The rest of your ballot

Well, people certainly have strong opinions about Measure D. Honestly, I don’t get it. If you’re seriously concerned about Oakland being better run, or government spending being less wasteful, there are like 10 million things you could spend your time on that would be more helpful. Voting no and screwing Oakland out of $3.6 million isn’t going to help you or anyone else, and it won’t force the Council to be more efficient or put a repeal on the ballot, it will just force them to cut what little you have left in the way of City services.

Anyway, there’s three more measures on the ballot besides D, so let’s take a look at those:

Measure C: This is a 3% surcharge on Oakland’s hotel tax, and would raise the total hotel tax to 14%. Half the revenue would go to the Oakland Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the other half would be split evenly (12.5% of the tax each) between the Oakland Zoo, Oakland Museum, the Chabot Space and Science Center, and the City’s cultural arts programs and festivals.

Oakland’s hotel tax, at 11%, despite what the Measure C ballot argument asserts, is already pretty well in line with nearby cities. The 3% surcharge will make us equal with San Francisco, and higher than Berkeley (12%), Emeryville (12%), San Leandro (10%), and Hayward (8.5%). This tax bothers me.

I think it makes sense for a city that attracts a lot of tourists to have a high hotel tax, and it makes even more sense for some of that tax to go towards supporting the cultural institutions that people come to see. But Oakland? How many people are coming on vacation to Oakland so they can go see the zoo? I mean, I love our zoo, and I love our festivals, and I love the Oakland Museum, and I hear the Chabot Space & Science Center is great, and I want all those institutions to have the support they need. But I’m not convinced that my Mom should be the one paying for them.

When this was being debated at the City Council, the folks from Children’s Fairyland asked repeatedly to be included as a beneficiary of the tax, arguing that they bring just as many people to Oakland as any of the other institutions. The Council decided that including Fairyland would mean the money was being spread around too thin, and left them out.

So…I haven’t decided how I’m going to vote on this one. I don’t mind increasing the hotel tax in theory, although I think this one is kind of high. I’m annoyed that Fairyland, which is just as much (of maybe more) of an Oakland treasure as any of the institutions recieving tax revenue, was not included. And I cringe at the idea of giving any money at all to the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is so wretched and embarrassing for the City. Actually, I think I’ll probably vote no, partly because of the Fairyland thing, and partly because I find it difficult to justify Oakland having one of the highest hotel taxes in the State, but mostly because of the OCVB. If you don’t mind taxing your family when they come visit you to fund a visitor’s guide that looks like it was put together by my little sister, you should probably vote yes on this one.

Measure F: This measure would create a new business type classification in the Municipal Code called “Cannabis business,” and establish a business tax rate for the classification of $18 per $1000 of gross receipts. Right now, Oakland has four marijuana dispensaries that would fall into this classification, and with the new tax rate, they are expected to collectively pay $294,000 more in taxes next year than they would have otherwise.

$18 per $1000 in gross receipts is wicked high compared to Oakland’s other business taxes. The only type of business taxed at a higher rate is firearms dealers, which would pay $24 per $1000 if we had any left in the City, which we don’t. Well, none that pay taxes anyway. The dispensaries are supportive of Measure F, so I can’t see any reason to be against it. Well, I suppose if you really hate marijuana dispensaries, you should vote no on this one, because passage of Measure F will further legitimize their presence in Oakland and make the City so dependent on their taxes that the Council will be more likely to license even more of them. Since I am not against the dispensaries, I will be voting yes.

Measure H: This measure amends the City’s Real Estate Transfer Tax to clarify that the tax applies to corporate mergers and acquisitions. In the past few years, the City attempted to collect around $12 million in transfer tax on some large corporate real estate transfers, but was unable to successfully do so because the municipal code does not currently explicitly say that the tax applies to such transactions. The City sees this as an unintential loophole in the code, which currently reads (PDF) “There is imposes a tax on all transfers by deeds, instruments, writings, or any other document by which any lands, tenements, or other interests in real property located in the city, are is or granted, assigned, trasnferred, or otherwise conveyed to or invested in a trasnferee, or transferees thereof, which shall be levied at a rate of one and one half percent of the value of consideration.”

This measure would change the code so it reads “There is imposed a tax on all transfers by deeds, instruments, writings, or any other document, or changes in control and ownership of legal entities, by which any lands…” This is more than fair. The Chamber of Commerce’s ballot argument against Measure H, which claims that Oakland won’t be able to attract new businesses if corporate aquisitions are forced to pay the same transfer tax as everyone else, is preposterous. Vote yes on Measure H.

Remember, ballots are due by July 21st! Don’t forget to vote.

15 thoughts on “The rest of your ballot

  1. Ralph

    when you think about it all of these measures really stink…

    if we actually attracted tourist, i could see raising the hotel tax. i have no problem taxing family and friends but then again when my family and friends come they stay in SF. (note to the Mayor and NN, you might want to do something about the activity around the downtown Marriott.) , not terribly convinced this is going to change the number of hotel nights (did the hospitality group sign-off on this increase?), i am not a big fan of OCVB and don’t see what they have done to attract peeps to the city, and v unless your little sister is a newborn, you owe her an apology.

    cannabis, i wish these businesses would rot in he**, w/o federal regulation i think they do more harm than good. but the voters of california have spoken, smokin’ dope is a-ok. the black market for scripts ain’t going anywhere, people will buy their dope and revenue will continue to grow. so why not just tax the heck out of them – well this will encourage more and council is on record as saying that 4 dispensaries is not enough. and increasing taxes to a council starved for money is like giving away free dope to a dope fiend – highly addicting and hard to get off the habit. but real world businesses don’t really want to set up shop next to a dope dealer even if it is legitimized by the state. i think nancy r. said it best, just say no. that said, the people have spoken and they like their pot so tax their dope.

