New parcel tax for AC Transit in November?

I really enjoy going to AC Transit Board meetings.

I realize that’s probably a silly sounding thing to say, but I really do. I go to a lot of public meetings, way more than anyone probably should, and frankly, sometimes I get kind of sick of it. The seating is often cramped and really uncomfortable, and seems intentionally laid out to make you feel unwelcome. For many bodies the acoustics are just awful, and in general people tend to drone on and on and on about things that are actually pretty boring, and more and more lately, I find myself just dreading the idea of having to drag myself to yet another one.

But not AC Transit! Believe it or not, I actually look forward to sitting through those. They have an excellent, spacious Boardroom with great sightlines. They have more than enough seating to accommodate the audience almost all the time, and their chairs are very cushy and comfortable. There isn’t so much public comment that meetings drag on forever, even when something is controversial. What public comment they do get almost always falls into one of two categories: informed, thoughtful, and interesting or completely insane, and therefore hilarious. Very rarely does someone show up and just say something totally boring. Plus, there’s an outlet right next to where I like to sit.

Since hardly anyone goes to these meetings, I don’t have to constantly shush the chatterboxes sitting near me or deal with people asking me lots of questions, both of which happen all the time at the City Council, making it hard to keep up with what’s actually happening at the meeting. Also unlike the City Council, the Board discussions are really pleasant to listen to. All the Directors generally have smart things to say (well, the ones who speak, anyway), tend to be informed about what they’re voting on, and seem to understand that their agency exists to provide service to the public, and is not, in fact, simply a ridiculously expensive employment program. That’s not to say that I agree with everything the Board does or that I think they always make the right decisions, but you have a significantly better shot at arriving at a good decision when you’re at least starting from the right place. Plus, several of the Directors a pretty witty. A little dose of humor goes a long way to making long meetings about depressing subjects more endurable. And even when you read the agenda and think everything they’re talking about sounds like it’s going to be completely mind numbing, it usually turns out to be really fascinating once you’re there.

Anyway. One interesting thing on tonight’s agenda (PDF) is the idea of placing a new parcel tax (PDF) on the November ballot, which would bring the agency an extra $14 million a year. Now AC Transit (and all local transit agencies, for that matter), is in a pretty dire situation, and decisions on the State level may soon make things even worse. If they are going to continue providing even a minimally acceptable level of service, they will have to find some kind of stable funding source. So I certainly understand why they would want to do a new parcel tax.

On the other hand, AC Transit has gone to that well an awful lot in the relatively recent past, passing parcel taxes in 2002 ($24/year), 2004 (another $24/year), and 2008 (another $48/year). Despite the best efforts of some of our local media outlets, voters do seem to like AC Transit quite a bit – Measure VV passed in November 2008 with a 72% yes vote, which is crazy high. And a poll conducted in December suggests that a new $48/year parcel tax should enjoy a similar amount of support. That would raise the total parcel tax going to AC Transit from $96 per year to $144 per year.

While the poll results are encouraging, I have to wonder a little bit about how willing people are actually going to be to vote for another tax come November. I mean, there’s pretty much no way this is going to be the only one on the ballot.

Elsewhere on the AC Transit meeting agenda, there’s a rare bit of bright news about BRT. Sort of, anyway. I mean, it’s not really news, I guess, but AC Transit is applying for (PDF) this new urban circulator FTA grant to buy buses for the BRT line (hybrid buses, FYI). As you may recall, there is currently some question about the available funding for the BRT project, particularly now that the agency has sacrificed $35 million in funds previously earmarked for BRT to prevent some pretty drastic service cuts. So any new possibility for money = exciting!

Also, apparently getting these new buses would also make BRT cheaper, somehow. From the agenda report (PDF):

The multi-door feature of the proposed buses will reduce the cost of the BRT by $10 to $15 million because it will help reduce impacts at intersections associated with the busway and stations, and may allow the use of “dual platforms”, allowing both directions of the BRT route to use a single platform. This is due to the multi-side door feature that allows loading and alighting from either side of the bus.

So…maybe someone can help me out with this one a little bit. Perhaps I just had too many glasses of wine last night and am being really slow, but I don’t really get this doors on both of the bus thing. Wouldn’t that mean people are getting out into the middle of the street? I’m so confused.

Update: A reader very kindly explained the buses with doors on both sides thing to me. As I suspected, I was being an idiot. Anyway, here’s the reasoning:

In most situations, having doors on both sides is to allow, at each stop, the use of either side. Usually, both sides are not used simultaneously, but having the options of both sides allows for much for efficient and effective routing. For example, along a BRT route, for some segments of the route, with dedicated left-hand lane and new specialized Stations, the BRT vehicles could board on the left hand side at a mid-street station location. If the vehicles have left-hand doors, then the station can be to the left of the travel lane, and vehicles in both directions could potentially use the same center-street station (rather than having to build two stops/stations, each to the right of the dedicated lane in each direction). This also reduces vehicles having to swerve to get to the right placement for the boarding.

Then, when that same BRT vehicle stops at a different part of the route, which uses the right-hand lane, (e.g. on 20th st Uptown Transit Center), then they can use the right-hand doors for that part. This allows flexible route and station design. In some cases, with a specific design, you could use both sides, but even if you are only using one side at each stop, having both options allows for a routing that will provide faster/smoother service.

