November 2016 Ballot Measures – Part 2, Local Ballot Measures

This is Part 2 of my blog’s coverage of the November 8 2016 general election. If you are looking for my comments on the statewide ballot measures, you should look here.  My candidate comments will be posted in Part 3.

A cautionary note – these comments will be most applicable if you live in Oakland, California, although parts will also apply if you live in larger parts of the S.F. Bay area.  I’m going to start with the broader measures and then drill down to the more local one.

I’d previously put up a link to a site that gave various “progressive” groups’ recommendations on statewide measures.  There aren’t as many groups endorsing on local measures, but both the League of Women Voters (Oakland and more general) and KQED have website devoted to giving the pros and cons of local measures, as well as information on all election candidates.  If you’re not interested in reading through the 200 page voter information guide (plus sample ballot, for local contests) these sites are good places to start in figuring out what to do with you ballot choices.  Just a caution that if the give you your ballot choices by some zip code, some zip codes overlap several jurisdictions, so you may see candidates and measures that won’t be on your ballot.  If in doubt, consult your sample ballot.  There are a few sites that have made local ballot recommendations.  One of the more comprehensive is the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, a left-leaning Oakland/Berkeley Democratic Club.  It’s recommendations can be found here.  I’m not going to give local newspaper recommendations, because IMHO in these days of corporate control of the news media, their best use is for wrapping dead fish – and you can’t even do that with the electronic versions.

So, ready or not, off we go!

Measure RR – $3.5 billion of bonds for acquisition and improvement of property.  I’m really conflicted on this.  As I’ve stated earlier on the statewide measures, bond measures have become a particularly manipulative way for public agencies to get taxpayer money to finance whatever they want to do.  In theory, they can only use the bonds as they’ve promised the voters, but agencies (and perhaps particularly BART) have gotten very adept at writing bond measures so the money can be used for practically anything they want.  [caveat – Bonds cannot be used to pay ongoing expenses or salaries – with certain exceptions.  Those types of expenses have to be paid for by taxes or assessments – typically either special assessments or parcel taxes.]

There’s no question BART has big problems.  I get e-mail notifications whenever BART has service problems, and these days I typically get four or five a day.  Often, it’s an announcement of a delay due to an equipment problem; either on a train, on the track, or with switching equipment.  This reflects the fact that BART has failed woefully in keeping its system updated.  as they acknowledge in their argument for this bond, a lot of their electrical equipment hasn’t been updated since the system was built in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In addition, the system is, frankly, poorly designed.  Unlike the New York, Chicago, or Boston subways, there’s no redundancy.  One central trunk line carries most trains and a problem in a key station (e.g., West Oakland or Oakland 12th St. City Center) can foul up most of the system.)  That’s a failure of foresight from back when the system was designed.  You can blame it on the Bay Area Council, which pushed the system through as a way to shuttle commuters between the suburbs and Downtown San Francisco – then the hub for Bay Area businesses.

Meanwhile, over the years, BART has put through multiple expansion problems, most of which have continued that same suburbs to SF logic and have sucked up many billions of dollars on lines that come nowhere near paying for themselves while filling up the central trunk line’s capacity for trains.  The system still continues this same now-ridiculous logic, proposing further expansions to Brentwood and Livermore, plus a duplicative expansion from Fremont to San Jose.  The $3.5 billion in this bond contains NO restrictions on how it can be used.  Yes, it COULD update BART’s outdated equipment and trackage, but it could also purchase property for future expansion right-of-way.

We’re stuck with a Hobson’s choice.  Approve the bond and risk pouring more money down the drain for expansions to satisfy suburban voters, or turn it down and suffer with a system where breakdowns have already become a daily occurrence.  A very reluctant Yes.

Measure C1 – Extends $8 per month ($96 per year) parcel tax for 20 years, raising about $30 million per year, or a total of $6 billion.  Like BART, AC Transit is a victim of lack of imagination, as well as the Bay Area’s overall backwards thinking.  AC Transit arose from the corpse of failed private transit providers (chiefly the Key System).  These systems were begun by real estate developers to serve their suburban projects.  They weren’t intended to make money, and in the long run, they didn’t.  Further, the Bay Area’s transit system resembles 19th century Italy or Germany – a hodgepodge of tiny fiefdoms without an overall plan.  In theory, MTC ought to unify them, but it doesn’t, because its members are appointed by local fiefdoms as well, and reflect the dominance of automotive travel in California.  You’d think we’d learn from looking abroad (or even at NYC or Boston) that a seamless, unified transit system works better and more efficiently.  It hasn’t happened, and it wont as long as transit is the stepchild of local government.

