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East Bay local agencies ask voters for money

Submitted by News Desk on Wed, 08/20/2008 - 10:00pm

East Bay voters face a double-edged ballot on Nov 4.

At the same time they pay more at the pump and the grocery store, cash-strapped local public agencies are asking for money, too.

Of the 58 local ballot measures on Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano County ballots, a third propose new or extended taxes totalling more than $750 million.

Nearly half the measures raise funds for schools either through bonds repaid with property taxes or parcel taxes.

The largest is a $500 million parks bond for the East Bay Regional Park District. A handful of cities seek cash to pay for new police officers, street repairs and library services.

"When California's economy catches a cold, these local agencies catch pneumonia," said Bay Area pollster Alex Evans. "They need money when the economy is bad."

Proponents argue that public agencies need the money to keep up with essential services and meet the demands of their residents, while watchdog groups say taxpayers are already overly burdened with the costs of an ever-expanding government.

"Local governments believe they absolutely need this extra revenue in hard times," said Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal. "But what about the hard times being experienced by the people who have to pay the bills?"

Coupal predicts the economy could dampen the prospects for local tax measures, particularly if the state pursues a sales tax hike to close its $15 billion budget gap

But despite the grim economic climate and the perennial debate over taxes, others say the November election — with the lure of an exciting presidential race on the ballot — may be these agencies' best chance for success at the polls.

"November is a good ballot for these measures because there will be a high turnout, particularly among Democrats and young voters who are more likely to be supportive," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University in Sacramento. "If I were running these ballot campaigns, I would put them on this ballot."

Livermore, Martinez, Pittsburg, West Contra Costa and Dublin school districts will take a run at the difficult two-thirds voting hurdle with parcel taxes. Acalanes and John Swett Unified will ask voters to approve bonds, which only require 55 percent to pass.

Districts may use bonds for one-time costs such as construction of new facilities, while parcel taxes can be used for ongoing expenses such as teacher salaries.

School measures often pass, especially in the affluent Bay Area where education is a high priority among its predominantly liberal and moderate voters, said Kim Rueben, an adjunct fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California and a economist at the Tax Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

"I'm guessing that a large percentage of the measures will pass," she said. "With the state budget in crisis, there is a concern that money will get tight and having local sources will help ensure that schools don't have to cut programs."

Among the other measures, Oakland seeks a parcel tax to pay for new police officers, while Oakley and Richmond propose new or reformulated business taxes.

The measure under the greatest pressure is most likely the $500 million East Bay Regional Parks bond. Proceeds would pay for trails, parks and open space.

Bond advocates hopes taxpayers will view it as an extension of Measure AA, a $225 million bond passed in 1998. They even structured the new measure to keep the tax rate the same, about $50 a year for a $500,000 house.

While many public services are experiencing cutbacks, some question whether recreation warrants such a large investment. On the other hand, East Bay residents love their parks.

Its voters formed the park district and passed a tax to fund it during the Depression, said board member Ted Radke of Martinez.

"At a time when people suffered tremendous financial problems, they saw the value in parks and open spaces," Radke said. "We think that when people take a look at what we accomplished with the 1998 bond and realize that we're not asking for a new tax or raising their taxes, I don't think they will quibble."

Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Reach her at 925-945-4773, or
East Bay residents face a plethora of state, local and regional ballot measure questions Nov. 4. Here's a partial list:
# STATE Proposition 1: Authorizes the state to sell $9.95 billion in bonds to partially fund a high-speed passenger train between Los Angeles and Northern California. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 2: Prohibits the confinement on a farm of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 3: Authorizes the state to sell $980 million in bonds for construction projects at children's hospitals, including the five University of California children's hospitals. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 4: Amends the California Constitution to require a physician to notify the parent or legal guardian of pregnant minor at least 48 hours prior to performing an abortion involving that minor. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 5: Expands drug treatment diversion programs for criminal offenders, modified parole supervision procedures, allows inmates to earn time off their terms for participation in rehabilitation programs and reduces penalties for marijuana possession. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 6: Creates new state-funded criminal justice programs and mandates that funding for certain existing programs be maintained at 2007-2008 levels. Total funding would increase by $365 million to $965 million starting in 2009. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 7: Establishes and enforces increased use of renewable resources on electricity-generating companies. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 8: Amends the California Constitution to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 9: Amends the California Constitution to expand the legal rights of victims of crime and mandate payment of restitution by offenders, restrict early release of inmates and change the procedures for granting and revoking parole. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 10: Authorizes the state to sell $5 billion in bonds for renewable energy, alternative fuel, energy efficiency and air emissions reduction programs.
# Proposition 11: Amends the California Constitution to shift the responsibility for drawing political boundaries from the Legislature to an independent citizens commission. Congressional lines are exempted from the new commission's duties but state Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization districts after the 2010 Census would fall under its purview. Majority vote required.
# Proposition 12: Authorizes the state to sell $900 million in bonds for the Cal-Vet program, which would allow 3,600 additional veterans to receive farm and home loans. Majority vote required.
# Measure VV, AC-Transit: Increases its existing parcel tax by $48 a year for 10 years to fund transit improvements for seniors, people with disabilities and students. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure WW, East Bay Regional Park District: Extends existing property tax of $10 per $100,000 assessed valuation per year. Proceeds of $500 million will be used for preservation of creeks, wildlife, open space, purchase of open space and development of parks and trails. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure DD, Albany: Hikes Albany's real property transfer tax from $11.50 to $14.50 per $1,000 assessed value. Majority vote required.
# Measure EE, Albany: Hikes the city's ambulance special tax 4 percent starting in 2010. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure FF, Berkeley: Authorizes $26 million in bonds for seismic improvements at four neighborhood branch libraries. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure GG, Berkeley: Levies a special tax on residential and commercial improvements to fund fire station staffing and emergency medical response. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure HH, Berkeley: Increases the city's annual spending limit to accommodate previously approved taxes for parks, libraries and other services. Majority vote required.
# Measure II, Berkeley: Amends city charter to allow the city until Dec. 31 following the 2010 Census to redraw city council boundaries. Majority vote required.
# Measure JJ, Berkeley: Amend city law to remove limits on medical marijuana, form a peer review group for enforcement of rules and eliminate the requirement for a special use permit for medical marijuana dispensaries. Majority vote required.
# Measure KK, Berkeley: Requires a vote of the people to dedicate road lanes exclusively to transit, buses and carpools. Majority vote required.
# Measure LL, Berkeley: Expands City Council authority over the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Majority vote required.
# Measure D, West Contra Costa Unified School District: Extends existing parcel tax for five years for academic programs, class size, school cleanliness and as a protection against state budget cuts. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure F, County Service Area P-6: Establishes an annual tax of $107 per single-family home for police protection services in the unincorporated areas of East Richmond Heights and Bayo Vista. Other types of uses would pay varying rates. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure N, Pinole: Imposes limits of three terms on members of the City Council. Majority vote required.
# Measure R, Crockett Community Services District: Sets 2008-2009 spending limit to $2.8 million. Majority vote required.
# Measure T, Richmond: Establishes new annual business license fee equal to one fourth of one percent of the value of the material used in the manufacturing process. Majority vote required.
# Measure A, John Swett Unified School District: Authorizes $20 million bond program repayable with property taxes to fund school improvements. 55 percent vote required.
# Measure B, Martinez Unified School District: Establishes a five-year $50 annual parcel tax for academic programs. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure E, Acalanes Union High School District: Authorizes $93 million bond program repayable with property taxes for a technology fund. 55 percent vote required.
# Measure G, Concord: Asks voters to determine whether the office of city clerk should be appointed rather than elected.
# Measure H, Martinez: Establishes a $30 million bond program repayable with property taxes to improve parks, playgrounds, fields, replace Rankin Pool and expand the library. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measures J and K, Moraga: The Bruzzone family, Moraga landowners, sponsored Measure J, which largely preserves the town's existing general plan for open space and mandates the developer pay $7 million for public uses in return for housing approvals. Measure K, sponsored by open-space advocates, expands open space land-use designations and restricts development to the downtown area. If both measures pass by a majority, the one with the most votes prevails.
# Measure C, Pittsburg Unified School District: Establishes a seven-year, $65 annual parcel tax for technology access, academic programs, class sizes and teacher retention. Two-thirds vote required.
# Measure L, Oakley: Amends the city's formula used to calculate business license taxes. Majority vote required.
# Measure S, Discovery Bay Community Services District: Adjusts annual spending limit to match cost-of-living and population changes. Majority vote required.
# Measure P, San Ramon: Amends city charter to allow the City Council to determine the mayor's salary, currently set at $100 per month. Majority vote required.
# Measure Q, San Ramon: Amends city charter to extend term of measure if the city moves its election to an even-year cycle. Majority vote required.
# Measure L, Dublin: Levies new, five-year $96 per parcel annual tax for schools. Funds would be used, among other things, to improve and maintain academic achievement and small class sizes, retention and attraction of teachers and teacher training. Requires two-thirds vote.
# Measure M, Livermore: Extends for five years a parcel tax of $138 per year to raise $3.8 million for Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District. Funds would be used, among other things, for teacher salaries, class size reduction and other programs. Requires two-thirds vote.
# Measure PP and QQ, Pleasanton: Competing measures include the Save Pleasanton's Hills and Housing Cap, (PP) a citizen-sponsored initiative that would limit development on hillsides and more strictly define the city's definition of a housing "unit" and effectively reduce the housing cap of 29,000 units. The second initiative, (QQ) sponsored by the City Council, would create a public process to write an ordinance to protect hillsides and define housing units.
# Measure T, countywide: Extend until 2028 the county orderly growth initiative adopted in 1994, which restricts development to cities.