In some locations, with a specified station/stop design, all doors could be used. For example, the Eastmont transit center, is one example that could be setup for boarding from both sides.

Yeah…nobody will getting out of the bus in the middle of the street.

76 thoughts on “New parcel tax for AC Transit in November?

  1. Chuck

    Yeah, doors on both sides would mean boarding / exiting can happen either on a center island platform in the middle of the street or on the curb, depending on what stop the bus is at.

    That’s great news for cost control, as it means you’re not building so many platforms, necessarily. Additionally, I suppose it could reduce the overall amount of right-of-way that’s put into BRT use vs. having elevated boarding on the sidewalk or lots of bulb-outs or things.

    Ohhhh, and now I see the point of your question. I think the boarding would happen like it does on BART: at any given stop, the doors on *only one side* of the vehicle open, depending on whether it’s center or side boarding.

  2. Dave

    No way on parcel taxes for AC transit. They are over paying for buses with prototype technology. No problem for them, they just go to the well of the taxpayer over and over.

  3. david vartanoff

    Doors on both side eliminate many more seats. Second, building the stations to require them means no other buses can be substituted or added when needed. This design assumes the insane plan to scrap local service along the BRT route. By the time it is built the boomer generation will be a huge market of failing eyesight, failing knees prospective riders who will need transit but have problems walking the extra distances to the widely spaced stops.

    As to the parcel tax, the sad news is that AC lost (courtesy 13) and FAILED to recover when it was still possible, a % based tax. Most of the economic distress of the last two decades would not have occurred. So, as with many flat fees, the lower classes will pay more of their “non” discretionary incomes.

  4. Aaron Priven

    Oh, but the real action is at the AC Transit board *committee* meetings.

    My idea was that if we only needed *left* doors, we could get a good deal on used buses from London. Oh well.

  5. Brad

    So . . . A $48 parcel tax for AC transit, a $200 parcel tax for OUSD, and a ~$150 parcel tax for public safety? Are we really going to raise property taxes by $400 (or more) when we’ve got ~20% unemployment?

  6. Livegreen

    And LOTS of forclosures. Do they want more or something? It’s time to cut costs!
    (NOT service).

  7. len raphael

    sounds positively teapartyish. have the politicians misread oakland voters or are they counting on the high percentage of renters to carry the parcel tax proposals?

  8. Robert

    The ACTransit operating budget increase by almost 50% (adjusted for inflation) from 1997 to 2007. I really don’t think that anyone is going to be able to justify that increase in terms of increased service. The recent thefts by the state should be forcing ACTransit to cut costs, instead they are trying to get still more money and at the same time decrease service.

  9. Robert

    “This design assumes the insane plan to scrap local service along the BRT route.”

    The design choice will have no impact on any decision to scrap local bus service. Local buses can’t share the BRT lanes without reducing BRT down to local bus service times.

    BART gets along just fine with doors on both sides, and is thinking of going to 3 doors on each side in spite of eliminating still more seats. You can get more people onto a vehicle with standing room than you can with seating. It seems to me that in order to take full advantage of the level boarding, BRT is pretty much going to require dedicated equipment anyway.

  10. dto510

    david vartanoff, I agree that buses with doors on both sides locks in a very specific BRT configuration that requires continuing to use these buses. One of the main benefits of BRT is that it transfers some costs from operating to capital, since capital funds are easier to come by. Spending less money on platforms and more on nonstandard buses seems like a step away from minimizing on-going operating expenses. And what’s the transportation benefit? It’s not like cars will get a lane back, and a handful of additional left-turn pockets could complicate the bike-lane design. AC Transit could just as easily apply for the full $25m grant for station construction.

  11. Ralph

    No new taxes!!! Raise the fare! Cut services do whatever you need to do to make payroll as long as you don’t raise taxes.

  12. n

    I’m curious. To those calling for no new ACT taxes. When was the last time you took the bus? Do you consider bus service expendable? Does cutting transit make Oakland better?

  13. Livegreen

    n. Does raising taxes make service better? No. They cut service anyway and ask for more taxes again the next election cycle. Do they cut salaries or other costs? No they don’t even try. In the meantime I know hard working people of different economic backgrounds who have taken salary hits and are having trouble making ends meet. I know others who lost employment AND their houses.

    It is already a bad time to raise taxes, but especially to raise them on struggling home owners, for organizations that don’t eventry to share in the burden is unfair.

    AC Transit, Keep services for the poor and elderly. Cut your costs instead. Most of the private sector (except the fat cat bankers) have had too…

  14. East Lake Biker

    I’m impressed with ACT’s board room too. I really like those cushy seats. Also, no humongous columns to peer around like at city council.

    With all this talk on taxes and spending I’m afraid the needs of transit-dependent riders are being left out. So what happens if the parcel tax doesn’t pass? More cuts/fare increases that will lead to more traffic on our streets as low income people are forced to get clunkers just to get around. Don’t forget about the kids, how are they going to get to school. ACT provides supplementary service to schools since OUSD isn’t in the transportation business.

  15. Ralph

    n, if you are going to ride the bus then you need to pay the freight. if it means lower subsidies to children and old people, then so be it. if you want the service then you need to pay for it. frankly, i am sick of paying for everyone and their so called needed services. children, bus riders everyone wants a piece of the taxpayer. I got news for you, taxpayers only have so many dollars for governments and other agencies to misuse and nontaxpayers to steal. if your poor butt needs more services then you can pay for, i suggest you think long and hard before you place a measure on the ballot. i got no problem telling you no.

    as for the transit dependent rider, you can easily raise his fare, the total cost of car ownership is not cheap. there is some room to increase his fare. on those rare times i use my car, i don’t see the bus rider buying my gas, why should i buy him his?

