Thoughts on Local Ballot Measures

The last piece of the election puzzle (for me) is the local ballot measures.  Here in Oakland, there are six — one county, one school district, and four city measures.  I’ll go through them in alphabetical order.

Measure F — County transportation supplemental registration fee.  The legislature in its infinite wisdom has decided (and the governor approved) that while the state will continue to short-change counties on transportation funding, it will allow each county to enact, with voter approval, a supplemental vehicle registration fee to be used for local transportation projects.  The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency — the state-mandated local agency with responsibility for general transportation and its funding, has decided to propose a $10 per vehicle fee to fund local transportation improvements.  The funds would be allocated 60% for roadway improvement and repair, 25% for a congestion relief program, 10% for transportation technology (e.g., “smart roadways”, electric vehicle charging stations, improved traffic signal technology — e.g., signal timing, transit override, etc), and 5% for pedestrian and bicycle related improvements.  The County’s other transportation agency, formerly called ACTA and now ACTIA, had to be sued over its misuse of country transportation sales tax funds.  (BTW, ACTIA and the county CMA have now been merged into an Alameda County Transportation Commission with control of all the county transportation funding.)  The ACTC does have a number of advisory citizen committees, but I’m not sure if there’s explicitly a “watchdog” committee over how the ACTC uses its funds.  There was no ballot argument submitted against the measure.  With the decreased state transportation funding, local funding is getting to be the wave of the future.  I would recommend a YES vote, but I’d also recommend keeping your eye on how this money gets spent.

Measure L — This measure was put on by the Oakland school board to provide supplemental funding for salaries of teachers and other instructional (i.e., non-administrative) positions.  This would be an additional $195/year parcel tax on top of the already-approved school parcel tax for facilities.  Like transportation (and everything else), the state has been starving schools because we’ve run out of money.  Us local taxpayers end up having to make up the difference.  I don’t like parcel taxes as a way of doing that, because they’re regressive.  You pay the same $195 whether you’re in a two-room hovel or a $5 Million mansion.  (And most leases allow the landlord to pass along parcel taxes to the tenants, even though the tenant doesn’t get to deduct it off his/her taxes!)  I’m also somewhat concerned that the school board is doing this at the behest of the teachers’ union.  This is the same kind of shenanigans that led to Oakland’s budget problems when the city council gave the police and firefighters unions everything they wanted.  I will leave you to make up your own minds, but I’m giving strong consideration to voting no.

Measure V — The medical marijuana tax increase.  The city put this on the ballot to squeeze a little extra revenue out of the lucrative medical marijuana industry that has sprung up since the passage of Prop. 115.  I see little reason to oppose it.  While some of the tax may get passed on to the consumers of medical marijuana, the small additional fee isn’t going to make medical marijuana unaffordable to those who really need it.  YES

Measure W — telephone tax increase.  The city already has a utility tax on “land line” phones.  This would add a flat $1.99 per month charge on both land lines and mobile phones, as well as a somewhat higher tax on trunk lines that serve multiple subscribers.  This not going to make or break the city budget.  My suspicion is that it will probably fail, because many people are tired of getting nickeled and dimed with little taxes.  we really ought to be getting to the root of things and re-addressing the inequities of Prop. 13.  We also need to reassess our public employee pensions systems, and move to a single-payer health insurance system.  If all those things happened, we would not need all these extra little taxes.  In fact, I’d suggest a measure that revises Prop. 13 and simultaneously sunsets all of these small taxes.  YES.

Measure X — Police parcel tax.  This is undoubtedly the most controversial measure on the Oakland ballot.  It represents a deal between the City Council and the OPOA.  The OPOA agreed to accept an increase in police contributions to their pension funds in return for the city putting this on the ballot, restoring the laid-off police, and promising no lay-offs for the remainder of the current OPOA contract.  Since it was placed on the ballot, virtually all of the council members have had “buyers remorse”.  I’m not sure there’s a single city council member who’s still supporting and campaigning for this measure.  It seems destined to go down in flames.  That may be appropriate.  Unfortunately, Oakland citizens will pay, with reduced police coverage, for the OPOA’s pig-headedness during the budget crisis.  I’m torn.  I don’t like the reduced police, but I also don’t want to reward the OPOA’s obnoxious behavior.  On balance, I’m afraid I must recommend NO.

Measure BB — modify Measure Y — This measure is a stopgap to prevent further hemorrhaging of the Oakland police dept.  It would temporarily suspend the minimum staffing levels established by Measure Y for the police force.  If this doesn’t pass, Measure Y funding gets cut off and Oakland would be forced to lay off another 150 police.  This would serve the OPOA right, but it would be a situation of cutting off your nose to spite your face.  We really do need to go after the OPOA and let them know that they can no longer play the games they’ve played.  That’s one reason why I’m so strongly opposed to Perata, the OPOA’s darling.  However, we can’t afford to lose another 150 police.  YES.

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