Oaklanders: Send back your ballots and vote YES YES YES!

June 25, 2009

Yes, it’s yet another election—but this time it’s one that actually matters! The July special election is a mail-back election, which means you need to watch the mail for your ballot and send it back right away—don’t make the mistake of losing it under a pile of junk and then finding it in August when it’s too late! (Okay, maybe that’s just our house….)

Ballots were mailed out to all registered voters in the city on Monday, June 22nd. IMPORTANT: If you haven’t received your ballot by the first week in July or if you’ve moved since the last election and haven’t changed your address yet, call the Registrar of Voters to have them send a new ballot or make other arrangements so that you can vote!

You can also still register to vote in this election if you’re new to Oakland, but you need to do it by Monday, July 6, 2009.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters
1225 Fallon Street, G-1
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 272-6933

Here’s a run-down of what you’re voting for, with my personal endorsements (which, if you don’t feel like reading all of this, are YES ON EVERYTHING!):

Measure C: Vote YES
What is it? This measure is an increase in the Oakland Transient Occupancy Tax (hotel tax). It would increase the current 11 percent tax by 3 percent (to make the new TOT 14 percent). This brings Oakland’s tax in line with the tax in surrounding communities. The tax revenue would be dedicated to the Oakland Zoo, Oakland Museum, Chabot Space & Science Center, cultural arts programs and festivals, and the Oakland Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Why yes? Oakland’s hotel tax is currently lower than those of nearby cities, so we have some wiggle room. (For reference, San Francisco’s is 14 percent, while Emeryville and Berkeley both have TOTs of 12 percent.) So I don’t foresee huge competition issues in terms of filling our hotel rooms; many travelers won’t even notice the difference. More importantly, the institutions and programs that the tax increase will support help make our city a better place to visit and to live, so my view is that the additional revenue will help the tourism industry overall. There’s also no opposition to this (even the hotel industry is on board!) so it’s pretty non-controversial.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; Oakland Zoo; Oakland Museum of California; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure D: Vote YES
What is it? This measure would change the Kids First 2 measure (Measure OO) that Oakland voters approved last November. It is sometimes referred to as the “Measure OO compromise.”  It would reduce the amount of money going to the Kids First programs from 2.5% of the total budget to 3% of the General Purpose Fund, and add a review every 12 years.

Why yes? Because Measure OO was possibly the worst measure ever and desperately needs to be fixed! This fix isn’t great, but it will help. (I’d still like to see a full repeal that would identify an alternate funding source for these programs so we wouldn’t be robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, but this was a Council compromise after much ado, and may be the best—and only—chance we’ll get to fix Measure OO before it takes effect.) Basically, it changes how the Kids First set-aside is calculated to relieve some of the pressure the original measure put on Oakland’s budget (and heaven knows our budget needs some help right now!) It also adds a program review process, which was a key element missing from Measure OO. You can read more about my issues with the original Measure OO here.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure F: Vote YES
What is it? Measure F would establish a new business tax rate for “cannabis businesses” (medical marijuana). These businesses are currently charged at the general tax rate ($1.20 per $1,000 of gross receipts). The new tax rate for these businesses would be $18 per $1,000 of gross receipts.

Why yes? Well, broadly this is a good thing because it’s increased revenue for Oakland and is supported by both the medical marijuana industry and the police, who are the two major players here. (In fact, there’s no opposition to this measure that I know of.) But I also think Measure F is important because it’s a first step in recognizing the role the medical marijuana industry plays in our local economy—and acknowledging that there are associated costs and helping to cover them.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

Measure H: Vote YES
What is it? This measure would change Oakland’s Real Property Transfer Tax to clarify that businesses should pay the transfer tax (0.75% of the sales tax) when they transfer real property due to changes in ownership or control of the corporation (such as mergers and acquisitions).

Why yes? This isn’t a new tax; it just clarifies our existing tax so that residents and smaller businesses aren’t the only ones required to pay the transfer tax for change of ownership. This is particularly important right now because a number of large corporations are in the midst of mergers and acquisitions, so making this policy crystal clear will ensure that the City doesn’t lose out on any much-needed transfer tax revenue.

Other supporters include: Oakland Rising (Coalition of Ella Baker Center, Just Cause Oakland, Urban Habitat, EBASE, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Oakland ACORN); Bay Area Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; League of Women Voters of Oakland

*Note that not all of the area political organizations had issued positions on the ballot measures when I put this together; I’ll try to update this if I hear of other endorsements.


  1. Measure D if passed would entrench the set-aside for privileged private agencies, while everyone else is taking cuts in pay and cuts in park maintenance and other city services.

