Tri-Valley voters must weigh in on three important tax measures in Alameda County: one that would fund libraries, law enforcement, code enforcement and land-use planning in unincorporated areas for the next 12 years; another to fund programs to help the homeless and mentally ill; and a third to repair and replace fire stations.
Measure V would extend a 6.5% utility users tax collected since 1992 in unincorporated areas, including Sunol, Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Fairview and San Lorenzo, until June 30, 2033. The tax, estimated to generate about $12 million a year for the general fund, was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. It only applies in unincorporated areas and won’t add to taxes in Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore and 11 other Alameda County cities. But it requires a countywide majority vote to pass.
Voters have previously extended the tax in 1996, 2000 and 2008. A “yes” vote enables the tax to continue, while a “no” vote would allow the tax to expire next year.
Proponents, including Alameda County Assessor Phong La and auditor-controller Melissa Wilk, said in ballot arguments that the tax is vital to provide services in the unincorporated communities; some services could be cut if the tax were not extended. The tax is not being raised, just continued for 12 years, when voters would have a chance to decide again whether it should continue. The measure includes exemptions for low income and lifeline utility users.
The Alameda County Taxpayers Association opposes Measure V, saying it was created nearly 30 years ago as a temporary tax, but is “extended at every expiration because county politicians are addicted to its money.” The organization, calling Measure V a “Smartphone and electric car tax,” contends the tax creates higher phone, cable television, gas and electric bills, and the money raised could be used for anything, including paying county employee pensions.
“The true reason for Measure V is to help the Administration ‘bail out’ the pension scheme, instead of making necessary structural changes,’” the organization wrote in ballot arguments against the measure.
Measure W would impose a 0.5% sales tax throughout the county for the next 10 years to raise an estimated $150 million a year for “essential county services,” including aiding the homeless and those needing mental health services, job training and a social safety net.
The measure, which would place the revenue in the county’s general fund, also would create an appointed citizen oversight committee to report on how the tax is spent. The Board of Supervisors placed the measure on the ballot.
Proponents say Measure W will help “seniors, veterans, families and people who can’t keep up with skyrocketing housing costs and are homeless or at risk of losing their homes.” According to HomeTogether2020.org, which supports the measure, the revenue is urgently needed to help people remain in their homes, increase hygiene and sanitation services, support homeless veterans, seniors and their families and provide shelter to people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keara O’Doherty, campaign coordinator for Measure W, said Alameda County has experienced huge growth in the homeless population, doubling from 4,000 in 2015 to 8,000 now. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting unemployment stands to make that worse, she said.
“We also know that for every three folks that become homeless in Alameda County, only one person exits,” O’Doherty said. “It’s a really, really bad trend.”
O’Doherty said the money generated from the measure would nearly double what the county spends to fight the homeless problem. The measure, which requires a majority vote, creates a general tax because a specific tax requires a two-thirds vote, which likely would fail, she said.
“We desperately need this money to help homeless folks in the county,” she concluded.
Measure W is modeled after a similar sales tax ballot measure approved by voters in Los Angeles County in 2017
Opponents, notably the Alameda County Taxpayers Association, argue the tax is regressive and hurts low-income residents. Opponents, according to ballot arguments, say the measure’s approval will push the sales tax above 10% in much of the county and “that’s too much.” They also contend the money generated goes to the general fund and could be used for pensions and expenses other than the homeless.
Measure X, the county’s Fire Safety Bond, attempts again to pass a bond measure to repair and replace outdated fire stations in unincorporated areas, including Sunol and areas in the Tri-Valley. A similar ballot measure, Measure D, fell just shy — 66.37% — of the 67% yes vote needed on the March ballot to pass. A yes on Measure X would authorize the county’s fire department to issue $90 million in general obligation bonds that would add about $15.70 per $100,000 assessed value to a property tax bill. It is predicted to raise about $5.2 million annually for 31 years.
“Nearly 80% of our local 9-1-1 calls are for medical emergencies, like heart attacks, strokes and car accidents,” Alameda County Fire Chief William L. McDonald said on the department’s website. “If enacted, Measure X funding will be used to upgrade fire stations in our unincorporated communities so that we can ensure efficiency when responding to emergencies. Measure X will upgrade aging and outdated fire stations that are at least 30 years old, including two that are over 70 years old.”
Proponents, including the local firefighters association, argue fire stations built in the 1950s are not adequate for current needs for emergency response and do not meet the needs of a workforce that now includes women.
Opponents, including the Alameda County Taxpayers Association, argue there is no need for another tax for property owners. They say it will result in higher rents. A similar measure failed in March.
“The Board of Supervisors has simply submitted the measure to us again unchanged,” the taxpayers association wrote on campaign documents. “The Board seems blind to the fact that the world has changed a lot since March. Due to COVID, many people have lost their jobs or businesses, and we are all unsure of the future. This is a terrible time to add over $160 million of taxes that all property owners must pay.”
Unlike the other measures that require a majority vote, Measure X requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
For more information, visit http://bit.ly/Indy_VotersEdge.