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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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Alameda’s Measure P

Measure P, which Alamedans will vote on in a few short weeks, would increase the city’s property transfer tax, the tax paid to the city when a property is bought or sold. Currently the tax is $5.40 per $1,000 property value. Measure P would raise it to $12 per $1,000. Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson has a pro-P opinion piece in today’s Alameda Journal.

The Mayor’s argument is pretty straight-forward: The city has already been cutting, police and fire costs are two thirds of the city’s budget, and without a cash infusion the city may have to begin trimming those areas nearest and dearest to people’s hearts…in addition to the cuts that have already been made, the maintenance that has already been deferred and the library hours that have already been cut. Those who oppose P have a pretty well-funded campaign against (with chart and graphs and everything).

Back story: Before putting P on the ballot, the city did some polling to see what was most likely to win approval from the voters, and this transfer tax increase is what was seen as most likely to pass. Really, it’s the same old story: if you want services, they must be paid for.

[Ed. note: The Journal also has this editorial about P.]

1

A legal challenge to Measure H?

Hello. So the buzz out there, both in reality and in blogland, is that this group, Alamedans for Fair Taxation, has raised some money to challenge Measure H, the school parcel tax that passed with over two thirds of the vote (parcel taxes in California don’t just require a simple majority, they require two of every three peoples’ support). I left messages before I went on vacation over Alamedan’s for Fair Taxation’s main office number, and I left another today. I’m looking forward to finding out who is in this group, how much they’ve raised, and by what legal standard they hope to challenge Measure H. Stay tuned.

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Governor Schwarzenegger is coming to Alameda

Our very own California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be in town Wednesday April 16, visiting the USS Hornet where he’ll participate in an ‘open conversation’ (as opposed, I guess, to a closed one) as part of the Bay Area Council’s annual conference.

Those who pay attention to these things have lately been noticing a shift in Schwarzenegger’s language: from a staunch anti-tax stance, to a more open rhetoric, one which includes the possibility of raising taxes to fund vital state services like, say, education and parks.

For any of you who may have somehow missed it, Continue Reading

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Alameda Unified needs a pickup

Wait! What is it, parked outside Alameda’s Edison Elementary School.
AUSD truck 1
Let’s get closer.
AUSD truck 2
And closer.
AUSD truck three
Ahh, it’s an official Alameda Unified School District truck. A quick chat with the district employee driving it reveals that it’s of vintage 1978. It’s well older, one can be quite certain, than the oldest student in the district. And, not to give away my age–I’m told ladies of a certain age should not–but I was eight when that truck was new. One hopes I’m holding up better. Said the driver of the truck:

Our trucks are all old and they all waste too much gas and require a lot of maintenance. They’re not even cost efficient.

It requires an investment in schools and the people and supplies that support them to have it all coming out well in the end. You can starve public institutions but, eventually, as we’re seeing here in Alameda, stuff starts to hit the fan.

Word is that, in response to the student protests in Alameda this week, the state’s superintendent of instruction, Jack O’Connell, is coming to our island tomorrow to meet with Alameda and Encinal High student leaders. Encinal Senior Class President Mebrak Kahsai, who helped launch Tuesday’s protest, is one of the students who will meet with O’Connell Friday afternoon. She says the feeling of being heard by the powers that be is has been inspiring:

We’re actually–even though what the governor said was kind of negative—we’re actually happy that they heard us; we’re glad that he heard. People at school have been saying, “I never felt so powerful before.” …The governor responding made us feel good.