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Greetings from Alameda Hospital

Hallmark, look out. Alameda Hospital has an online set of greeting cards, and they’re all free. Get well, birthday, Valentine’s Day – all available to be sent, with a personal message from the sender, Monday through Friday to hospital patients.

Go to http://alameda.netreturns.biz/CheerCards/ to check out the inventory. There aren’t a lot, but still, it’s a pretty innovative method of getting people to go to the hospital’s Web site, where there is also a calendar listing tai chi, yoga and other classes.

Anyone out there remember the community’s passions flaring when the financially-strapped hospital was on the brink of closing, and a tax was put on the ballot in 2002 to keep it open? People were either really for it or really, really against it. In the end, obviously, the voters said yes, let’s cough up an annual tax to keep the island’s only emergency facility afloat. For the no-voters, it was a hard pill to swallow. But for the hospital, it was life-saving.

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AUSD master planning meeting tonight at Haight School

Tonight is the first of three Alameda Unified School District community meetings about the future of Alameda schools. The idea, as I understand it, is to create a master plan for the public school system in Alameda. The meeting starts at 6:30 and Superintendent Kirsten Vital as well as members of the school board will be discussing three possible scenarios for addressing the long term fiscal sustainability of public education in Alameda. They’ll be discussing how dwindling state funding impacts the district, the possibility of chartering the district as on whole, as well as the possibility of generating more funds for Alameda schools at the local level. The meeting is at Haight Elementary.

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Orinda passes $502 permanent parcel tax

While many here in Alameda like to blame fiscal mismanagement, administrator pay, unions, or you name if for the financial challenges facing the Alameda Unified School District, other communities are stepping up and funding their schools as the dollars provided by the State of California continue to fall short of what a community actually requires to provide a meaningful education for a community’s schools. Orinda’s parcel tax passed with 70 percent of the voters saying yes.

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Rob Siltanen: “Defend Measure H”

Blogger/government teacher/Alameda parent Rob Siltanen has a post up today at School 94501/94502 detailing 1. the nasty state of California’s budget and 2. the importance of Measure H funds to the Alameda Unified District’s budget. Highlights:

…AUSD has very little control over its revenues. The overwhelming majority of AUSD revenues come from the state. So when the state economy is in a recession and the state budget is in free fall — as happened for 08-09 and as will happen again for the 09-10 budget cycle — AUSD’s revenues will drop precipitously. Even though “the district” and “the Board” have the responsibility of dealing with the resulting budget crisis, the situation is not of their making.

Furthermore, unlike a business that can balance its books by closing divisions and operations, AUSD may not cut costs by, for example, shutting down its highly unprofitable “special ed division” or suspending any of its other services for high needs (and therefore more expensive) students. AUSD must educate all students wishing to enroll in public schools in Alameda.

He goes on to detail the current state budget crisis and its impact locally:

The state budget is in such dire straights that the Governor has called a Special Session of the legislature to enact additional budget cuts for the CURRENT SCHOOL YEAR (”mid-year cuts”). Among the “highlights” of the Governor’s proposal to cut 2.5 billion more from the education budget for this school year – yes, those would be cuts for the year for which school districts were required to approve a budget last June — are (1) retroactively eliminating the COLA for 08-09 and (2) retroactively reducing revenue limit funding (i.e., general funding) by 1.79 billion. Even more ominously, this draconian Special Session plan only addresses 11 billion of the state’s projected shortfall. The Governor projects another 13 billion deficit for 09-10. That means that in January we will hear about even more cuts ON TOP OF THESE for the next, fast-approaching budget cycle. If the legislature is unable or unwilling to act in the Special Session (which I think is likely), the whole problem of a 24 billion deficit would be carried into 09-10.

The whole post is here. And, yes, it is long, but is a clearly-articulated, reality-based portrait of the current state budget crisis and its local impact.

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Motions filed in Alameda’s Measure H lawsuits

In a story to appear in tomorrow’s Alameda Journal, reporter Jennifer K. Rumple tracks the movement in the legal battle over Measure H, the Alameda school parcel tax that voters overwhelmingly approved last June.

Attorney Page Barnes of Foley & Lardner LLP, one of the firms representing the Alameda Unified School District, told Rumple, “I take this litigation very personally. I am fighting to preserve the educational quality of 10,000 students and uphold the will of an overwhelming majority of voters who recognize the importance of passing this parcel tax for our kids. I have a firm belief that the money being generated through Measure H is absolutely essential to maintaining the quality of our schools.”

The whole story is here.

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Movement in the Measure H suits

Michele Ellson of The Island blog has a post up today about the Measure H suits. (Lauren Do makes note of them too, in her post today about Alamedans for Fair Taxation.) The upshot? The district lawyers filed a motion to invalidate the suit filed on behalf of Borikas and filed a request for an extension of time in the Beery suit. The hearing on Borikas is set for February 9.

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No fair property taxes in Alameda

This week in “Life on the Island,” the column I write for the Alameda Journal, I discuss the legacy of Proposition 13, which leaves newer property owners, of both homes and businesses, paying property taxes much higher—sometimes three or four or five times higher—than those who bought earlier. (Property tax information is public and you can look it up by parcel or address here.)