    Vote No on D. We demand the city council back full repeal of Measure OO.


  2. Thanks Charles. I agree that I’d love to see a full repeal of Measure OO (and have real concerns about set-asides in general as a form of municipal budgeting)—I guess it’s just that I don’t share your confidence that the Council will actually do anything about it before the version that’s already been approved kicks in. They missed a great opportunity to repeal it on this ballot, for instance. Fortunately, though, a yes vote on Measure D doesn’t preclude a future repeal.

  3. a yes vote on Measure D reduces any incentive to repeal Measure D.

    No on Measure D. Hold council accountablity to all of Oakland not just the monied non-profits.

  4. You say that D includes what you imply is a decent “program review”. The way i read it there is a full review every 12 years (which will be about every $136 Million of expenditures). Other than that there is an oversight board of which almost 50% have to be under age 21.

    It is very likely that quite a few of those under age 21 appointees will be active in the same organizations that receive the funding. Are there any city ethics rules that would prohibit that?

    There was a version of this ballot measure that would have given about the same amount of funding but contained independent competent oversight with performance reviews. If our Council had given us that version of D, Kid’s First supporters would have looked really greedy opposing it. But our leaders never gave us voters a chance to decide.

    I’d like to think you are correct that voting yes on D doesn’t close the door on fixing the problems of D. But that isn’t how politics works in Oakland.

    Really bad laws like OO get patched but underlying weaknesses such as the absence of performance audits for grants continue uncorrected. One could say that Measure D’s expenditures and potential waste is small potatoes compared to the the total funds granted to private organizations by the city. eg. job training millions.

    It is not brinksmanship to vote no on D. At worst we’d have a few months of OO costs and the cost of another election instead of 12 years of a badly drafted Measure D.

    Defeating D and putting the City Council in a position where they have to address the flaws of D (because of budget deficits) would set a major precedent for good government here.

    -len rapahel

  5. Len, I presume youth appointees would be subject to the same conflict of interest considerations as their adult counterparts on oversight boards. (That said, I didn’t intend to imply that the proposed program review is especially good or bad, as I haven’t spent any time reviewing it—only that broadly speaking, periodic—and effective—review for expenditures as sizable as OO is essential and ought to have been an integral component of the original measure.)

    My concern with a no vote on D is that, rather than just a few months of OO and then a special election to repeal it, we’ll instead have OO for the next decade, given how passive Council has been on the issue. It’s not at all clear to me that they’re interested in supporting either a special election or a full repeal of OO, at least until there’s been some turnover, which will be long after OO has done its damage. I would be much more comfortable with a no vote if Council were to publicly commit to that course of action should Measure D go down (and ideally even if it doesn’t!)

  6. A,

    My broad understanding of ethics investigations here are that someone has to be motivated and knowledgable enough to file a complaint.

    My point was that you certainly can’t expect 20 year olds to have the experience and education to understand the complexities of performance reviews and budgets when most 45 year old people wouldn’t either.

    You have plenty of company in voters who understand that D is better than KK but haven’t had the time to read the fine print.

    Council and Kids First supporters know darn well that at most 100 oakland voters will read the full text of Measure D. Voters will rely on the endorsements and maybe the city attorney/auditor analysis.

    i’d go further than your statement that the Council has been passive on opposing OO and now correcting flaws of OO via the new measure D. My view is that most Council members were too afraid of the political power of Kids First to repeal OO totally so they turned it into a form of Pay-Go patronage for the council members and the mayor thru their selection of the oversight members.

    Yes, that’s pure supposition. Fact is that while Measure D was still in the drafting stage, Council members considered and rejected adding specific, periodic performance reviews of Measure D expenditures. Most crucially they failed to shorten the 12 year sunset to something reasonably shorter and crucially failed to set aside funding for performance audits. There was a proposal drafted by a former Oakland city asst auditor that would have added strong review provisions, reducing the sunset term, and reducing the mandatory number of kids on the oversight board. That proposal sank in committee without nary a bubble. (http://www.oaklandcitystuff.com/docs/Proposed_Ballot_Measure.pdf)

    There is a real but miniscule probability that if D goes down, that the Council will fail to submit a new ballot measure that will get voters’ approval. Yes, there is a chance that our Council will imitate the Calif legislature and fail to agree on a replacement measure. But there is no way they could accept permanent OO because OO would eat up a large piece of the general fund which the council needs to run Oakland.

    Council members might be spineless, might be cynical about Oakland voters having very low expectations of their govt, but they are going to allow most of their discretionary income to be spent on Kids First if D loses. Council will move remarkable quickly to call another special election and find a way to do it inexpensively.

    -len raphael

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