All three Oakland city ballot measures failed to pass in a special election held today. Of a total of 196, 851 registered voters, only 49,058 (24.92 percent) cast a ballot.
The first measure on the ballot, Measure H, would have changed the city attorney’s position from an elected one to one appointed by city council members. It would have also allowed council members to decide the attorney’s salary without restrictions imposed by a previous measure passed in 1998.
An overwhelming majority of voters, 73.11 percent, voted against it.
Proponents of the measure had argued that it would allow the city to choose the best attorney for the job, instead of the best politician, and that it would free the office from influence by groups who funded the political campaign for the attorney. Opponents argued that it would bind the city attorney to the city council, which would have the authority to hire or fire him or her at will. They felt that it was a direct attempt by the council to bring in an attorney who could be manipulated by the council, especially since John Russo—Oakland’s previous city attorney and the only one so far who has been elected to the office—had clashed with the council on matters of policy.
Measure I would have imposed an $80 dollar parcel tax on single family homes, to be collected for five years until the 2016-17 fiscal year. Apartment owners would have paid $54.66, and would have the option of transferring half the cost to the tenant. Tenants living in non-affordable housing would have paid half the tax, and those with low incomes would have been exempt. Owners of commercial properties would have paid the tax based on the property’s size.
Voters rejected the measure by 62.35 percent.
Supporters of the tax had argued that it would have allowed the city to raise much-needed revenue in a down economy when the city is facing a massive budget crisis. The majority of funds raised by the tax would have been slated for public safety items such as police and fire services, which have faced major cuts in the last few years because of the tight budget.
Opponents argued that the city of Oakland is already charging too many taxes, and the tax would merely be a temporary solution to a long-term problem. They also claimed that the lack of specificity in the measure’s wording about where the money would be spent would have given the council members control over its allocation once the measure had passed.
The final measure on the ballot, Measure J, would have allowed the city to extend the deadline for fully funding the Police and Fire Retirement System beyond 2026. This is a fund set up for employees of the police and fire departments, which enables them to receive pensions for life. The city needs to deposit $494 million into the fund by 2026 in order for it to be fully funded.
If the deadline had been extended, the city’s annual payments would have reduced by $3 million dollars at least, depending on the number of years of the extension. Supporters also said that it would make the city more financially stable.
But opponents saw it as a masked attempt to increase the city’s taxes and to fund the tax beyond the year 2026, and as an opportunity for the city to issue bonds for the same reason.
Of all three measures, Measure J came the closest to passing, with 46.77 percent of voters voting for it and 53.23 percent voting against.
You can see our infographic on the three ballot measures here.