Oakland Ballot Measures Moving Forward to November 6th

By Julia Park Tracey

Oakland City Council members voted Tuesday night to accept several ballot measures on property, parcel taxes and tenant rights issues that will now appear on the Nov. 6 Oakland City General Election ballot.

The Real Estate Transfer Tax Tiered Rates Measure, supported by Councilmember Dan Kalb passed 7 to 1 with Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney dissenting. The proposal will provide tax reductions for property transfers valued at $250,000 or less in value, low and moderate-income first-time homebuyers, and low and moderate-income homebuyers incurring seismic retrofit expenses. It would raise some taxes, however.

“We tried to make this a simple measure, a simple tax,” Kalb said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It only raises taxes on high-end properties.” The proposal would provide a modest tax increase (.25 percent) for real property transfers valued between $2 million and $5 million, and a one percent increase on real estate transfers valued at more than $5 million.

The new exemption for low- and moderate-income homebuyers incurring seismic retrofit expenses is modeled on an existing law in the city of Berkeley. “Like Berkeley, the City of Oakland is subject to major earthquake-related hazards including very violent ground shaking, liquefaction and landslide, and Oakland endeavors to maintain its housing stock and to enhance its disaster resiliency, reducing potential loss of life and property damage while accelerating economic recovery,” Kalb wrote in his report.

“I believe this is a well-thought measure,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think this is going to harm development. I think we are all pro-development here.”

Vacant Land Tax Measure the council approved a measure for a special parcel tax on vacant properties sponsored by Rebecca Kaplan, Kalb and President Pro Tem Abel J. Guillen to fund programs to address homelessness, and illegal dumping remediation.

The measure was approved 6 to 2, with council members McElhaney and Council President Larry Reid dissenting.

“This tax only applies to vacant properties,” and is expected to raise $10 million per year, Kaplan said at the meeting. Empty properties are a form of blight, she said. She hopes owners of vacant properties will put them back into use, benefiting the housing market, or pay tax on their empty properties which will create the income necessary to help resolve homelessness in Oakland.

“The proposed vacancy tax would apply to all vacant property throughout the city, including undeveloped property, vacant commercial, industrial buildings, and vacant residential units. A property would be classified as vacant if it has not been occupied for any use for a year or more. The Measure would create an administrative process through which the owner of vacant property could apply for a hardship waiver to be exempted from the tax,” she wrote in her agenda report.

If adopted by the voters this would create a Community Commission on Homelessness to help direct the proper use of the funds, and provide recommendations to the City Council on effective strategies, according to council report.

The parcel tax measure meets “an immense need in our community,” said Guillen, which will “create an incentive to property owners -- a stick-and-carrot approach to deal not only with blight but also give us the resources we need,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. It will appear on the November ballot and require a 2/3 majority threshold to pass.

Just Cause Amendment Ballot Measure in a win for renters, the council approved the Just Cause Amendment by unanimous vote. Council Members Noel Gallo and Kalb recommended the measure which removes the exemption for owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes and allows the Council to add limitations on a landlord’s right to evict.

“The ordinance is intended to protect the economic vitality of Oakland by helping to keep existing renters in their homes, specifically maintaining the economic security of tenants who reside in two-and three-unit buildings and not subjecting them to evictions,” a council report indicated.

The city council accepted signatures on a petition to go to voters Nov. 6, the “Children’s Initiative Of 2018,” a parcel tax to fund early childhood education and college readiness programs beginning in fiscal year 2019-2020 and ending in 2048-49. The parcel tax would consist of $198 per parcel for owners of single-family residential parcels; $135.25 per occupied unit for owners of all multiple residential unit parcels. The tax for non-residential parcels will be calculated using both frontage and square footage measurements. There are low-income and senior exemptions.

The council also accepted signatures for a petition supported by UNITE HERE, Local Union 2850 that will establish a Department of Employment and Workplace Standards, create safety standards and provide a minimum wage.

On Twitter Yulisa Elenes of UNITE HERE said “Hotel housekeepers, predominantly are women of color, deserve safe workplaces, free from the threat of sexual violence, and they should feel supported when filing complaints or removing themselves from unsafe situations.”

Council members all went on record as supporting state Prop. 10 which if passed by state voters would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, thus allowing local governments to adopt rent control ordinances that govern annual rent increases. Costa-Hawkins restricts the ability of localities to implement rent and vacancy controls on buildings constructed after 1995.

Three additional proposed measures will not go to voters this November. The 1 Percent Tax on Rental Property Revenue and Measure to Tax Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) measures were withdrawn before the meeting. Desley Brooks’ “Jobs! Now” Ballot Measure also failed to make the ballot. The city council voted 4 - 3 in opposition.

Make sure to follow @OaklandConduit on Twitter for updates on Oakland’s proposed November ballot initiatives. For more information on the Nov. 6 election, click here.

Julia Park Tracey is a Bay Area freelance journalist.

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