  2. Christopher

    I considered voting yes on C because the idea of investing money in (something like) the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau sounds good … if it actually worked to bring more people, businesses, and conventions to Oakland.

    However, I don’t really know what OCVB has done to help the city. Are they responsible for the “I Fly OAK” billboards I see in SF BART stations? I think those ads could be very effective.

    Looking at past city budgets, I think OCVB’s budget would jump from ~$500K to ~$2M. What are their plans for their new-found millions? I have no clue.

    Proximity to the airport is the only thing Oakland hotels have going for them. Does anyone fly to Oakland for vacations? I imagine 80+% of Zoo and Chabot visitors are Bay Area locals.

  3. VivekB

    My issue with ANY of these propositions is that the City Council has already clearly demonstrated untrustworthiness when it comes to spending tax money on the intent of the ballot. See the Measure Q debacle, and what they had the City Atty research as proof. Specifically, the atty said that “well, doing what the measure said is only an objective, not a requirement”.

    Until the City Council begins to use measures for the intended purpose, or abolishing ballot-box-budgeting in its entirety, I intend to vote no on every measure. (well, maybe the pot-club one, that’s not a horrid precedent to set)

  4. Scott Lund

    V, your section on measure F needs some touch up. You say C a couple of places you mean to say F. At least, I’m pretty sure you do, otherwise it doesn’t make much sense. ;-)

  5. Chris Kidd

    Would Measure C apply only to major hotels, or would it also apply to the plethora of no-tell motels that dot the city? Considering the blight, crime, prostitution, drug dealing, and public health & nuisance issues that these establishments create, I really don’t mind slapping some extra tax on them.

  6. livegreen

    Here’s a legal question about Measure H: If a business changes entities, say from an LLC to a Corp. (or the reverse) and changes the ownership of a property from the old business entity to the new business entity, would this be considered a “transfer” or not?

    Same question if a company decides to change names? (Which happens periodically, esp. for small businesses).

  7. Ralph

    Chris, I think it would apply to those hotels where if you find a dead hooker in your room you stay for FREE.

    if it didn’t i would suspect class warfare among the hotel operators

  8. Chris Kidd

    Ralph, that’s exactly my point. People on this thread that are against the hotel tax treat it like it’s directly focused at tourism and The Marriot. I’d be interested to compare the gross receipts of regular hotels versus those that charge an, uh, *hourly rate*.

  9. Art

    As, I guess, an outlier here among OCVB-haters, I have to say that I really like the OCVB interactive commercial district maps, where you can identify businesses along the major neighborhood commercial corridors parcel by parcel. They should be updated more often than they are (and should extend beyond the usual suspects to include some less-yuppie parts of the city), but they’re definitely handy and I use them a lot. I also use the events calendar on their website frequently to find things to do when friends or family are in town, and find that it’s surprisingly comprehensive. And I like that they have master lists of all things Oakland in one place (e.g., all the farmers’ markets with dates and times….all the Oakland-made products….etc.)

    Could they do better? Sure. But I actually don’t think they’re doing as lousy a job as the general sentiment here seems to indicate….certainly not such a bad job that it would discourage me from voting yes on C (especially since I think the other major institutions that benefit from that measure—the zoo, Chabot, and the Oakland Museum—are extraordinary).

    Also, important to remember: not all Oakland tourists travel here from afar. I know lots of people with young kids who live in other parts of the Bay Area but make special trips to Oakland for Chabot, the zoo, Fairyland, MOCHA, etc.—and might start the day off with brunch at an Oakland restaurant, or a stop at an Oakland ice cream shop on the way home. They’re bringing tourist dollars into the city, too—just of another flavor.

  10. Ralph

    in reality, rare is the person that looks at the hotel tax when booking a hotel. you pretty much assume that every city has a high transient tax that you are going to pay to fund their attractions. so it comes down to room fee sans tax and closeness to where you need to be.

  11. dto510

    Because hotel taxes are not required to be included in advertised room rates, the hotel industry supports this tax. Originally the hotel operators were going to assess a BID-like fee on themselves to support the OCVB. But since taxes are not required to be advertised in room rates (while fees are), they decided to ask for a tax hike instead. Not terribly transparent to the consumer, if you ask me.

  12. Patrick

    True. I usually book rooms based on the lowest available rate/vs. where I need to be and gasp on the way out. Let’s face it; an $80/night room rate really means $110. But since I’m not a “regular” traveler, I just pay it and move on.

  13. Justin

    I’m OK with F and H. For C, I think I’m going no. All talk aside of whether anyone will actually visit Oakland to pay the tax, for me, I would have preferred the measure to tax, give the funding to the listed organizations, and then FORBID those organizations from getting any other city funding. This should backfill the city’s current support, not lay a foundation for double-dipping. And maybe I could even stomach that if the Chabot Space and Science Center weren’t included.