So the big Finance and Management Committee tax meeting is over, and here’s what happened. If you missed yesterday’s post about the new taxes being considered on today’s agenda, you can read it now to get some background on the items being discussed.
First up was District 4 Councilmember Jean Quan’s hotel tax (PDF), which she had introduced as an additional 2% tax on top of the 11% hotel tax we currently have. It was expected to generate roughly $2 million every year, which would be divided evenly between the Oakland Zoo, Oakland Museum, Chabot Space and Science Center, and cultural arts programs, including festivals.
At this afternoon’s meeting, Jean Quan introduced an altered version of the proposal. Instead of 2%, the tax would be 3%, so it would bring in about $3 million every year. Of that $3 million, half would go to fund the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which had its funding cut during the last fall’s budget deliberations. The other half of the money would be split between the four aforementioned programs.
District 5 Councilmember Igancio De La Fuente said that he would prefer to see the funding share for cultural arts to be dedicated exclusively to cultural arts programming, and not be available for festivals. District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel said she didn’t like the formula in the proposal, suggesting that large institutions like the Museum have access to other sources of funding besides the City or the new tax, and proposed her own formula for allocating the revenue which involved giving 10% of the portion for cultural institutions to Children’s Fairyland.
District 2 Coucilmember Pat Kernighan said that the hotel tax isn’t going to be the only source of funding for cultural institutions, and that it’s simply intended to take some of the burden off of the General Fund. That part confused me, because the proposal that had been on the agenda did not remove any burden from the General Fund. In fact, it prohibited collection of the tax unless the City continued to maintain the existing funding for the Zoo, Museum, and Chabot. I didn’t attend today’s meeting in person, so I didn’t get a copy of Jean Quan’s revised version. Maybe it took that part out, I don’t know.
Anyway, the public speakers mostly talked either about how important marketing is or how important the Zoo and Chabot Space and Science Center are, or in some cases both. Ignacio De La Fuente made an amendment that would require the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to include the Zoo, Museum, and Chabot in their marketing campaigns, but did not submit his ban on funding festivals because Pat Kernighan and Nancy Nadel had said previously they opposed it. Nobody supported Nancy’s idea to give 10% of the money to Fairyland, and the proposed passed, although Nadel abstained.
So that will go to the voters for approval at the next election, whenever that is. I don’t really have an opinion on this. I don’t stay in hotels, so I don’t really care that much what the hotel tax is. I personally don’t see why the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau should get any money – they suck and Destination Oakland is like the most pathetic visitor’s guide ever. It makes Oakland look hella ghetto, even more than we already are. But as long as I’m not paying for it, it’s hard to get worked up.
Then it was onto the repeal of Measure OO. In case you don’t recall, here’s the deal with OO. In 1996 Oakland passed Measure K (PDF), whichset aside 2.5% of the City’s unrestricted General Fund revenues to be distributed as grants for youth programs. Measure K expired last year, but the ordinance had an option saying the Council could renew it without going back to the voters, which they did (PDF), unanimously, last April. So that meant that 2.5% of all unrestricted General Fund revenues would be set aside for the kids programs through 2021.
But a number of people didn’t feel like that was enough money, so they collected signatures and managed to place Measure OO on the ballot, which sets aside 2.5% not of unrestricted General Fund revenues, but of all revenue to be given to the kids programs. This creates a terrible problem for the City because they can’t take away 2.5% of the restricted funds for another purpose, so they have to use the General Fund to cover that mandate. Let me give you an example. If the City got a grant for $10 million that paid for like, a crime lab or something, then they would have to use the entire grant for the crime lab, right? The granting organization won’t let you give 2.5% of it to some after school program. But Measure OO requires that 2.5% of that grant go to the youth programs, so the City has to cough up $250,000 from somewhere else in its budget to give to the youth programs if they accept the grant. So maybe you get a new crime lab, but because of Measure OO, taking the money for it means you have to lay off a couple of librarians and give their salaries away as grants. Nice, right?
Anyway, the whole Council was against Measure OO last fall. I personally didn’t think it seemed like they did much to prevent it from passing, but when I told that to a backer of the Measure, he was like “Are you serious? I thought they worked really, really hard against us.” So who knows. Anyway, it passed and now the Council can’t afford it and want to repeal it.
Jean Quan and Pat Kernighan put forward several options for the repeal, one of which would get rid of OO and put the funding back to Measure K levels, and the rest of which would provide less money than OO but more than Measure K. I really don’t know why they would bother with a compromise with these people at all, watching them at the meetings, it’s pretty clear than no amount of money is going to satisfy their greed, but wev.
The Committee listened to a bunch of speakers whine at them about how they need to give more money to youth and youth don’t get enough money and blah blah blah, and youth are more important than parks, and that the Council is trying to ignore the will of the people, the people of Oakland spoke and said they wanted to give the entire City treasury away to non-profits and after school programs and it’s wrong to try to ignore their demands oh and also the school district is cutting all their funding for after school programs so the City has a responsibility to make up for that.
None of the Councilmembers cared. They were all pretty nice. Well, nicer than I would have been anyway. I would have been all “Go away you greedy, greedy entitled brats with your lying campaign and ballot box budgeting and leave us to do our work in peace. You’ll have another opportunity to lie to everyone when we put this back on the ballot.” Instead, they all bent over backwards to explain to the audience how devastating Measure OO would be and to try to describe the City’s dire financial situation in with an amazing amount of patience. I guess that’s why I’m not on the City Council. One of the reasons, anyway.
Anyway, Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner (who is not on the Finance Committee, but showed up for this meeting) both said they wanted to just repeal the whole thing and go back to Measure K funding levels. Nancy Nadel said she was open to considering the compromises and both Jean Quan and Pat Kernighan seemed to want to do one of the compromises for reasons that I will NEVER UNDERSTAND.
Nancy Nadel totally gave the best speech, all scolding the OO backers for how irresponsible and short-sighted and stupidly written their measure was and lecturing them for being deceptive, or at least unrealistic, in their arguments. She’s totally right and I think that coming from her, since she’s usually all for throwing money at whatever non-profit, maybe it actually got through to some of those people a little bit. Maybe? A little? Or maybe not, but at least she tried. Anyway, I really liked her speech, so I uploaded it for you guys to watch. Yay Nancy.
Anyway, since they couldn’t agree on what to do, they decided to move all the options on to the full Council, and fight it out there.
They were almost out of time once they got to Jean Quan’s $46 parcel tax (PDF) for trees came up. The discussion on this one was super duper short. Pat Kernighan said that she supports the tax, but thinks we might have to do a higher tax and probably not just for trees, but maybe other stuff too, and so that they should talk about it when there’s a more clear picture of all the budget problems we’ll be facing next year. The Committee agreed to let it come back for consideration later so they could talk about it in more detail. The best part of this was one of the public speakers, who complained about what disrepair our parks are in and was all “All those kids from the last item who complain about having nothing to do are welcome to come to our park and pick up a broom anytime.” I loved her.
Then they were out of time, most of the agenda items had to be delayed until next meeting, and Jean Quan forgot to call Open Forum before everyone left, which meant Paulette Hogan didn’t get to speak. Quan promised her 4 minutes at the next meeting to make up for it, and she retorted that she wanted a full 4 minutes at Council, not Committee, which I really, really hope she ends up getting because that would be awesome.
BTW, since it’s too late for the City to put anything on the ballot for the State special election on May 19th, it’s unclear at this point when the voters of Oakland will ever end up getting to vote on all this.