Measure H, the Alameda school tax passed in June, assesses businesses based on square footage, which is, to my mind, closer to fair than a flat per parcel tax, which taxes the owners of mansions and hovels identically, the owners of large tracts of land the same as those who own a small parcel.

A Prop. 13 supporter once described the 1978 law to me as a ‘double-edged’ sword, by which I think he meant it was bad when you first purchase a property, but gets better over time. But Prop. 13 has created a system of taxation so inequitable that it has turned out to be a very bad thing over time, not just because of its pronounced lack of fairness but, too, because it fails to raise enough money to support the infrastructure and services our state requires.

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AUSD retains counsel to fight Measure H lawsuits

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the Alameda Unified School District released a statement Wednesday regarding its legal team and the fight against the Measure H lawsuits. Here it is in its entirety:

Two Alameda taxpayers have brought separate lawsuits to invalidate Measure H, a new parcel tax to support Alameda schools that over two-thirds of Alameda voters approved in last June’s election. The tax, which will raise over $16 million in the next four years, will help close the budget gap caused by a reduction in State funding.

The lawsuits, Borikas, et al. v. AUSD, et al and Beery, et al. v. AUSD et al., are commonly called “reverse” validation proceedings. Each alleges that Measure H violates certain provisions of the California Government Code.

The Alameda Unified School District has retained the law firms of Chapman, Popik & White LLP and Foley & Lardner LLP. The District will vigorously defend Measure H.

In other school news the group, Alamedans For Fair Taxation, a group for which no one, to my knowledge, has stepped up and claimed public responsiblity, has a double-length, unsigned editorial in this week’s Alameda Sun. While we’re all used to pseudonymous postings on the Internet (I don’t much like ‘em, but they’re here), it continues to mystify me that no one from this group that is, as I understand it, responsible for funding at least one of the legal challenges to the popular parcel tax, doesn’t step up and say, “Hello. This is who we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.” It’s all well and good to disagree—many reasonable people disagree much of the time—but the refusal to take a public stand (while having a willingness to fund a lawsuit) continues to confound me.

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Second parcel tax lawsuit in Alameda

A second lawsuit was filed Monday in Alameda County Court against Measure H, the school parcel tax that passed with the support of just over two-thirds of Alameda voters in early June.

The first suit, filed last week by Pleasanton-based lawyer David Brillant on behalf of George J. Borikas is thought to have been supported and funded by several dozen local businesses. The second was filed by the high-powered law firm, Reed Smith, on behalf of local developer, John Beery.

School Board President Bill Schaff:

We’re sad to see another lawsuit. We would like to try to find some common ground with the business community…we still don’t have a state budget, we know we’ll still have an underfunding issue and we have to find some resolution that is good for our kids and that also can work for the business community.

You can look at both cases here, by entering the case numbers. Borikas is VG08405316 and Beery is RG08405984.

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Alameda’s Measure H lawsuit. Devil details.

As you have likely heard (Michele Ellson‘s got a link to the lawsuit) attorney David Brillant has filed suit on behalf of George Borikas in Alameda County Court against Measure H, the Alameda school parcel tax which passed in June 2008.

The suit alleges that Measure H violates the portion of California’s Education Code which stipulates that school parcel taxes must be ‘uniform’ and allows for seniors and people with disabilities to be exempted from them. Here’s the California code:

50079. (a) Subject to Section 4 of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution, any school district may impose qualified special taxes within the district pursuant to the procedures established in Article 3.5 (commencing with Section 50075) and any other applicable procedures provided by law.
(b) (1) As used in this section, “qualified special taxes” means special taxes that apply uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the school district, except that “qualified special taxes” may include taxes that provide for an exemption from those taxes for taxpayers 65 years of age or older or for persons receiving Supplemental Security Income for a disability, regardless of age.
(2) “Qualified special taxes” do not include special taxes imposed on a particular class of property or taxpayers.

And here’s the complaint, which talks about the requirement that parcel taxes be ‘uniform’ and, too, raises what seems to be the issue of seniors or people with disabilities having to actively opt out of the tax:

The qualified special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H, as approved by the registered voters of the District, is not consistent with the uniformity requirement as set forth in Government Code Section 50079. Additionally, the special tax set forth in the Election Order and in Measure H contains exemptions from the qualified special tax yet imposes additional requirements for taxpayers to meet the exeptions that are not contained in Government Code Section 50079. For these reasons, the District’s qualified special tax against residential, commercial and industrial property, as set forth in Measure H, are not a valid or lawful lien on the real property of Borikas herinabove described, and any attempt by defendants to collect unpaid assessments from Borikas would be unlawful and improper.

For some background on why districts rely on parcel taxes as a way of funding education, I found this useful and, too, at least one area district, Albany, has a parcel tax (passed in 2005) with a structure similar to Alameda’s: it’s $250 per parcel and $.05 per square foot nonresidential. Other local parcel taxes with variable levels of taxation include Emeryville, Berkeley, and Piedmont. A quick look at some area parcel taxes and how they handle exemptions for seniors/people with disability/low income people, reveals they operate much like Alameda’s. Here’s San Francisco, Oakland, and Emeryville.