Sunday, August 24, 2014

FAQs About Oakland's Measure Z - November, 2014

Q:  Is Measure Z a renewal of Measure Y?
 No.  Measure Z is a brand new parcel tax.  Measure Y expires at the end of 2014, and City leaders came up with a brand new parcel tax measure that they want to replace Measure Y. 

Q:  How is Measure Z different than Measure Y?

A:  Measure Z has far fewer restrictions than Measure Y.  The original Measure Y required specific budget appropriations for police staffing in order to be able to collect the tax; it required the City to give each police beat in Oakland its own community policing officer; it had restrictions on the types of violence prevention programs the money could be spent on.   Measure Z has none of these restrictions.

Q:  So what kinds of things could the City spend the money on?

A:  Pretty much whatever public safety-related things the City wants - salary increases for police officers and firefighters, more bureaucrats, untested gizmos and programs - whatever.

Q:  Do they have to increase police staffing in order to collect the tax?

A:  No!  Unlike with the original Measure Y, there are no mandatory appropriations required in order to collect the tax.  

Q:  Supporters claim that unless we pass this measure, the force will go down.  Is that true?
A:  No!  This is typical scare tactics that the City is using.  Even Mayor Quan states that if she's elected, and Measure Z fails, she will still ensure that we don't lose police.  Libby Schaaf shares a similar view.

Q:  But aren't there some sort of promises about that in the measure?

A:  Not really.  Basically, the City can collect the tax as long as staffing doesn't drop below what we have now (around 678 officers).  However, even then, there is an exception for any "sudden, unforeseen event" that impacts the City's finances.  Given the City's failure to foresee lots of events that have had a dramatic impact on its finances (e.g. Occupy Oakland, huge pension liabilities) there is a good chance they will try to invoke the exception.  In addition, the amount of the tax that the City would be prohibited from collecting, even if staffing dropped below 678, is only proportional and temporary, so there is little incentive for the City to actually staff the department at any sort of reasonable number.  Also, the City has no plan on how to actually increase police staffing.  Attrition is approximately 5 officers per month, and the City has no plan to increase the number of police academies just to keep the force stable.  

Q:  Will passing this tax actually reduce gun violence or improve 911 response times?
A:  Probably not.  Read the measure.  There is no plan whatsoever on how the City intends to reduce crime with the additional funds.  

Q:  Was the predecessor measure, Measure Y, successful?

A:  It was an abject failure.  In 2005, Oakland was rated the 21st most dangerous city in America.  In 2013 it was rated #3 most dangerous.  We spent $200 million for more police and better public safety.  What we got was fewer police and more crime.  You do the math.

Q:  What about the City's claim that it doesn't have sufficient funds to maintain the police force?
A:  Earlier this year, the City had budgeted for a total of 675 officers.  But the City was keeping the force staffed at only 611 officers.  See article here.  So the City can't blame low staffing on lack of funds.  Rather, it is lack of will.  Moreover, the City has no plan whatsoever to keep up with the police force's attrition rate, which recently is running at around 6 officers per month.  Also, the City, which constantly claims it is broke, somehow came up with money to dole out raises last years.  And somehow the City is now offering to pay $120 million for a new Raiders stadium!  If we have money for that, we don't need a new parcel tax!  See article here. The issue is not money; it is poor planning and weak leadership! 

Q:  What is Oakland's current tax rate?

A:  Higher than all of our neighbors already!  Oakland's tax rate is 1.44%.  Compare that to 1.14% for Alameda, 1.27% for Berkeley, 1.08% for Hayward, and 1.38% for Albany.  We are paying far more taxes than any other city, and our crime rate is the highest.  You do the math.

Q:  What about oversight?
A:  The Measure contains language required by the Government Code regarding mandatory audits.  Keep in mind, however, that so did Measure Y - and the City STILL didn't do those audits until it lost a lawsuit and was forced to do them.  Even then, the audits they did were meaningless, and will continue to be meaningless under the new measure.

Q:  How much is the tax?

A:  The annual rates for the parcel tax would be:  
             $99.77 per unit for single-family residential
             $68.15 per unit for multiple-family residential
             $51.09 per unit for non-residential
The parking tax rate would continue at 8.5 percent.  Moreover, keep in mind that the tax will GO UP every year for inflation.  

Q:  What about renters?

A:  Landlords will be permitted to increase the rent for tenants as provided by rent control laws, or could raise the rent if the unit is not controlled by rent control.  In addition, renters will obviously have to pay the parking tax if they park in any covered lot. 

Q:  Who supports Measure Z?
A:  Many politicians support it, because they always like to have your money to throw around, pay for political favors, give raises, and fund their reelection.  Unions support it, because they want a raise.  Notably, the fire department union is bankrolling the "yes" campaign.  Non-profits support it, because it funds their programs, and their salaries.  

Q:  Is crime really down in Oakland?
A:  No.  Violent crime is actually up more than 22% since Quan first ran for election.  Compared to other Bay Area cities, crime statistics are nothing to brag about these days.

Q:  How long will the tax be in effect?

A: 10 years.

Q:  The tax measure refers to reducing gun violence, robberies, and homicides, and improving 911 response times.  What does the measure say about how this will be achieved?

A:  Nothing.

Q:  What improvements in fire services are promised?

A:  None.  The City is promising the fire department $2 million a year, but no improvements in fire services are even specified.  

Q:  Does the Oversight Commission have any power to prohibit improper expenditures of Measure Z funds?

A:  None whatsoever.  They are purely advisory.