    Raise the fare.

  16. len raphael

    part of the problem is that act’s costs have to get lowered, regardless of what they are relative to other transit districts. no different than the situation faced by states, city, and county governments everywhere.

    the unique piece here is prop 13. i could see that even after large cost reductions, act would need new sources of public subsidy. i accept the necessity of that after the cost cutting occurs, but unless act wants to duke it out with various school districts, and city general funds, it won’t happen until major restructuring of state and local govt finances occur in CA.

    there will be a serious backlash uniting small and big property owners with all the broke govt agencies trying to add more parcel taxes. there seems to be a mad rush for every govt unit to get their parcel tax on the ballot first, before the taxpayer revolt (revulsion) kicks in. i could picture a Jarvis Gans II ballot measure easily passing severely restricting the imposition of parcel taxes.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  17. len raphael

    if you oppose any of the proposed parcel taxes, the moment you hear that the parcel tax will be placed on the ballot, rush to contact the city? voter registrar’s office to get the rules and tight deadlines on submitting a valid rebuttal statement. strict guidelines to follow. for useful info on this: http://www.hjta.org/tools/how-defeat-local-parcel-taxes
    courtesy of public enemy no. 1, The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assoc.

    Don’t repeat the mistake I made re. Kids First III aka Measure D last year, assuming that someone else would write a rebuttal. (no one did).

    -len raphael
    temescal

  18. Ralph

    Len, thank you, thank you, thank you. I could make long sweet slow love to you for that link or if you prefer a big wet kiss :)

  19. n

    Thanks for your response len, ralph and livegreen. From your replies I assume you do not use ACT.

    I’m a home owning professional that commutes to the city and use to take the C transbay frequently. it’s service will be drastically cut. Though I use the ferry now because they serve coffee and donuts ;) I have empathy for those that rely on bus service.

    I feel much better about giving money to ACT than bad ballot measures like kids first, which I didn’t vote for. I think a time limited ACT parcel tax that would prop it up until the state starts helping more would be best.

    We are a selfish society, lacking empathy for others with issues that do not affect us. We vote for or against what benefits us personally even though it may not benefit others. I’ll be the first to admit guilt to this. It’s a shame that we can’t move beyond this and focus on what’s good for society and Oakland. Disparity’s a bitch.

    Sorry Ralph, len, and livegreen. I’m voting for this.

  20. Patrick

    Add me to the list of those who will vote no. If EVERY property owner has to chip in $144 a year to make ACTransit viable, in addition to other subsidies already received, something is seriously out of whack. And count me out on the OUSD and “safety” parcel taxes as well.

    n, I am glad you feel so confident spending my hard-earned money for me and then calling me selfish for wanting some value for the money taken from my pocket. As a homeowner/taxpayer in Oakland, I receive little of value for the taxes I am assessed. If the “children” are in such desearate need of bus transportation to school, let them decide what they want more: highly-subsidized bus transportation, Kid’s First programs of dubious value, or continued operation of the city’s park recreational centers. Which do you think would lose?

    I am not selfish. But I am not the Federal government and cannot print money to cover increased expenses. Between these three parcel taxes, the increased Bay Bridge toll and the certain increase to our ad valorem taxes next year, I am looking at probably $2000 of AFTER TAX money that I would need to somehow come up with. Where is that going to come from? Sorry, the people who use these systems need to chip in a little more, or the people who run these systems need to earn a little less. This time, the answer is not another handout.

  21. Born in Oakland

    I worry about AC Transient. People who sit for long periods of time have an increased risk of heart attacks. AC’s drivers will need proper medical care as these issues come home for them. Only an increase in taxes and fares will allow them to have a comfortable life. We need to help those who work so hard while sitting.

  22. len raphael

    Ralph, re.smooching, you’ll have to stand in line. Already getting big wet ones from my 83lb pit.

    N, curious whether you bought your residence pre housing bubble or later? even after downward adjustments, anyone who bought in the last 10 years is paying hecka higher prop taxes than their neighbors who bought back when.

    I’d be more open to a parcel tax for schools that included charters, because the ousd chief, Tony Smith, is making the hard decisions most of our local officials try so hard to avoid. if that has to be increased to cover limited school hour bus passes, add that to the bill but monitor it.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  23. Andy K

    While I like public services, I do not like paying for inefficient public services. When you see how much the costs of ACT have increased over the years, there is no way I can support paying more for the service.

    Transit service has been continually cut while the costs have continued to go up. Before asking for more $$ from us they need to significantly cut the costs (labor) and make the service more useful/inviting. As the owner of a car and bike, ACT as currently structured makes no sense for me to use. They need to be innovative in getting more people to use the service, which would increase their revenue from fares. Many buses run near empty at off peak hours. If they could get more people to ride, they would have more revenue for the same cost.

  24. Steve Lowe

    Livegreen, in response to your question re Oakland’s many Task Forces: the Mayor asked that several individuals help convene specific Task Forces in a coordinated citywide effort that could bring a fresh look at the ippressive problems we all know are keeping us from becoming a first-rate city.

