Last week, Oaklanders who live in the hills received their mail-in ballots for Measure A. This measure, which creates and funds the Oakland Wildlife Prevention District, replaces the expiring Wildfire Prevention Assessment District. For the past ten years, the WPAD has successfully provided funding for prudent fire-reduction measures in the hills-based wild lands interface. The previous district has been supported by a parcel tax of $65, which expires at the end of this year. With the new district, this tax will increase by $13… While we are critical of many things Oakland’s city government does, MOBN! supports this initiative.
We are concerned that the campaign against Measure A is based on half-truths, innuendo and irrelevancies. We believe that when voters within the district know the facts, they will join us in voting to maintain the effective public safety efforts previously supported by the Assessment District, and now supported by the WPD.
The No on A campaign has not taken the usual form of campaign mailers and organized presentations. Instead, it has come in the form of e-mails sent to list serves from the pro-eucalyptus tree organization Hills Conservation Network, the anonymous “Committee For Responsible Oakland Government,” and a lot of one-on-one buttonholing at farmer’s markets.
Here is a summary of the arguments in opposition to Measure A, followed by the facts:
Opposition claim: “The [parcel] tax exempts large institutional landowners such as golf clubs, country clubs, PG & E, University of California, etc.” [Source: Reports of statements made during farmers’ market campaigning; ballot Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure A ].
The truth: Public entities are exempt from city tax assessments as a matter of State law. So Oakland couldn’t tax the University of California if it wanted to. As for the contention that golf clubs, country clubs and other private land-owners are exempt? It’s completely made up. There is no such exemption.
Opposition claim: There is controversy about “where the money was actually going, who was controlling this money and a lack of transparency in reporting. “[Source: Hills Conservation Network.]
The truth: There is plenty about the City of Oakland’s budget reporting that is opaque. But the WPAD has been remarkably transparent. Clear statements of the district’s income and expenses for the past two years are readily available here and here.
Opposition claim: The measure doesn’t pay for firemen, for extinguishing fires, for trucks or equipment, for widening public streets, for extra water supplies, etc. [Source: reports of farmer’s market campaigning, and ballot Argument in Opposition to Measure A]
The truth: No, and it doesn’t pay for more police, better schools, road repair and lots of other things Oakland needs. The measure seeks to implement a small parcel tax that could not do all of those things but that will be used to renew the effective fire protection measures that contributed to safety in the Oakland Hills since the devastating fire of 1991. Particularly disingenuous is the statement appearing in the Ballot Rebuttal to Argument in Favor of Measure A that the 1991 firestorm was “not carried by ‘dense brush,’ trees or weeds.” Nobody who lived in the hills in 1991 could believe such a statement.
Opposition claim: These are services that should be paid for from the city’s general purpose fund.
The facts: Much as we wish it were otherwise, there is nowhere near enough money in the City’s budget to pay for both essential services and the City’s contractual financial commitments. Owing to a combination of fiscal malpractice going back some fifty years and ill-advised voter and City Council actions, the City has far too much debt, overtaxes its residents, and is in desperate need of long-term fiscal reform.
But the decades of mismanagement do not excuse the city—and the taxpayers—from keeping residents safe. In the months and years ahead, Oakland and its voters will face some very difficult fiscal and public safety policy decisions. But this decision is easy—voting for an extra $13 per parcel for proven fire safety measures.
We urge Oakland hills residents who live in the District to vote YES on Measure A, and to mail those ballots so they arrive at City Hall no later than November 13.
Learn more about the existing WPAD here. See the campaign’s web site here, and make a campaign contribution here. Read Council Member Libby Schaaf’s recollections of the 1991 firestorm, in which her father lost his home, here. And see film footage of the fire and learn what other survivors of the firestorm think about the measure here.