Nevertheless, AC Transit does serve an essential function, especially for those who by choice or necessity don’t have a car.  The Bay Area is badly in need of an overhaul of its transit system, but I sure don’t see that happening any time soon.  This measure is a stopgap measure, but necessary to keep the wolves at bay.  Another reluctant Yes.

Measure A1 – County Affordable Housing Bond – $580 million for acquisition/improvement of real property.  Again, bonds are often problematic, and with the problems this county, and the Bay Area, face with housing price escalation, this – and much more – is needed.

Ultimately, our housing crisis won’t be solved until we acknowledge the linkage between jobs and housing.  The Bay Area Council and other business groups (especially the Silicon Valley Leadership Group – AKA Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group) continue to push job growth as the savior of the Bay Area economy.  What they really mean is the savior of their multi-billion dollar companies their multi-billion dollar fortunes.  Meanwhile they bring in thousands of new employees who then use their inflated salaries to displace existing residents.  To be blunt, we can’t build ourselves out of this mess unless we demand linkage between job growth and housing growth, and insist that those creating jobs (and their cities) take some responsibility for providing the housing those new workers will need.

As it is, this measure is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s better than nothing.  Yet another reluctant Yes.

OAKLAND MEASURES

Measure HH – 1 cent per ounce “soda tax”.  This would levy a tax on sugar-added drinks (but not for pure fruit juice drinks or diet beverages).  Yes, you can call it a “sin tax,” or more accurately, perhaps, a health tax.  At this point, it’s almost as hard to ignore the connection between sugary drinks, obesity, and diabetes as it is between cigarettes, lung cancer, and emphysema.  We tax the latter, why not the former?  Why not, because the manufacturers and distributors of those drinks, like those of tobacco products, don’t want us to.  That’s who’s behind the opposition to this measure, who deceptively call it a “grocery tax.”  Vote Yes.

Measure II – extends maximum lease term for public property from 60 to 99 years.  What’s this about?  The rationale is that the City can get better deals from private leasees if it offers a longer lease, and will be better able to insist on higher-cost improvements because the leasee gets a longer payback time on their investment.  On the other hand, this means a bad deal will last longer.  (Think the Colosseum Raiders deal.)  There are arguments both ways, and if my trust level in Oakland’s government were higher I might support it.   No.

Measure JJ – Extends renter protections from properties built before 1980 to those built before 1995 (the year state law changed prohibiting renter protections on housing built after that date).  With Oakland’s current housing crisis, this is a necessary, but not sufficient, response.  (See my comments on Measure A1.)  Anyone opposing this is either ignorant, obtuse, or a landlord.  Yes.

Measure KK – Public Works $600 million bond measure – We know that Oakland’s infrastructure is failing, and we need affordable housing, and this promises both.  Again, I have strong reservations about open-ended bond measures such as this one, which will ultimately have to be paid back by us taxpayers.  I’d feel better about it if I had more trust in how Oakland spends its money.  Still, there are quite a few good project happening around Oakland, and if we want a better city, we need to be willing to pay for it.  Yet another reluctant Yes.

Measure LL – Oakland Civilian Police Commission.  This measure could be stronger.  I’d have liked it better if the Mayor didn’t have a strong (but not totally controlling) hand in its appointment, but to my mind, it’s absolutely essential.  The support for this measure given by Council Members Kalb and Gallo explains the Police Officers Association’s hit pieces attacking them.  Frankly, OPD’s internal discipline system has been so sabotaged by contract provisions inserted by the POA.  This reform is long overdue and necessary if we citizens are ever going to develop trust in out city’s police department.  YES, YES, YES!

Measure G1 – Oakland Unified School District $120 per year parcel tax.  OUSD put this measure on the ballot to provide additional funds for school teacher salaries and to enhance various school programs.  There are disputes about how the money gets distributed, but teachers deserve better pay and our public schools need more resources generally.  It’d be better if this could come from property taxes, which are less regressive, but you can thank Prop. 13 for eliminating that option.  Yes.

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