Voters to Decide Fate of Sales Tax Increase, Measure R, In November

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(Contributed Graphic)

    Voters will decide to either to increase the add-on Transactions Use Tax (TUT) to one cent or continue with the current half-cent tax. If passed by a simple majority vote in November, the increased tax becomes effective April 1, 2021, expires in 20 years and will generate approximately $2.4 million dollars annually.
    The increased revenue is projected to address high-priority essential services, which require significant dollars and an on-going funding. Finance Director, Paul Rankin described these priorities as fire fuel reduction and emergency planning, critical drainage improvements and continued public road maintenance during the Aug. 4 City Council meeting. He also stated there is currently no dedicated position (employee) to coordinate city emergency/disasters.
    According to Rankin, priority needs with the greatest risks during the next three-to-five years are wildfire management disaster planning ($3.5 million) and critical drainage structures ($9 million ).
    “If we took all the other monies we could round up together in our piggybank, we do not have any other source of funds that would either provide enough money or an ongoing stream of money to be able to address these critical needs,” said Mayor Darlene Gee.
    During public comments, Nick Waranoff said the sales tax increase is “very troubling. You are asking us to tax ourselves to provide essential services, yet at the same time you folks on the council are spending city money on non-essential services….That is completely topsy-turvy.”
    Citing harm to lower income people who shop in Orinda, Wylie Hughs said, “I strongly suggest the council reject this ballot and find another means of revenue, such as other taxes.”
    “This is not a time to make 20-year commitments,” said Charles Porges, who suggested delaying the vote to 2022.
    Councilman Dennis Fay had a differing view: “I think we have such a pressing need for wildfire prevention and fuel reduction that now is the time to proceed with it….This is the most equitable way to proceed.”
    Linda Landau pointed out the transaction use tax on the sale of new vehicles outside the city, comes to Orinda. “This [tax] is a very small amount….If people can afford to go buy a new car, they can afford an extra half-cent sales tax to keep our community safe.”
    Fire Chief Dave Winnacker added, “Anything which provides additional resources for fire safety has my whole support.”
    Letters opposing the tax increase, specifically because it does not include road or drainage maintenance on private roads, were sent to councilmembers via email.
    “We strongly oppose a sales tax imposed on all the citizens of Orinda when it does not benefit every citizen….The City Council needs to be transparent with this proposal and ensure any increase in revenues is used for everyone,” wrote Beth and Tim Eliason.
    “We should be voting to make all roads city roads!” wrote Tracey Blanchard, a 44-year resident. “[We are] taxed, but not represented as a homeowner.”
    Scott Fleming noted, “Adding a 1% tax would cause me to avoid downtown merchants when possible, not because of the cost but due to the inequity.”
    In support of the ballot measure, Sue Severson and Bob Burt, who founded the citizens’ committee Safer Orinda, wrote, “[we are] dedicated to making our community safer from natural disasters like wildfires, floods and from pedestrian, bicycle, and motor vehicle danger posed by deteriorating roads.…Our first objective is to support the increased funding that the Essential Services ballot measure will provide.”
    “We appreciate all the feedback we have received,” said Mayor Gee, prior to the council’s unanimous vote. “There is nothing fairer than the ballot box.”

1 COMMENT

  1. The tax is titled an “Essential Services” tax. While the City will not divulge (claims it “cannot” but I believe this is not true) what it plans on using the tax for, my rough calculation include:
    * Accounting for inflation, the tax will generate (cost the taxpayers) about $60 million over 20 years. This equates to almost $9,000 per household.
    * The only amount “specified” for fire prevention was “$500-750,000 for 3-4 years; then a reduced amount”. How reduced? Unknown. So a total of $1.5-3 million over the first 3-4 years (out of $10 million in revenues), then a reduced amount. Where did this number come from? Was there a study or is this a number that the City decided it could afford after it covered road maintenance and storm drain repair?
    * The rest is for road maintenance and storm drains. The City, in its Road and Drains Repairs Plan has been saying since 2012 that this tax was needed. So here it is. This tax is essentially the infrastructure tax planned since 2012 with a little carved out for fire prevention which was thrown in after the February opinion survey showed that fire prevention was the citizens’ top priority with 86% saying it was extremely or very important.
    * How much of the tax will go to maintain the City’s 64 miles of residential streets? The CIOC has reported that about $60 million is needed to maintain all 93 miles of streets over the next 20 years. Plus $30 million to repair storm drains under those streets. $90 million total. The City has about $2 million a year in “core” revenue (gas tax, county sales tax, garbage fees). This ($40 million over 20 years) will maintain the City’s 29 miles of arterials and collectors and allow for some for storm drain repair. The remaining $50 million, which will come from the sales tax, will mostly be to maintain the residential streets (requiring about half of the $60 million needed; this has never been confirmed) and repair the associated storm drains. So the sales tax is effectively a residential street maintenance tax.
    * The tax is titled an “Essential Services Tax”. If maintaining residential streets is an “essential” service, why is it applied to 64 miles of Residential Streets while it is denied to another 30 miles of Residential streets? These are the streets which are privately maintained and which the City calls “private” streets even though they provide the exact same function as the City’s “public” residential streets. The reason they remain “private” is that City policy (Resolution 59-18 and its predecessor 56-90) precludes them from attaining public. If there is any doubt this is the case, there has been no public street created or converted since the City incorporated 35 years ago. This tax is an exclusionary road maintenance tax for the benefit of the 80% majority living on public roads, including 4 of 5 City Council members, reducing their costs by collecting taxes from the 20% living on, and personally maintaining, private roads while extending them virtually no benefits from the tax.
    * This is not a “safety” tax which the tax proponents who have formed the “Safer Orinda” Committee will claim it to be. It is a road maintenance tax with a few bones thrown to the Firewise group, desperate for any funding from a City which has spent virtually nothing on fire prevention, nor demanded that MOFD spend some, in the 29 years since the Oakland Hills Firestorm, which should have been a wake up call.

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