Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part I

Ten Things the Opponents of Measure Z Have Wrong – Part I

We’re reading a lot on neighborhood list serves, Facebook and blogs about Measure Z, the public safety ballot initiative on this November’s ballot. And much of what we see from opponents of the measure is just flat out wrong. We begin with the assumption that none of the opponents of Measure Z mean ill, so we will avoid the kind of vitriol and ad hominem attacks that appear all over these arguments (e.g. “liars,” “fraud,” “crooks,“con artists” etc.). Instead, in this and the two blog posts that follow, we will look at the ten most common opposition arguments and show why they are factually wrong.

Opponent Argument Number 1: Measure Z does not provide enough police staffing, so we should vote it down and support a measure that provides for 800, or 900, police officers.

Response: None of the people who make this argument have offered an alternative measure. None of them have presented public opinion research data showing that a different measure would pass. Given Oakland’s many past unsuccessful attempts at public safety parcel taxes before and after Measure Y, it would be foolhardy to hinge public safety hopes on a tax measure, or any ballot measure, that has not been researched.

MOBN!, together with Jobs and Housing Coalition, Oakland Community Organizations, Youth Alive!, East Bay Asian Youth Coalition and Acts Full Gospel Baptist Church of God in Christ, financed a significant amount of public opinion research, including focus groups and polling. We learned two important things about Oakland voters: (a) they strongly believed public safety efforts should include both policing and violence prevention and intervention efforts; (b) they were unwilling to pay the tax that would be needed to fund 800 police, let alone 900. The voters’ choke point for a parcel tax was $99.

Some opponents argue that their new, hypothetical, non-existent measure should require the City to guarantee a much higher number of officers without requiring the taxpayers to fund it. In other words, impose a parcel tax of $99 that funds $13 million for police, but demand that Oakland fund as many as 200 more officers than the measure funds, at a cost of $40 million or more per year, plus $25 million for recruiting and training (the cost of five police academies, each yielding 40 police officers.) But none of these Oaklanders tell us what cuts they will make to generate this funding or how City government would otherwise find necessary funding. If they can identify and propose those cuts or funding sources, we may well support them. But this is a major undertaking that will not be aided by reducing dedicated police funding by $12 to $13 million, as the opponents would do by defeating Measure Z.

And finally, while the opponents typically argue that the City should place a “better, cleaner” measure (for which they never articulate any details) on a special ballot next June, none can seem to explain how they will have this hypothetical ballot measure researched, drafted and ready to be voted on by Council by March 5 – 17 weeks after this November’s election – in order to have it voted onto the ballot 88 days before the election, as required by law.

Opponent Argument No 2: The expiring Measure Y’s tax proceeds are all available until June 30, 2015, so there is plenty of time to regroup.

Response: This argument exemplifies the old adage “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” The correct facts are these: the last of the Measure Y parcel tax will be billed by Alameda County with the 2014 property tax billing statements that some property owners have already received. It will be paid to the County in December 2014 and April, 2015, and the proceeds received by Oakland in the second half of 2015. The parcel tax proceeds are included in the 2014-15 city budget, so this part of the argument is correct.

But Measure Y doesn’t provides for just a parcel tax (which is continued under Measure Z). Measure Y also provides for a parking facility tax (also continued by Measure Z). The parking tax of 8.5% yields about $8.4 million per year, and collection will stop December 31 2014. So if Measure Z fails, Oakland will come up short as much as $4.2 million for the first six months of 2015. And of course, since that 8.5% is already built into parking prices, ending it simply gives an extra 8.5% to parking lot operators – nobody expects them to reduce their prices if the tax goes away.

Opponent Argument No 3: City Hall doesn’t need this money – they just need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse.

Response: It’s common for political candidates in State, Local and National elections to run on a campaign of eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.” One of Oakland’s mayoral candidates is running on this platform. But we have not seen a single successful candidate in any political race in the country who has solved financial problems by rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. Waste, fraud and abuse exist in virtually every government – indeed, in virtually every large organization of any kind – and they ought to be rooted out. But they don’t yield anywhere near the money that Oakland – and most big cities – need.

Several years ago, one of our board members asked one of the leading opponents of Measure Z “How will the City finance these police officers without the parcel and parking taxes?” Her answer: “That’s not my problem – it’s the city’s problem.” We’ve yet to see an opponent of Measure Z who has a concrete answer to this question. They all talk about priorities, but nobody will tell us what they will eliminate.

Tomorrow: Yes, 678 officers isn’t enough. That’s no reason to vote down Measure Z.

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