The June 5 primary includes some really big decisions that you’d normally see on a November general election ballot. Tax and bond and toll measures up for a vote would raise billions of dollars, and they all share something in common: Proponents say that each of these initiatives provides an equitable investment in our housing, transportation, education, and environmental needs.
First, there’s a proposed Alameda County half-percent sales tax increase to expand childcare for low-income and middle-class families. The county’s enormous need for more childcare slots can’t be argued with. Currently, there’s only room for about one-in-three children with working parents in a childcare center in Alameda County, according to the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network. That means a lot of kids aren’t really getting the nurturing care they need in order to excel when they start kindergarten.
In addition to the limited space, a lot of families simply can’t afford to pay for childcare, which has become about as expensive as college tuition. Making matters worse, childcare providers aren’t paid very well and their employers have trouble recruiting skilled preschool teachers.
To expand childcare in the county, Measure A would levy a 30-year, half-percent sales tax that’s estimated to raise $140 million annually. The funds — subject to audits and oversight — would be allocated each year by the board of supervisors to childcare providers.
Emeryville’s Measure C, a $50 million affordable housing bond, is a remarkably ambitious effort by one of the East Bay’s smallest cities to make an impact on the region’s housing crisis. To give you a sense of just how big a lift Measure C is for Emeryville, consider that the city only has an estimated population of 11,671. The bond amounts to $4,284 in borrowing per resident to pay for affordable housing projects and anti-displacement programs.
If a city like Oakland were to do the same, it would be a $1.8 billion affordable housing bond. No other jurisdiction in the East Bay has gone all out like this to raise money for affordable housing and anti-displacement programs. Measure C bonds will be paid back over 30 years through a 4.9 cents per $100 of assessed value property tax, meaning that the tax is relatively progressive and shouldn’t be an undue burden on the average Emeryville resident.
The city of Oakland has done a poor job funding its libraries, which is a shame because on top of its collection of free books and music, the city-wide system of 18 locations has some real gems, like the Oakland History Room in the Main Library and the African American Museum and Library. The libraries also play a key role in educating Oakland’s kids with art and reading programs.
Since 1994, Oakland has mostly paid for its libraries through special parcel taxes — not with the city’s general fund revenues. But that has meant that the libraries don’t have a flexible funding source to keep up with needs. Measure D would build on the existing $75 parcel tax to improve Oakland’s libraries by authorizing an additional parcel tax of $75 per single-family home and $51.24 per-unit in multifamily apartment buildings.
Measure D is estimated to raise up to $10 million per year for Oakland’s libraries and can be used to hire librarians and other staff, extend branch hours, purchase books and materials, and keep operating programs like afterschool homework tutoring and adult literacy.
Regional Measure 3 would increase tolls on vehicles crossing all of the Bay Area’s major bridges, except the Golden Gate, in order to expand mostly mass transit infrastructure like trains and buses. A poll late last year commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission found lots of support for the idea.
Specifically, RM3 would increase tolls for vehicles by $1 in 2019, another $1 in 2022, and then finally another $1 in 2025. In all, it will raise about $4.5 billion.
The money will be spent on things like buying more than 300 new BART cars that will allow for more frequent transbay trips and paying for the BART extension to San Jose. Caltrain and the North Bay’s SMART train would also benefit from RM3 funding. Transit and bicycle advocates at the nonprofit TransForm are supporting RM3 because it doesn’t focus spending on highways and instead favors rail, buses, bicycles, and pedestrian infrastructure.
Some of the money will be used to pay for highway improvements, too, and even if you hate transit, proponents of the measure argue that you should support it because it will take cars off the roads and make your commute easier.
This is a $4 billion bond that will invest in California’s state parks, watersheds, coasts, and marine protected areas, but the really unique thing about Proposition 68 is that the legislature, which placed this on the ballot last year, is requiring that no less than $725 million be used to create, expand, and improve parks in California’s low-income communities.
That means that the money won’t just go toward improving remote hiking trails that are out of reach of working poor urbanites. The bond’s spending plan also emphasizes making investments in parks in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, two parts of the state that have historically been under-invested in when it comes to recreation and conservation.
In addition, the bond will pay for a bunch of specific existing parks and places, really too many to name. In the Bay Area, the Coastal Conservancy will get money for marine and shoreline restoration work, and several million will go to preserve parts of the Los Gatos and Guadalupe River Watersheds in the Santa Cruz Mountains. With a backlog of deferred maintenance at over $1 billion and an annual budget shortfall of $120 million, according to the state Department of Parks and Recreation, Prop. 68 goes a long way toward repairing California’s outdoor spaces.