A couple of months ago, I had a conversation about Measure BB with a local good government advocate who I have a great deal of respect for. At that time, I was pretty sure I would be voting no on Measure BB. They were in favor of it.
What is Measure BB?
For those who aren’t aware, Measure BB would amend Measure Y, which voters passed in 2004. It collects an $88 per year parcel tax on single family homes, as well as an 8.5% tax on parking space rentals. The money goes to fund community policing, the fire department, and violence prevention programs.
In order to collect this tax, Measure Y mandated that the City funded 739 police officers from the General Fund. Due to budget shortfalls, the City had to lay off 80 police officers earlier this year, and because the number of police officers funded out of the General Fund was reduced to below the minimum required level, it is no longer collecting the Measure Y tax.
Measure BB would amend Measure Y so that the City can restart collecting the tax that had been in place over the last five years, providing desperately needed funding to public safety and violence prevention services, without funding 739 police officers from the General Fund.
Changing my mind about Measure BB
So, getting back to my little debate about Measure BB. Their argument boiled down to the fact that the consequences to the City of losing this money were simply too drastic, and that even if it was unpleasant, we had to support it.
I said that I was well aware of the City’s dire financial situation, and that I was not unsympathetic to the need for revenue, nor to the negative impacts of the loss of violence prevention, police department, and fire department funding that would inevitably happen should Measure BB fail. I said that I did not think the City had handled Measure Y well, or as promised, and I felt that a yes vote on Measure BB would be rewarding the City for not following their commitments to taxpayers.
And they were basically like “Yeah, it’s true. The City has not done a good job with Measure Y. But we can’t just blame them for it. We didn’t do anything to stop that. For good government to work, we have to be doing our job too. And we haven’t.”
And although I wasn’t persuaded on that day, I thought a lot about what they said over the next couple of weeks. And I decided that they were right. No, I don’t think the Council has handled Measure Y well. But I also don’t think that I did as much as I should have to make sure they did. And unless your name is Marleen Sacks, well, chances are pretty good that you haven’t either.
Citizen engagement is what makes democracy work. That is the responsibility of every citizen who cares about good government. And when the Council voted to use all the Measure Y reserves to fund a hiring program that we knew at the time was a bad idea, well, they did so under intense pressure from the public and the media to vote yes. They faced mockery and derision from local columnists for daring to even question whether it was a good idea. And while there were a small number of courageous people saying don’t do it, they were vastly outnumbered by the other side.
So I blame the public for the broken promises of Measure Y just as much as I blame the Council. And I acknowledge my own culpability for not speaking up to try to stop these mistakes from happening. And since I didn’t do my part, I am in no position to punish them, and myself, and everyone else in Oakland for their failure.
Oakland needs Measure BB
The fact is, the City’s financial situation is dire. And if Measure BB does not pass, we are going to either lose more police officers, or we are going to see what’s left of public services like libraries and parks and recreation completely decimated. Probably, both will happen.
It’s all well and good to say the Council should have done better, that there should have been more oversight, and so on. And I do think that people have legitimate reason to be angry. But no matter how angry you are, it is important to remember that your vote has consequences. And the consequences of a no vote on Measure BB will be a less safe city.
We can’t afford that. This is a city where sixty-nine people have been killed this year alone. This is a city where teenage children are being murdered. This is a city where nine people were shot across the street from my apartment on Saturday. This is a city that needs police officers, and it needs violence prevention programing for kids, and it needs money to pay for them.
Measure BB preserves this money, and if you care about making this city a safe place to live, I urge you to join me in voting Yes on Measure BB.