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Oakland residents begin voting on controversial parcel tax

on October 21, 2011

Oakland voters began mailing in ballots this week to decide the fate of a controversial $80 parcel tax that is being promoted as vital to help Oakland’s budget crisis and assailed as an unnecessary burden on homeowners, with no binding resolution to determine where it would be spent.

Measure I, which was drafted by City Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan, Councilmember Pat Kernighan (District 2) and Council President Larry Reid (District 7), would raise $60 million for the city over a five-year period. The tax would be a temporary fiscal emergency tax, requiring single-family homes to pay $80 annually, and multi-family and commercial properties to pay specified amounts not yet determined.

Low-income families would be exempt from the tax, but the income cut-off for this exemption is not specified in the measure. If voters approve Measure I, the city government would start collecting the tax in the fall of 2012, and continue until 2017.

The measure would raise money for a number of different services, with a major portion of the funds going towards public safety, including police, fire safety, and youth violence prevention programs. Since this is a mail-only election, eligible registered voters who reside in the city of Oakland can return their filled-in ballots by mail, submit them in person at at the registrar’s office, or vote there in person until voting closes on November 15. A supermajority 2/3rds vote will assure passage.

Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan said that she was not trying to tell people how to vote, and wanted to clarify how parcel tax funds would be spent by passing the resolution. Photo by Megan Molteni.

“We need more officers on the streets of Oakland,” said Jason Overman, Kaplan’s Director of Communications. “We are severely understaffed and we have a really critical problem with illegal guns.”  Kaplan and the other pro-tax council members wanted to give Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan and his team all the support that they needed, Overman said, and Measure I was one way of doing so.  The tax measure was written and proposed before former Police Chief Anthony Batts resigned and was replaced with Jordan.

The measure itself does not include details about how the funds collected would be allocated, but the City Council this week passed legislation that would determine how the money from the tax would be spent if the ballot measure is approved. The council’s resolution allocates $6.2 million dollars to the Oakland Police Department, $1.5 million to roads, and $1.2 million to city gardeners. It also includes provisions for street lighting for crime prevention purposes.

These allocation details have been a major point of contention amid councilmembers and the public. Since the council legislation that divides up the funds is not part of the wording of Measure I, it is non-binding, meaning councilmembers are allowed to change their minds about the allocation of funds after the election.

Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6), who opposes Measure I, characterized the allocation legislation approved on Tuesday as a misleading and dishonest attempt by councilmembers to influence the public’s vote. “We can wait until after the election takes place to do this,” she said. “We’re making it seem like if we pass a resolution, we can’t change it, and this is not true.”

The City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday that determined how funds from a parcel tax would be spent if Measure I is passed. Photo by Megan Molteni.

“Councilmember Brooks just stole my thunder, ’cause that’s exactly what I was going to say,” said District 4 resident Jim Dexter, who spoke at the council meeting. Referring to a previous parking lot and parcel tax the city of Oakland established in 2004, Dexter said, “When Measure Y was voted upon, it was very detailed (about where the money would be spent). Voters should know there’s no commitment here for Measure I.”

Brooks was joined by Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) in her opposition to the measure. “I understand the argument of why we need the money,” De La Fuente said.  “We always need the money! But we continue being one of the highest taxing cities, and putting the burden on homeowners.”

But the city’s dwindling resources, and public services cuts officials have had to make, are a major concern for advocates of the tax. “We cut $10, 11, 12 million from our budgets in the previous years,” said  Mayor Jean Quan, who supports the tax. “You can’t balance a budget with all cuts.

Kaplan said that it was the council’s ethical and moral obligation to give voters some clarity about where the money from the tax would be spent if Measure I was passed.

In the ballots-by-mail election, voters are also being asked to decide on two other Oakland measures. Measure H would make the city attorney an appointed official, instead of an elected one; and Measure J would change the deadline for funding a pension plan for police and firefighters.


