First, some housekeeping. Thank you so much to all of you for the warm welcome back!
For those of you who used to subscribe to e-mail updates for new blog posts, I’m sorry to say that I lost all those addresses when the site got infected in May. If you enjoyed getting updates that way, you’ll have to sign up for them again. You can do that here. It’s annoying, I know. I’m sorry.
If you want to be notified of new posts, but don’t like having notifications come into your inbox, you’ve got a couple of other options. You can follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/vsmoothe), where I do post when I have a new blog up, but I also write about other stuff too. If you don’t want to clutter up your feed with updates about my life, you can follow the Twitter account I’ve set up just for this blog (http://twitter.com/abetteroakland), where the only tweets will be notifications of new posts. You can also become a fan of A Better Oakland on Facebook, and get notices of new posts in your news feed. And of course, there’s always good old-fashioned RSS.
I know there are some other features of the old site that people miss. Please just be patient. I’ll be building the blog back to normal over the next couple of weeks. For now, I have added back the edit comments feature since you guys really seemed to miss that more than anything else.
Okay, now onto actual blogging.
On Thursday, the Oakland City Council will meet to consider placing a number of measures on the November ballot (PDF). Eight of them, actually. They won’t all end up on there, but I think it is fair to say that we can expect a lot of things to vote on. So let’s take a look at what they’re considering.
Public Safety Parcel Tax
Shall the City of oakland establish a temporary parcel tax solely to assist the City in preserving, protecting and enhancing “vital public safety and violence prevention services”, which is subject to independent, annual financial reviews and oversight by a citizens committee?
This is that $360 a year parcel tax you’ve been hearing about for a while now. The Council will have the option on Thursday of placing this public safety parcel tax on the ballot with a lower annual cost than $360, but not higher. And where will that $360 go? Well…
The tax proceeds raised by this ordinance may be used only for any of the following purposes:
- 911 police and fire response
- 911 police and fire dispatch
- Community and neighborhood policing
- Park policing
- Police investigations and oversight
- A minimum of 75% of the annual amount appropriated may be used only for any of the police and fire services listed above
- Violence prevention services, including but not limited to, outreach workers
- Not more than five percent of the amount appropriated annually for the annual costs of administering the ordinance (such as evaluation, financial reviews, tax collection, calculation of the amount of the tax for each parcel)
Um. Okay. Where do you even start with this? Let’s see. I guess it’s nice that it doesn’t tie the City’s hands too much. I suppose everyone learned that lesson with Measure Y. They’re got themselves a little kind of grab bag of public safety stuff they can spend the money on, rather than limiting it to sworn officers — it looks like evidence technicians, dispatchers, the civilianization of oversight functions that a number of organizations have been advocating for, I don’t know, you might be able to even squeeze the Neighborhood Service Coordinators in there as part of “Community and neighborhood policing.” So the flexibility is nice.
It’s also, of course, totally irrelevant. Is there anyone who thinks a $360 a year parcel tax has a chance in hell of passing? I mean, I think a parcel tax in any amount would be a really tough sell right now, what with the economy and the widespread voter distrust of the City’s ability to spend taxpayer money either wisely or as promised.
And then to make three hundred and sixty freaking dollars a year? I mean, it’s like a joke. I get that the City is broke and wants more money, and the $53 million a year that this tax would generate could come in pretty handy, but come on. There’s just no way. I can’t imagine something that high getting even fifty percent of the vote, much less the two-thirds approval that would be required for it to pass. I don’t know why anyone would even bother putting this one on the ballot.
Measure Y “Fix”
Shall the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 (Measure Y) be amended to (1) clarify that tax revenue may be used to hire officers who fill positions of officers who are transferred to community policing, (2) clarify the uses of violence prevention funding, and (3) suspend the requirement that the City appropriate non-Measure Y funding each year to staff the police department at fiscal year 2003-2004 levels (739 officers)?
Basically, the City wants to be able to collect Measure Y taxes (parcel tax and parking tax) without staffing the police department at a minimum of 739 officers funded by the General Fund, which the Measure currently requires. The “fix” would also allow them to use Measure Y funds for recruitment and training of officers, in addition to paying officer salaries.
There is also a change in the language relating to fire services, which receive $4 million a year in funding from Measure Y (an aspect of the Measure that people often forget about). The existing language reads:
Fire services: Maintain staffing and equipment to operate 25 (twenty-five) fire engine companies and 7 (seven) truck companies, expand paramedic services, and establish a mentorship program at each station with an amount not to exceed $4,000,000 annually from funds collected from this ordinance.
The new version would read:
Fire services: An amount not to exceed $4,000,000 annually from funds collected under this Ordinance may be used for the following fire services: to help maintain staffing and equipment to operate up to 25 (twenty-five) fire engine companies and 7 (seven) truck companies; to expand paramedic services; and/or to establish a mentorship program at each station.
I don’t even know what I think of this. I mean, Measure Y was bad from the start. It placed way too many limitations on the City. But it isn’t like the Council stuck in all these restrictions about how the revenues could be spent for the fun of it. Measure Y came on the heels of two failed attempts to get voters to agree to more funding for increasing the police force. It was written the way it was because that’s what it took for people to support it.
So now the City is admitting that they can’t keep the promises they made in 2004, but they want the money anyway. Will people be willing to keep paying the tax without the minimum service provision guarantees? I don’t know. I mean, it seems a hell of a lot more likely to pass than a $360 a year parcel tax, but that’s not saying much. I guess the hope for this one is that people will just be desperate enough to avoid even deeper cuts to police service that they’ll agree to anything. That’s not so far-fetched, I suppose.
Shall the City of Oakland be authorized to enact a temporary transcations and use tax (sales tax) of one-quarter of one percent for five years with all proceeds placed in the City’s General Fund to be used for any lawful public purpose?
So, technically, it isn’t a sales tax. It’s a TUT. Don’t worry too much about the difference — they’re mostly the same in practice.
The good thing about this one (from the City’s perspective) is that it would only require a 50% yes vote to pass. It’s expected that it would generate around $8 million a year for the City beginning in FY11-12.
Currently, Oakland has a sales tax of 9.75%. This one make it 10%, one of the highest sales tax rates in the State. It doesn’t really seem like passing this would do much in the way of furthering our retail attraction ambitions, but I guess the City is just so desperate for cash that long-term strategic thinking isn’t really a high priority right now.
To be continued
Okay, that’s enough for today. I’m exhausted. There are a number of other ballot measures that will be considered at Thursday’s meeting — an amendment to the Just Cause Eviction ordinance (PDF), a dramatic increase in the cannabis tax (PDF) we passed last summer, and three different utility taxes (here (PDF), here (PDF), and here (PDF)). We’ll take a look at those tomorrow.