Oakland's 50th Mayor Libby Schaaf

Oakland Wars Over Measure AA: Wellstone Club BBBON On The Attack

Oakland’s Wellstone Democratic Club and its “BBBON” or “Block By Block Organizing Committee”, comes out swinging with attack on Measure AA.

UPDATE: Why Oakland Measure AA Tax Should Not Be Collected.

Oakland’s Measure AA is a new parcel tax that, well, has been installed and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wants levied like, right now – even though Measure AA failed in the 2018 Election.

And what is Measure AA? It’s this:

Shall the measure amending Oakland’s Charter for the purposes of funding services to: expand access to early childhood and preschool education; improve high school and college graduation and career readiness; provide mentoring and college financial assistance; by establishing a $198, 30-year parcel tax for single family parcels and specified rates for other parcel types, raising approximately $25,000,000 – annually, with citizen’s oversight, and exemptions for low-income households and others, be adopted?

In other words, rather than have a parcel tax to help end the massive homeless problem, the Mayor of Oakland would rather tax all Oaklanders for an expenditure that, by its nature, impacts only those who chose to start families. While the Oakland Mayor’s intent is praiseworthy, one can argue that improving the base of basic jobs, and making truly affordable housing, should be priority one.

Measure AA nailed just 62 percent of the vote, and since California State Law says it needed 66.67 percent of the vote, guess what? Measure AA failed. But in Oakland a close vote that produces a loss is seen more like “close” in horseshoes or nuclear war – on December 11, 2018, the Oakland City Council voted to declare the measure certified. That action pissed off a ton of Oaklanders.

One group led by the Jobs and Housing Coalition and that’s really upset expressed their displeasure in court: they filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court, arguing that the certification of Measure AA was illegal.

Frankly, this blogger holds this view: the law is the law: Measure AA fell short. In the past, Oakland elected officials would figure out some creative financing way around such an outcome, or just repackage Measure AA and try again at the voting booth. But not this time: the Mayor of Oakland, my long-time friend, insists on getting what she wants, the way she wants: no compromise and using a moral-basis for action. In this case, “the kids need our help” – hard to argue against, but there are many ways to do it.

The problem many people in Oakland have is not just that Measure AA did not pass with the needed number of votes, but Mayor Schaaf has a track record of not following through with what she says she’s going to do, and again, for a set of reasons that have a powerful moral basis in her mind. Let’s take the Oakland Soda Tax revenue: that was money that was supposed to be left alone and yet opponents said to me that the Mayor planned to use it to close the City’s budget deficit, something she did back away from doing.

(In fairness to Mayor Schaaf, the whole Soda Tax money spending infrastructure was late getting started).

But opponents to the Oakland City Council’s Measure AA action wonder what is to stop her from doing that in the case of Measure AA?

As stated, a number of groups oppose the Oakland City Council’s action on Measure AA – and the Wellstone Democratic Club is one of them. The organization’s Block By Block Organizing Committee (or BBBON), wrote and email distributed this lengthy statement of grievances against the way Measure AA was handled. It’s a reasoned take, and one that this blogger supports:

The BBBON Statement on Measure AA

Last fall among the many candidates and propositions Oaklanders voted on was an initiative to levy a $200 property tax on every property owner in order to provide more funding for early childhood programs and other unspecified activities for our students.

Built into the measure was a written acknowledgement that it required two thirds vote to win based on Prop 218, in force since 1996, that would require special taxes (as opposed to general fund taxes) to receive 67% of the vote. The measure did get 62% a majority of the vote but nowhere near the 2/3 normally required and as clearly stated within the measure.

Our neighborhood-based organization is made up of Oakland activists many of whom are teachers and parents and some who especially focus on our schools. We always support programs for our kids, especially students whose neighborhood schools have not been adequately funded or supported.

But we were keenly aware that this was a controversial proposal not only because of the large tax it imposed but because of the vagueness of the implementation language. In a city which has been adversely impacted by the proliferation of charter schools and other privatization schemes, the level of suspicion and cynicism about public funds and how often they seem to find their way into private hands, is very high.

Voters want to know who will control the monies and how they will be spent before they vote. On the one hand, our taxpayers generally support revenue measures for OUSD, Peralta Community Colleges, and the city infrastructure budget, having very recently given the two thirds blessing to all of them, but this one struck many as poorly written-at a minimum.

Once the measure did not, in fact, pass, many in the education community suggested a more carefully written proposition might be devised. It was a shock then to many in the political community, not to mention those who are not normally seen at city hall, to hear its implementation being certified as having passed at December’s lame duck city council meeting.

Many who strongly supported the measure and seem to be unaware of the court cases swirling around it, are demanding that the new councilmembers “implement” the tax but there are no means to implementation available until and UNLESS a California court allows an exemption to Prop 218 in this particular case. What they are asking the city to do is collect the property tax and place the funds in escrow in hopes that the court will certify the measure.

There does not seem to be any consensus as to whether the court will uphold the city’s certification, and there is now a lawsuit against collecting the funds based on the existing law and the stated two thirds requirement for passage.

We find it manipulative and more than a bit cynical to imply that upholding the measure-which did not receive the requisite vote-is to be equated with not supporting children, particularly poor children. But there seems to be a well-funded and underhanded campaign to imply-if you don’t support certifying a failed measure, that must mean you don’t care about schoolchildren. This is pure spin by the Measure AA campaign.

As the League of Women Voters (many of them parents) stated, “We urge you to nullify the certification of Measure AA as Passed and accurately certify the measure as Failed…. By certifying Measure AA as passed, the Council in effect changed the rules after the game had been played. Had the proponents, the City Attorney, or the Council elected to rely on the Upland decision allegedly holding that measures placed on a ballot by initiative need only a simple majority vote, they had ample opportunity to do so as Measure AA and information about it were being prepared for the ballot.”

Now some of the measure’s proponents seem to think those funds are already owed to the city and as such should be collected but that sort of thinking encourages voter distrust in public institutions and increases anger at public officials-already running at a high pitch. It is dangerous to be cavalier about the rules that voters rely on–dangerous both to our democratic institutions and to our ability to successfully put future funding proposals in front of voters.

There are other choices for increasing the opportunity for our marginalized and underserved students: 1) rewrite the measure including correcting concerns about the 30% that would go to an unnamed, private overseer with unspecified benefits, 2) support a revise of Prop 218 so that majority vote on taxes is clearly the rule, 3) support the Schools and Communities First measure on the 2020 ballot that will return billions to our public institutions while making corporations pay their fair share.

How about we, neighborhood leaders, educators, and parents, work together to do all three? If we truly want a better future for the next generation of Californians, we can do no less.

Submitted by,

Sharon Rose and Sheryl Walton, BBBON co-chairs

Stay tuned.

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