Because of the Great Recession, Oakland’s tax revenues have plummeted more than 20 percent in the past several years. As a result, the city has been forced to cut many vital services. In addition, the city’s employee unions agreed to more concessions earlier this year, helping close a huge budget deficit. Most notably, the Oakland police officers’ union finally agreed to pay 9 percent into its pension plan. Consequently, we view Measure I, a parcel tax measure on the current mail-only ballot, as representing a “fair share” proposal and we support it.
Measure I would impose an $80 a year tax on Oakland parcels, and would raise about $11 million annually for five years. Although we realize that parcel taxes are regressive, California law severely restricts the ability of cities to raise revenues through more progressive means. Until state law is changed, Oakland and other cities have few other choices.
Opponents also have complained that Mayor Jean Quan and the city council have not been specific enough about how the money is to be spent. However, the ballot measure states that Measure I funds are to be used for such basic services as police, fire, parks and recreation, libraries, technology, youth violence prevention, and street and infrastructure repair. In addition, the mayor and several councilmembers have recently put forward detailed ideas for how to fund each of these services, and it seems clear that they have their priorities straight. The council and the mayor also proved earlier this year that they can make good decisions when they enacted a budget that closed a $50-million-plus deficit.
Although bashing Oakland leadership has become a full-time sport for pundits and many residents, we think Councilwoman Pat Kernighan had it right when she recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that people who vote against Measure I are voting against their own interests. The city, for example, desperately needs even more police than it has hired recently, but without this money it won’t be able to bring more on.
We also endorse Measure H, which would change the city attorney’s position from being elected to appointed by the council. We think the lessons learned from the tenure of elected City Attorney John Russo and current City Attorney Barbara Parker, who was appointed by the council to finish Russo’s term, are instructive. Russo often clashed with other elected city leaders and created unnecessary turmoil in Oakland. Parker, by contrast, has been a breath of fresh air and has brought much-needed stability to City Hall. Again, the council, while often criticized, proved that it can make the right choice — as it did with Parker — when given the chance.
Finally, we endorse Measure J, which would give the city more time to fully fund Oakland’s old police and fire retirement plan.