    On a strictly volunteer basis, nearly a thousand people showed up and contributed their time, energy and intellect to resolving issues that have been plaguing Oakland for the better part of the last half century. The process got underway even before Ron took office and culminated about five or so months after his first Economic Development Summit where he merged of the work of the Task Forces – by then perhaps numbering more than forty – with that of the Chamber-orchestrated Economic Development Clusters, calling the entire effort the Oakland Partnership.

    As you might imagine, there were several Education Task Forces, several Economic Development TF’s, several to deal with Housing and maybe ten or so to deal with such miscellaneous items as Animal Shelters and other issues that were, and remain, supremely important to some folks but obviously not really the central problems that most bloggers at this site want to concentrate on. The Economic Development cluster of the Task Forces had an amazing array of participants, everyone from ex-Port Commissioners to ACTransit Boarmembers to clean air advocates to League of Women Voters activists to City employees to small businesspeople to sculptors to real estate brokers to even a few bloggers! Paired off with the Chamber clusters, the amount of information gathered, expertise pooled and resolutions decided was pretty phenomenal for a town that often seems hooked on fractiousness.

    Compared with Oakland – Sharing the Vision, shepherded by Mayor Harris, the Dellums-instituted TF process was a huge improvement in that sacred cows that have been around way too long were either put out to pasture or, at least, shown the gate. In the case of the Port Task Force, for instance, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the Port Board would be better off with at least one member of the surrounding community seated and helping the Port make the transition to a greener, more realistic operation, as opposed to us all remaining stuck with an unacceptable pollution load while other ports up and down the coast modernize and eclipse Oakland’s shrinking market share.

    Our other Recommendations from all the Task Forces are still working their way through the various levels of bureaucracy, with perhaps as many as two thirds officially adopted. At the Port we expect that the Port Advisory Committee (or some other name) to be approved by the Board this spring, with buy-in from the Chamber(s), Mayor and even our sometimes unduly reluctant City Council. More about Port Recommendation 3 later on when the PAC is in place and everyone can have confidence that the TF participants were / are not out to destroy our xenophobic Port, but rather to improve it – and, with it, help to save our struggling local economy, too.

  25. Ralph

    n, by all means be my guest and vote for it. i am not here to sway you one way or the other. it isn’t that i am not empathetic, i just don’t care to have someone tell me that they can use my hard earned money better than me. i actually vote for smart policy. ballot box budgeting is always bad policy. increasing taxes without eliminating expenses and raising fares bad. i am your freaking last resort, when you come to me asking for money and have not made every effort to close your gap, then expect me to go dikembe. you go strong to the hole or don’t go at all because i will knock that weaksauce down and kick you back to bfe.

  26. MarleenLee

    Before you decide to support a parcel tax, you should really do your homework on whether it is necessary. Check out the AC Transit salary schedule at http://www.actransit.org/careers/job_classes.wu
    Then find out all you can about AC Transit employees’ job benefits (leave benefits, health/welfare and retirement benefits) as well as their hours, job protections etc. Then decide whether they are appropriately compensated as compared to the overall market, both private and public sector. Unless this analysis is done, how can we be convinced that taxpayers should pick up the difference? As opposed to the employees themselves making some concessions? As opposed to the riders making some concessions? It is so frustrating that, in times of economic crisis, the choice needs to be between service cuts and more taxes. There is another option, and that is keeping the service the same, keeping the taxes the same, and reducing costs, which can be done largely with wage cuts. In times of plenty, the unions are always after every spare dime and hate the idea of a “rainy day fund.” But when times are tough, they never want to give the dime back.

  27. Brad

    Wow. ATC pays around 50K/yr for a mail room clerk, 50K/yr for a ticket seller, 50K/yr for a typist (receptionist), 50K/year for a transit checker (the guy who counts how many passengers are on your bus).

    Compare to current private sector job listings: around 31K/yr for a mail room clerk (http://stockton.craigslist.org/ofc/1562899064.html), 17K/yr for a ticket seller (http://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/fbh/1555142537.html), 23K/yr for a receptionist (http://sfbay.craigslist.org/pen/ofc/1562555364.html). (These salary calculations assume 40 hrs/wk.)

    And this doesn’t even address the disparity in benefits.

  28. n

    “i am your freaking last resort, when you come to me asking for money and have not made every effort to close your gap, then expect me to go dikembe. you go strong to the hole or don’t go at all because i will knock that weaksauce down and kick you back to bfe.”

    huh? Well this is a democracy and everyone gets a vote. I will vote yes and, as a home owner, will be happy to pay it.

    I commend you all for speaking your views and hope everyone has to chance to consider all sides of this issue. Len, please submit a counter-opinon on the ballot. Just don’t let Ralph write it. He’s a little incoherent.

  29. Naomi Schiff

    A retread of Prop 13 is the only way to make equitable the situation of recent buyers compared with that of old fogies such as myself. Instead of bit-by-bit parcel tax madness, we should all pay equitable property taxes, which would cost me personally, but would be a great help both in terms of a stronger state and local economy, and by reducing a disparity that puts my young neighbors at a terrible disadvantage.

    I’d strongly support such a measure, which could include some protection for elderly homeowners, and some kind of escalation ceiling. It should also include commercial properties, many of which are getting away with ridiculously low property taxes considering the burden they put on local and state services, such as highways and other infrastructure. A fairer tax structure could also provide a lot more certainty about what to expect, so that when you do finally invest in a house or commercial property, you woudn’t have to readjust for any yearly parcel tax measures that pass.