  1. Helen Hutchison on October 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    For more unbiased information on the measures, go to the League of Women Voters pros and cons:

  2. Leonard Raphael on October 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    For my committee’s reasons for opposing the parcel tax, Measure I:
    For the Green Party’s reasons for opposing the parcel tax, Measure I:

    -len raphael, cpa
    Vote Yes on Oakland
    by VOTING NO on H, I, J

    • Leonard Raphael on October 21, 2011 at 10:03 pm

      Measure J for Dummies

      The sneakiest, scariest ballot measure is J.
      It is opening shot in the coming retirement cost generational war in Oakland that is playing out across the country, and in developed countries across the world.

      The really short answer is that since our Mayor and the same majority of the Council supported the Measures H and I which most people know should be defeated, it’s safe to assume the Mayor and Council members got J wrong also.

      How you should vote:

      Anyone under the age of 50 should oppose it. Anyone over the age of 50 should give a big hug to Libby Schaaf for putting it on the ballot.

      Unfortunately for the voters Measure J is the measure that is least understood and most often listed as “No position taken” “neutral” by the various groups that should be opposing but dont because they flat out misunderstand how this old firefighter/cop pension plan works.

      There is a gross misunderstanding fostered by the Mayor and the council majority’s silence to fully explain the implications of J.

      The misunderstanding is that the defeat of J will cause a recurring annual 45Mill/year payment for many years that otherwise could be postponed.

      What they don’t bother telling you is that even if J passes that 45 Mill will only drop to maybe 42mill at best, but the payments will have to be made for more years to make up the 3 Mill annual “savings”.

      The main reason to VOTE NO on J is that it gives the City the leeway to push even more of the burden of paying for the pensions of city employees who retired before quite a few of generation x,y,z were even born.

      There are only a handful if that many, currently working city employees who are covered by this pension plan, PFRS.

      As it is, the city charter already allows the City to wait another 15 more years, 2026 to fully fund this pension plan. Currently we are at least 450Mill behind in funding, and very possibly 700Mill depending on investment assumptions.

      But 15 years isn’t long enough for our officials. They want unlimited authority to stretch it as long as they can find an actuary to bless it. That should not be hard.

      Vote NO on J because we should not make the younger generations pay for the retirement costs of my generation and older that benefited from the services of the retired employees.

      Send this back to the Council and make them come up with a plan to pay down the obligation in 15 years by coming up with funding by cutting labor costs now and implementing competitive bidding for non-profit service providers.

      For the even longer version of why J is bad policy:

      See the discussion thread at EB Express


      and on Joe T’s facebook

      (Joe T apologetically supports J)

  3. Leonard Raphael on October 22, 2011 at 12:48 am

    The ballot envelopes are badly laid out. There is so too much busy text and a confusion of font sizes and bad use of red color.

    The all important ” Failure to SIGN the declaration will invalidate your ballot” warning is useless because nothing to show you or label the “declaration”.

    A fitting ballot for Rube Goldberg gerry rigged election from a Mayor and Council that rush from crisis to crisis ineffectively.

    The desktop publishing manager responsible for approving this ballot envelope should be promoted to drafting misleading ballot Measures for the City Council. They’d fit right in at a normal City Council meeting.


  4. Bill R. Ware on October 22, 2011 at 3:43 am

    I’m afraid that this parcel tax has the look and feel of a tax that will never go away, albeit advertised otherwise. Surely, when the five years have passed, another fiscal crisis will come along that causes the City to not rescind the tax.

    Bill R. Ware || Cities In Financial Distress ||

    • Leonard Raphael on October 22, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Bill, if we were able to stave off insolvency for “only” 5 years that would be a fiscal miracle of biblical proportions.

      Try 1 year or at most 2 when the so called “fair share” labor concessions, “pay cuts”, that were only furloughs, and police “raise deferals” boomerang back. Add the accellerating retirement of baby boomers, and state and fed grants/revenue sharing, and local real estate tax valuations decline… LOL on getting thru 5 years without a massive additional parcel tax.

      -len raphael, cpa
      Vote Yes on Oakland
      by VOTING NO on H,I,J

  5. […] Oakland North’s coverage on Measure I […]

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