include key programs that can help break the cycle of poverty and mass incarceration, including utilizing the Downtown Streets Teams program as diversion for low-level violations ($50,000), funding to launch the new Department of Community Safety ($250,000) and BerkDOT ($300,000), an analysis of transportation fines and fees that disproportionately punish those in poverty and trap people in an inescapable cycle of debt ($150,000), and a hearing officer for administering alternative diversion programs for municipal code fines and sanctions ($150,000).
As noted by the Mayor in the Budget Committee, the proposed budget would “defund” these programs. Considering this only applies to community-programs, not the police and city management, the use of this word was especially ironic, even hurtful.
Before voting — perhaps realizing the slashing implications of his decision, the Mayor clarified that he intended to refer some of these initiatives to the November budget. In light of last year’s highly questionable bonanza for the police and management described above, it is not sufficient to simply “refer,” which still essentially means “defund.”
The Mayor explicitly stated the proposed budget cuts apply only to critical human needs and re-imagining programs, and barely cut from City management’s FY 24 priorities. In this way, the proposal imposes austerity on the community to benefit City management’s and the Police Department’s pet projects.
We need the $900,000 in Re-imagining programs restored now or at least pre-funded in November, and we also need immediate accountability and oversight from Council over City Management, which has failed to execute on these programs as first proposed in 2020 and funded in 2022.
City Management’s Bungling of Ceasefire, a Proven Tool to Reduce Violence
At the June 22 Budget Committee meeting, the community also learned that nothing significant has been accomplished with respect to launching the $2 million Ceasefire program, first introduced in 2020 and funded last year. The City Manager provided deeply puzzling excuses for this failure, including the supposed need to wait (1) to hire a new highly-paid Assistant City Manager to launch the program, and (2) for an academic report from the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy about how to launch it.
It is exasperating to hear that a desperately needed grassroots and community-led program to stop violence in our community is again being delayed. It is even more concerning that management has held the violence prevention program hostage, for months or years on end, to acquire more high-level staff in the City Manager’s office; and to rely on frankly elitist entities such as UC Berkeley.
The fundamental question remains why this program was ever lodged within the Police Department and City Manager’s Office in the first place. Scores of faith and community-based organizations, many of which were funded by the People’s Budget, are well-positioned to lead on this issue if only city management and police would get out of the way.
Instead city management has prioritized after-the-fact measures to arrest and surveil our way out of crime, at the expense of community programs that are proven to reduce violence. We have lost faith in city management, and are waiting for urgent accountability measures.
We hope you will give these community recommendations and critique of the proposed budget your time, attention, and serious consideration. We are available to respond to your questions and to be in dialogue with each of you.
Sincerely, The Berkeley People’s Budget Coalition
Member groups include:
Berkeley People’s Alliance (BPA)
Berkeley Community Safety Coalition (BCSC)
Racism and Criminal Justice Reform Group (RCJR)
Berkeley Citizens Action Steering Committee (BCA)
Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club
Berkeley Friends Racial Justice Action Team
Latinxs Unidos de Berkeley
Strike Debt Bay Area