    The Howard Jarvis people have destroyed this state’s economy and induced chaos in its politics. We penalize the younger homeowner, and cause repeated battles over tax measures, with the resultant patchwork making little sense. Successful tearjerker measures pass even though they may not be as useful as less sexy, but better-thought-out measures. Arnold’s after-school measure, anyone? Now we are going to increase class size, but are stuck with paying for a less important after-school program instead?

    We taxpayers are dependent on whatever genius writes each initiative for these measures to be effective, and we are seeing a long list of them each year, state and local. Sure, some of them don’t pass. But many do. It is time to take the medicine. Reform Prop 13 and the property tax rules.

  30. len raphael

    N, keep in mind that the burden of parcel taxes falls on small property owners, not large commercial properties. Tax could be configured to be per sq foot of lot size, but doubt if it could be practically done per sq foot of building. And you can’t tailor it by zip code or appraised value. So there is no way you can avoid taxing the heck out of all those working or retired jills and joes who own their own places in East O and North O. Ironically, many of them depend on public transportation. So someone should do one of those impact studies on a transit parcel tax like FTA is requiring bart to do.

    -len raphael

  31. MarleenLee

    The answer is not Prop 13 reform. I bought my house 10 years ago, and I think my property taxes are outrageously high. I pay way more in taxes than I ever did in my total rent (!!) before I moved. Check out this map. http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Taxes/Advice/PropertyTaxesWhereDoesYourStateRank.aspx
    Pay particular attention to how much California homeowners pay in property taxes as a percentage of their income. It is amongst the highest in the country. If people had to pay taxes based on current market value, I’d say a good chunk of them would have to just walk away from the house. People voted for Prop 13 for a reason. We need to get spending under control, not raise taxes.

  32. Ralph

    n, i am sorry you fail to appreciate a bit of good natured ribbing, but trust me while i can’t always change the votes of the braindead, i can be quite persuasive. i am glad you commend us for speaking our views. i was seeking your approval. i will rest a little easier tonight.

  33. Kenny

    To all who mention “increased costs” for AC Transit I have some questions for you.

    What was the price of gas in 1997?

    What was the price of gas in 2007?

    No matter how smart or dumb the purchasers or contract administrators are at AC Transit, they can’t control the price of an essential commodity, like fuel where the prices have been volatile as of late.

    I remember paying $.99 a gallon in 1999, I just paid $3.15 a gallon the other day.

  34. Patrick

    Those salaries are OUTRAGEOUS.

    After my 2 pay cuts, I only make $5000 a year more than a ticket seller? If you include benefits, I actually make less – and I stopped contributing to my 401k because I had no choice. For the record, I am currently employed as a logistics, compliance and brokerage expert for FDA/Customs/Dept. of Homeland Security importation of alcoholic beverages. I am responsible for the consolidation, safe transport , FDA and customs compliance and onforwarding within the US of millions of dollars worth of goods each year. If I miss certain new Department of Homeland Security deadlines, our firm can be immediately be assessed a fine of $5000, FGS.

    Sorry, government taxing entity #486. I fully expect next year that property taxes (including parcel taxes) will consume fully 10% of my AFTER tax income. That does not include sales taxes, Federal or State income taxes, SS taxes, Medicaid taxes, the Bay Bridge toll (which is nothing but a tax of a different sort, $2 of which already goes to transit enhancement). Now, tell me again how AC Transit deserves another $48 of my money? So that a ticket seller can make 50k a year?

  35. Patrick

    Let me ask you this Kenny: What was the average fuel economy of AC Transit buses run in 1997 vs. 2007? Red herring alert!

  36. Naomi Schiff

    Marleen, you are paying a penalty for having bought only ten years ago. There are a lot of people paying much much less than you are, and holding onto their property because of the distorted tax structure. I can’t see why you would advocate to keep the present structure. It is penalizing you.

  37. Patrick

    Although I speak only for myself, I think that perhaps Marleen is suggesting that Proposition 13, though heavily flawed, has at least provided homeowners overall with some measure of protection against continually higher ad valorem rates to cover out of control government spending. At least we get to vote on parcel taxes…

    My question to Marleen is this (I’ve asked before but have never gotten a reasonable answer): how is it possible that the 60% of the citizens of Oakland who rent can vote to impose a parcel tax upon the other 40% who own? Seems to me that if there are rent control laws that protect renters from the increases that would logically follow the impostion of a parcel tax, that property owners should have greater say in the matter.

  38. MarleenLee

    Naomi, I’m not so sure about that. The value of my property has gone up (thank goodness) and I’d be afraid that the state would just take advantage of that fact by taxing me ever more! My folks bought their house in Berkeley in 1964 for $37,000 – actually a lot of money back then. If they still owned it today, there is no way they could have afforded property taxes based on market value with my dad’s modest government pension. Prop 13 isn’t perfect, but taxing people based on the current value of property many people have no intention of ever selling seems grossly unfair. Also, I don’t see any risk of people “holding onto their property” because of the tax structure. The law provides that people over 55 can actually keep their old tax basis if they move into a less expensive house.

  39. Robert

    Thanks Patrick for saving me the work to look up fuel costs for ACTransit to refute Kenny’s irrelevant factoid.

  40. MarleenLee

    Patrick – if I were queen then only homeowners could vote on parcel taxes. But I’m not. There are lots of people who love those taxes on only the super wealthy, like those making over $250,000 or over $1,000,000 or whatever. Using your logic, only people in those income brackets should be able to vote on that subject. But of course, that’s not how it works.

  41. Patrick

    I understand that. But I make about 1/5th of those who you characterize as “super-wealthy”. I still don’t understand how this can be legal – taxation without representation? I see why so many of my friends and colleagues are bailing out of California. The lifestyle, overall, is great. But it’s not that great.

  42. n

    Too bad there can’t be a ballot measure that would keep a public servant’s income inline with the private sector. I agree that most of ACT employees are overpaid. Except for the drivers, that’s an awful job that you couldn’t pay me enough to do.

    How can this be fixed? Does ACT management have the ability and to lower wages? Can a voter initiative force the issue? Why can’t the voters force a wage decrease?

    If you leave it up to government they will always cut services first.

  43. livegreen

    I agree with Naomi. There’s no reason a retired person who earned 2x my income in their hayday, has better benefits from their ex-employer than I get, and still has a better income than I (fixed or not) should get to pay $700 in property taxes, when we’re paying about $8000. (Remember, we’re the first generation that has had a decline in income from our parents, so they are richer than we are. I’m glad at least Naomi cares about this from our elder generation).

    Naomi is talking about fixing Prop13. Fixing is not the same as eliminating. A fix could be structured to take into account both income & retirement. It would make property taxes less regressive, which they are now, but still protect property owners. Something in between. I agree with everything else you’ve said Marleen.

  44. livegreen

    n, That’s exactly what we want to force them to do by not granting them a Property Tax! Believe me, I’m not against ACT. I’ve actually been called a Transit Activist on this website (which V & DTO know I’m not). But even V points out in her post how many times ACT has asked for Property Taxes.

    If I were wealthy, I wouldn’t mind paying the increase. But I’m not. Our income has fallen dramatically over the past 2 years, since my Partner lost employment. My small business has declined in sales. Where we used to pay 35-40% of our income for Mortgage & Prop Taxes, we’re now paying 70% & barely holding on.

    We’re making adjustments to bring that in line, & luckily have some savings to fall back on. But judging by the Forclosure market, and friends of ours who have lost employment AND their houses, we aren’t the only ones and we’re not the worst off.

    Unless the goal is to push more people into Forclosure, there is NO reason to push ACT’s payroll costs onto Homeowners. Unfortunately, ACT needs to use the same tactics everybody else in the private sector does: Reduce costs, NOT tax and NOT reduce services (I’m on your side when it comes to keeping services going).

    That means reducing Salaries and/or benefits. Not EVEN to equal the private sector. They could STILL pay above market rate and be in-budget.

  45. MarleenLee

    LG – Most retirees probably (1) did not earn 2x your income in their heyday; and (2) don’t have better income than you do now. They shouldn’t be penalized for making a good investment. If they were paying the same taxes as you, they’d have paid as much in taxes in four years as they paid originally for the house! Even if they paid half as much, they’d pay the value of the house in taxes in eight years! That level of taxation is grossly unfair. Of course I have sympathy for the younger generation (including me!) that is paying higher taxes. But if somebody has enough money to pay $600,000 for a house now, or more, then having the tax based on the purchase price doesn’t seem irrational. Not nearly as irrational as forcing a retiree who only paid $30,000 for a house to spend that same amount in taxes in just a few short years!

  46. 94610BizMan

    n, you said …We are a selfish society, lacking empathy for others with issues that do not affect us.”

    I have a question. Is your annual cash charitable giving 10% or more of you adjusted gross income on your tax return?

    We are are getting ripped off by the spineless politicians that over pay, with other peoples money, for public sector jobs.

  47. livegreen

    Marleen, I didn’t say most people earn 2x we do. But some do. & it is redistribution of the wealth UP & to our Elders to say that because they are older (regardless of income) they should pay less than we do.

    I think there’s a little room for reform in between $700 and $8000 that can be fair for everyone.

  48. MarleenLee

    LG – talk to a few retirees (or their adult kids who have to care for them) and find out how much is left out of their pension checks for extra taxes after they have paid for all their medication, in-home or nursing care etc. (which can run up to $10,000 a month!) In many cases, it is very little, if anything, and just a few hundred dollars a month more could force them to lose their house.

  49. n

    livegreen, rejecting this tax will not reduce ACT employees salaries. They will cut service and raise prices before they touch salaries. It’s the path of least resistance.

    I’m definitely not wealthy and only make marginally more than an ACT clerk. I wish we could somehow force ACT to lower their payroll costs instead of sticking it to the riders.

    Transit is something that makes our city more viable and I’m willing to spend $48 more dollars to help it.

    It would be cool if every household that pays this tax would get an ACT voucher for transit passes. Encourage the whole community to embrace transit.

  50. livegreen

    Marleen, I sympathize with the situation you mention. However many people who are retired are not in the situation you describe. Again, a reform of Prop.13 does not have to apply to all those who are retired.

    Again, there’s a big gap in between $700 and $8000. & there’s a lot of Prop 13 beneficiaries who aren’t even retired, Naomi being one example.

  51. Ralph

    Wages and benefits 72% of total expenses. Seems a little high. I think for most employers wages and benefits is 6x%. The one industry exception I am aware of is airline where the gas charge dwarfs wages and benefits. I see one place to trim fat and if you won’t do it by cutting wages, then eliminate positions.

    look, i love public transportation as much as the next guy. i’ve owned my car for just under 4 yrs and i have yet to crack 12K miles. i luv me some public transportation. but when 18% of your revenue comes from fares and 30% comes from taxes, then we have a problem. You ride the bus. you pay the freight.

    if you leave it to the government, they will always increase taxes first. i’m tapped out. you can only go to the well so often before it is tapped dry. i am neither Fred and Barney nor US BEP.

  52. Patrick

    Yes, we force ACT to lower their payroll costs by giving them no other choice. Even the Democratic party learned something in Massachusetts yesterday.

  53. MarleenLee

    It seems a lot more fair, and less dramatic, to make Granny pay $10-$20 more a month to ride the bus than to make her pay an extra $200 (or $2000!) to make her younger neighbors less resentful about Prop 13. Public agencies generally don’t lower salaries/benefits because they can get away with raising taxes and/or lowering services. And they get away with that because WE LET THEM! We don’t vote these bozos out of office! We don’t lobby them the way the unions do! But that can all change – it is up to you!

  54. Patrick

    With service reductions come layoffs. And when ACT is no longer viable, they will all lose their jobs. It is their decision to make: either accept a fair wage or get tossed to the curb. Just like the rest of us.

  55. Patrick

    Marleen, that assumes that Granny owns her own home (or “property”). And 60 times out of 100 (in Oakland), that is not the case.

  56. livegreen

    n, It might not force them, but it will certainly make it more likely.

    You’ve yet to address how this will negatively impact homeowners on the edge of forclosure, and how they continue time after time to force Property Owners to subsidize transit. Since you ignore those homeowners in dire circumstances, and are more willing to see them lose their houses than to see ACT cut costs or riders pay $0.25/$0.50 per ride (however it calculates), I’m sorry but you sound more selfish than I.

    Robbing Peter to pay Paul is in no way fare and will definitely not change ACT’s salary structure. The proof is they’ve already done it 3x in the last 3 election cycles. What’s the chance 4x will be the last?

  57. Naomi Schiff

    My point is that we have to look at this systemically, and fix it in a more global way than by random parcel taxes, some winning, some losing, but no particular logic to it.

    About AC Transit: Absolutely untrue that the only benefit from transit subsidies is to the riders. We all benefit from transit ridership, the higher the ridership, the more benefit: less traffic delay for those who drive, less overall pollution for those who breathe, less energy waste, less loss of time due to driving children and seniors around–all benefits to everyone, not just the riders.

    I am constantly amazed at the narrow purview of some of the people posting on this site. We do depend on each other. We need to solve our problems together. Today’s renter is tomorrow’s owner. Today’s owner may be tomorrow’s renter. These assumptions that one or another position is inherently more virtuous or more put upon are not useful.

  58. Patrick

    I am only quoting what has been routinely posted on this blog and on other websites: homeownership in Oakland is a privilege for only 40% of residents. If that figure is greater for Grannies, than even more reason she should pay up. Prop. 13-advantaged Granny is the new super-rich.

  59. n

    livegreen, I was thinking about the homeowners on the edge of foreclosure. That’s an awful place to be.

    As much as I sympathize with anyone caught in financial straights beyond their control, a lot of owners bit off way more than they could chew when they bought in the frenzy of the housing boom.

    When I bought I made sure I could comfortably cover all my mortgage, insurance, and taxes on a single income. I bought in 2000 when I was having landlord problems in the city and it was cheaper to own in Oakland than rent a flat in SF. Had I waited until the housing boom, I would not have bought because it would not make financial sense.

    If more people were financially responsible in their home purchase we wouldn’t be in the foreclosure mess we are in now. And we probably wouldn’t need the ACT tax.

  60. Ralph

    Naomi, I assume your comment re the transit subsidies was for the viewing public watching at home. I can’t speak for others but I opted not to refer to this benefit as it seemed understood. I think the riders need to cough up a little more dough. I would also disagree that we have a narrow purview. It is simply unreasonable to think that an agency can solve its problems by raising taxes. Agencies know that wages are sticky so don’t bloat up. Think of me as a foundation that has money to address your pressing issue. Like every foundation, I am going to ask to see your finances. If you can’t demonstrate good stewarship of the money you already have, I am going to give you more because what I have money to give…Help me. Why am I going to give your more money?

  61. livegreen

    n, And what about people who bought enough that they could chew at the time, but then lost income through either salary cuts or loss of employment? With 10% unemployment nationally & 20% in Oakland, that is at least a good portion if not most of forclosures. & that’s not counting those whose wages have declined.

    These homeowners should not be blamed for the decline in the economy that they had no control over.

  62. Max Allstadt

    I’ve said this a thousand times, but what the heck, once more: the most viable revision of Prop 13 would be to throw all of it out, EXCEPT the tax assessment freeze for one home per adult or legally joined couple.

    Toss it out for commercial real estate, country clubs, vacation homes, and toss the 2/3rds majority required for tax hikes.

  63. len raphael

    Patrick, unlike the mass situation where there was a plethora of information, some accurate some not, I’m not so sure most oakland residents are aware that typical public employees are now much better off than even middle class oakland residents, let alone working class residents.

    while i like to think that oakland property owners are much more likely to vote and more likely to oppose additional parcel taxes, i would guess that it’s the higher income owners who never ride the bus for whom a couple of hundred bucks more a year is inexpensive way to satisfy noblese oblige and the lower income retiree owners with low prop taxes but high transit needs who have the high voting turnout.

    it won’t be the MA effect that will hit us here, but the Supreme Court ruling today allowing unions (and corporations if there were any big ones left in Oakland) to spend what they need to get all these parcel taxes passed. I can picture those billboards now with granny unable to afford the bus fare to get to her doctor’s appointment…

    -len raphael

  64. n

    livegreen, yes I know the pain of a salary cut. Mine went down 20% from 2005 not including my benefits which have suffered worse. I can still comfortably handle my mortgage by making some minor lifestyle changes. Like taking the bus instead of paying $5 for bridge toll and $10 for parking.

    Those who have lost their jobs and can’t find another before their savings run out are in a tough situation. Their property taxes will make little difference either way. There are a lot of people all over the country that are having this problem. Not just the ones exposed to the ACT tax. The bank bailout money should have gone to them instead of the robber barons on wall street.

  65. Livegreen

    n, Right, but the ACT Prop Tax this year + the last 3, the $200 for OUSD teachers this year, and JB’s proposal for one to maintain current OPD staffing, pretty soon we’re talking real money.

  66. Patrick

    len, I could not agree more. Today’s Supreme Court ruling has changed every rule – our Federal government can no longer pretend to not be in bed with corporate America:, they’re now on a Princess cruise together, heading for China. Adios and 再见!, USA as we know it!

  67. Livegreen

    Len & Patrick: Das schtimt. Govt Unions, Wealthy (liberal or conservative) & Corporate America to the rest of the U.S., in the immortal prophecy & frigid embrace of LouIs XIV: “Apres moi, le deluge”.

  68. Patrick

    “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”

    And then, the guillotine.

    Allons enfants de la Patrie,
    Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

    You should be afraid.

  69. len raphael

    Patrick and LG, look on the bright side. As the triumverate of big biz, big public sector unions, and big govt march us into the future, all you public transit die hards can look forward to “at least …the trains will run on time”. just kidding, AC transit and BART service will continue to be mediocre.

  70. Patrick

    We could only fucking hope for mediocre. But labor costs prevent us from reaching that level of service.

  71. Steve Lowe

    I agree with Naomi that the disparity among property taxpayers is way out of whack. Jarvis couldn’t have happened unless the conditions were just right back in the ’70′s to foment the “revolt” leading to Prop13. Anyone in California who had purchased a home then and watched the assessment literally double or triple in just one year can imagine what it was like to have Jarvis on one side of the street and a dumbstruck Assembly on the other – all presided over by Jerry. Marin Senator Peter Behr (one of the first environmental heroes in the State) and a few other decent lawmakers notwithstanding, commonsense didn’t have a chance…

    http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/scimedemail/la-oew-prop13cc6jun06,0,7249496.htmlstory

    To put Humpty back together again will likely require some sort of thinktank that maybe a Tom Campbell could organize, but we can all see that, at least from a Republican perspective (or, if you prefer, myopia), Meg’s moola is what’s being worshipped there these days. And if it comes down to her versus Jerry Redux, what’s the likelihood we’ll see anything sensible forthcoming for the next four years?

    Maybe the Sandre / Loni connection could provide the basis of some sort of property tax reform, but you’d be asking them to commit political suicide. For her, as the final act of her long and honorable career, maybe it’s a consideration…

    Meanwhile, back at the BART station, is this the right time to rally around the brief victory of maybe getting the $70M rerouted from DC to OAC? Can we begin to think that we might also get HSR through the East Bay where it will provide 10 times the stimulus to the local economy?

    If it stays on track and goes up the West Bay and straight into SF, we get zilch – and all because Quentin Kopp wants it that way (and, presumably, East Bay leadership either doesn’t understand or refuses to spend political capital confronting such a powerful czar). As HSR through the East Bay means connections with BART at several stations, BART’s perpetual shortage of cash will be salvaged by the huge influx of bucks to improve those stations and make them intermodal. It also means that BART can upgrade to Express BART since the station improvements can also include bypass trackage. Riders can then consider whether getting from one end of the system to the other in only a half hour is worth the fare – as opposed to being trapped inside a car for maybe an hour or so waiting for the train in front of you to disgorge its load before you can even pull into the station.

    As a way to increase ridership, it’s better than the insipid policy that brought us all OAC any day of the week…

  72. Mary Hollis

    I think Oakland prefers a new parcel tax to an increase in the ad valoren rate simply because a parcel tax brings an absolute amount of revenue in, while an ad valoren tax is dependent on property values.

    Realized property values have been declining massively in the last 3 years, due to forced sales of many homes at prices 20% to 80% below 2007 values. So the take from ad valoren taxes are declining both through forced sales and through downward assessments upon appeal.

    As for Prop 13, the issue is simply that nobody trusts any municipality not to massively increase the property tax rates, if only they legally could. Since real estate is the one taxable asset that cannot be relocated, it is simply too tempting for cities like Oakland to double the property tax take, just like they did prior to 1979.

    We need to attack the root cause – bloated pay and benefits for city workers, and not enable such excesses though higher taxes